QUESTION: Clutter seems to
be a constant battle in our house. We live in a small home which makes
it worse. My wife and I have a 18 mo old boy, who we both love dearly,
and we have decided to have another child.
I work 4, 12 hr days, and have 3 days off,
then work 3, 12 hr days and then have 3 days off. My wife stays home.
When I go back to work, after the second or third day, the house looks
bad. Laundry piled up, diaper pail full, towels on the floor, toys
and clutter everywhere.
This puts me in rotten mood as soon as I get
home. I understand that raising a child is a lot of work, he is in
need of almost constant attention. This has been going on since he
was born. I feel that having another child with no concession from
either one of us will compound the problem and surely end our marriage.
Am I wrong in feeling that at least the clutter can be controlled?
I do a lot to help out. I don't want to live
like a slob, but don't want to be thought of as a controlling dictator
either. When there are diapers piled up on top of the pail lid tree
high and his bedroom stinks, she moves the toy box into the living
room and his toys are scattered everywhere. She puts the laundry in
drawers in the living room to get it out of site till she can sort
it. The thing is when I need something, then the hunt is on and it
takes forever to find anything.
When I am home, I do the dishes, water the
plants, take out the trash that piles up, maintain the vehicles. Am
I wrong In thinking she needs to be more active? Is she right in thinking
that's the way it is with kids?
ANSWER: Organization is one dimension of family health. Without
enough of it, families suffer the consequences of a chaotic environment.
It is true that a wide range of styles or methods for organization
abound. However, it appears that your wife is simply withdrawing from
the challenge of creating order, not arguing over different methods
for achieving it. Do not accept motherhood as an excuse for chaos.
Instead, invite your wife to be a team player. Ask for her help to
create the organization that is an inevitable requirement of family
It is true that having a child requires greater organizational
effort in a family. It is often the case that lowering expectations
for "tidiness" is an appropriate measure to reduce stress while maintaining
an overall sense of orderliness. However in your family, it appears
that there is no systematized approach to organize the many tasks
at hand. No wonder your wife feels overwhelmed! You are right to consider
that adding another child to your family without incorporating a method
for handling increased responsibilities may cause you to progress
from chaos to anarchy.
It is possible that you and your wife specialize
in different qualities. She may be more spontaneous, while you are
more goal directed. Whatever your unique differences, it is your job
as parents to come up with methods to organize your life in ways that
simplify your stress rather than exacerbate it. Ask your wife to consider
the possibility that order can become her friend rather than her enemy!
We often learn our organizational skills from our
parents. It is possible that your wife grew up in a family that functioned
poorly in terms of organization, or was rigidly structured to the
point that she developed a rebellion against all organizing. Regardless,
she chose you as a husband. Clearly you represent a different perspective,
and one she may very much need to incorporate. Marriage is a partnership.
There is always room to learn from each other.
Share your feelings with your wife. Let her know
that she has many qualities you admire and that you appreciate the
loving care she provides as a mother and wife. Using "I" statements,
express your experience of overwhelm about the level of disarray in
your family environment and the fact that you are not comfortable
with adding the responsibility of another child until the two of you
are able to create a shared vision for your family environment. This
is not a threat, it is simply a reality of the conflict between you
over organization in the family.
You are a family member and a co-leader of the family.
Your distress matters. Ask your wife if she will meet you halfway
in considering a change. No doubt, disorderliness also slows her down
and it may make organization more difficult for your children as their
lives become more complex with school activities, homework, etc. Take
a long range view. Ask your wife how her family organized family responsibilities.
Reflect on how your family handled organization and identify what
kind of benefits a modicum of order brings each of you.
Establish a shared vision for organization in your
family and keep in mind that both of you matter! You must achieve
a satisfactory middle ground or you are not truly resolving the problem.
Once you have agreed to a vision for achieving order, brainstorm ways
and methods which will simplify. For example, put toys away at a certain
time in the evening or twice daily. Or, maintain certain areas as
"clean zones" and others as "toy zones". Establish follow through
procedures in the family. For example, put dirty diapers in the diaper
pail immediately after a diaper change. These are merely good "work
habits" as many parents will attest.
All systems require organization to perform tasks
and function smoothly. Running a family is no exception! From government
to girls' scout groups, a order creates the space for creativity and
meaningful interactions between people. Smooth functioning requires
that you institute systematic methods to complete tasks in a timely
Creating order will assure the space and time to
relax, have fun, and generally enjoy your family relationships. Ask
for your wife's help to envision and implement a balance of order
in your lives that is family-friendly!
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