What do you do when you’re working full time and the stay-at-home parent is struggling? This is something that happens equally to moms and dads. You start out with a lot of sleepless nights from nighttime feedings, and suddenly years can go by without anyone getting a night of decent rest. It’s exhausting. Little kids are extremely, extremely high maintenance. And they wake up SO. DANG. EARLY.
Work is no picnic either. But there are some compensations. You don’t just get to take a shower every day, you’re contractually bound. Nobody wants to come in while you pee. Nobody flings food at you or starts shrieking for no reason. (Well, unless you work in food service or retail). There’s generally no biting. Performance reviews are a piece of cake compared to the judgments of random adults as to your parental competence. Commuting is no fun, but at least you can swear at top volume when you want. So when you come home and the house looks like a case for FEMA, remember you’ll soon be able to escape to the relative sanity and order of the workplace.
There are a few keystone habits behind running an efficient, clean household. It turns out that they can be accomplished in minutes. Stepping in and changing the household routine in even the tiniest way can be received as a reproach by a defensive, burned-out partner, so it’s best to just silently start doing it. Under no circumstances describe these tasks as “helping.”
1. Put away clean dishes. It boggles my mind that so many households with dishwashers use them so ineffectively. It goes like this. Empty the dishwasher or dish rack either early in the morning or late in the evening. Load dirty dishes into it throughout the day. Run it at a predictable time on the days it’s full. We’ve timed the emptying task at 4 minutes. Putting in an individual dish takes about 10 seconds. Kids as young as 2 actually enjoy this activity.
2. Check the washer and dryer. The majority of the time involved in doing laundry is machine running time. Loads left in the washing machine sometimes get funky and have to be washed twice. A full washer also backs up the pipeline for the next load. Households with kids usually have a minimum of 10 loads a week, so it really helps to keep the hamster wheel spinning every day. Starting a new load of wash takes about 3 minutes. Moving a load from the washer to the dryer is about the same, as is emptying a clean dryer load into a basket. Buying more laundry baskets can be a $20 solution to a billion-dollar annoyance.
3. Eliminate refuse. Trash, compost, and recycling can overflow their receptacles, making the task gross and offensive when it doesn’t need to be. Carrying out these containers is another task that can be done in under 5 minutes. Sorting through junk mail also helps stop paper clutter from accumulating.
4. Set clear guidelines for the kids. What can they do at different stages of development? Gamify it. Set a timer or play a song. Race or compete. Be the team lead and help train them in what are really essential life skills, after all.
5. Schedule a regular appointment for the stay-at-home partner to have HQLT. That’s High Quality Leisure Time. It probably means total privacy and/or leaving the house for a while. Whether that’s to soak in a hot bath uninterrupted, play a game, read a book, or go ride the mechanical bull down at the honky-tonk, depends on the partner’s wishes. Look at it like entertaining a key international client.
These keystone chores are quick and easy… IF you’re reasonably well rested and not being followed by a tiny creature whose very survival depends on you never turning your back for 10 seconds. Burnout should be regarded in the same way as the flu, or mono, or a sports injury. It can linger and be resistant to treatment. The idea is to create some stability and predictability and order out of chaos. The burned-out partner needs to be able to recuperate and rebuild stamina. Setting aside 10 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes in the evening is no more complicated than managing any workplace assignment. For you, that is. Get it out of the way so you can all spend time together as a family, enjoying yourselves instead of feeling frantic and out of control.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.