Rules and Guidelines for Life
April 22, 2010 8:17 PM   Subscribe

TL;DR There is still hope. They have not passed the point of no return. Help me help them change their ways and change their lives. This young family needs guidelines for life which include cleaning, cooking, finances and vehicle maintenance. I am not passing judgement because "there, but for the grace of God, go I." I am simply trying to help. Unseemly details follow.

I would like to get some advice from the hive mind.

Both the husband and wife come from families that failed to impart important knowledge to them. They are completely unequipped to live on their own.

He comes from a dysfunctional family. He was belittled, badgered and ridiculed his entire childhood.
She comes from a dysfunctional family as well. She was extraordinarily overprotected and never allowed to grow up.

They live close to both his and her family. Its not the same town, but its the same area code.
The come from two families that are polar opposites, and yes, opposites attract.

Her father does everything. Everything from the cleaning, cooking and ironing to lawn-care and vehicle maintenance.
His father was around but did not take an overly active part in his son's life.

She never (ever) had to take responsibility for anything.
He was always the scapegoat.

She thinks that every single thing is his job.
He thinks that her family is normal and her dad is the typical dad.

In her family, birthdays were like Christmas and Christmas was like hitting the lottery.
She expected her new husband to be just like daddy and take care of her every need.

He didn't know how to clean, iron or cook.
He didn't know how to start a lawnmower, check the oil in his car, or shovel snow.
Neither did she, but she was always provided for.

Along comes child number one, then in short order child number two. Hubby now expected to tend to children when not at work. This is in addition to cooking, cleaning, shovelling snow and washing clothes. However, he doesn't know how to be self-sufficient let alone take care of a family. But what the heck. Neither does she.

Dining out, or at her parent's house makes wife happy (cooking is not a problem anymore). New clothes is easier than washing (especially when her parents make every day seem like Christmas). Charge a meal at the local eatery if it makes his wife happy.

When they fall short on funds, her dad provides. She wants everything her mom and dad have without realizing it took a lifetime to accumulate. The husband feels like he is a bad provider and starts grad school so he can earn more money. However, he is still expected to do everything (but hasn't a clue how to do it).

Every time hubby fails to meet her expectations, she tells mommy and daddy. Mommy and Daddy are starting to think hubby is lazy and no good.

The crisis intervention team cleaned their house (with consent). It was by far the most dirty and disgusting thing I have ever seen in my entire life. It was beyond belief. It was like an episode of hoarders where someone was teetering on the brink of total and complete disaster.

Dirty dishes were everywhere. There were no clean dishes, pots or pans to be had.

Dirty clothes were stacked a foot deep in the laundry room.

Children toys were everywhere. In the master bedroom, in the kitchen, in the living room, everywhere.

Trash and filth was scattered about. Diapers that never quite made it to the garbage can. Empty cracker boxes and half full cereal boxes on the kitchen table. Partially consumed bags of gummy snacks. Half-full soda cans everywhere. Fast food wrappers.

There were no roaches...thank goodness for small miracles.

Mail was everywhere. In the bedroom, in the living room, on the floor, on the dining room table. Paid bills, overdue bills, unopened mail.

The whole experience was surreal. But now, the house is now habitable. Unfortunately, I think that they are having financial problems too. The overdue bills gave me an indication of that.

The team needs to give them guidelines that will help them straighten out their life. Simple things that if followed will have profound effects.

Please provide some recommendations for me to pass on to them such as this:
1. Wash all the dishes in the sink before you go to bed.
2. Don't walk over garbage, pick it up and put it in the garbage can.
3. All the mail goes in the one spot.
4. Don't eat in the bedroom.
5. Dirty clothes go in the dirty clothes basket.
6. Trash goes to the dump. Do not let it pile up.
7. Empty your car of all trash each time you go to the dump with your household garbage.
8. Put groceries away when you get home from the store. Do not leave them in the grocery bags on the floor, counter and table.
9. Turn off the lights when you are not in the room.
10. Change the filter for your HVAC unit monthly.
11. Change the oil in your car every three months.
12. Use coupons (especially for the oil changes).
13. Don't eat out. Its cheaper (and healthier) to eat steak at home than going to McDonalds.

I know some of these sound like what I would tell a child, but these are the things that they need to hear.
posted by CleverCrow to Home & Garden (43 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Who are these people in relation to you? You can't fix them at any rate.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:19 PM on April 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Though you only refer to this in a roundabout way, one of the central things that must happen is that they need to start using reliable birth control starting ASAP.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 8:22 PM on April 22, 2010 [4 favorites]

Until they want your help, anything you say to them is going to be dismissed - rightly - as condescending. If these are people you're friends with, offer your support when they ask for it and shut up until they do.
posted by stoneweaver at 8:23 PM on April 22, 2010

So, rather than Daddy cleaning up after everything, now this "Crisis Intervention Team" does?

No, sorry. All you've done is delay the inevitable, and maybe made it worse. People don't change until they have to, and you've helped them put that day off another few months.
posted by mhoye at 8:24 PM on April 22, 2010 [4 favorites]

They don't need "life tips", they need intensive therapy. And until (or, if) this is ever sorted out, I would seriously consider getting children services involved. Their kids should not be living in piles of trash.
posted by meerkatty at 8:27 PM on April 22, 2010 [7 favorites]

I think they would benefit immensely from joining FlyLady. It's an email list that tells you what to clean each day, what routines to establish, and includes a ton of motivational/inspirational stories and other positive messages.
posted by Jacqueline at 8:35 PM on April 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

You say you're not passing judgment, but it seems to me you are - against the woman in the relationship.

Other than "saving" this random(?) family, what's your motivation here?

(and just in case I come off as snarky without offering any real advice I'll echo a previous poster's sentiment of considering letting DHS/CPS take the lead)
posted by lilnublet at 8:37 PM on April 22, 2010

Seconding Flylady. As someone who was never taught life skills (my family situation is very similar to the woman referred to in the post), I've found it incredibly helpful.
posted by Ruki at 8:37 PM on April 22, 2010

FWIW - They did ask for help. I think they are sincere. They realize that things cannot stay the same.
posted by CleverCrow at 8:37 PM on April 22, 2010

Lots of people have trouble handling household details and lots of couples have trouble working together. But when a house is as filthy as you describe - it's not a flylady situation. These people need psychiatric help, and the best way to help them is not to give them lists or speculate about her daddy issues - you should encourage them to see doctors and call CPS or DSS or whatever because it's not a safe environment for children.
posted by moxiedoll at 8:41 PM on April 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

I don't know what the question is, but this is excessively judgmental. Most of the list, ie

3. All the mail goes in the one spot.
4. Don't eat in the bedroom.
9. Turn off the lights when you are not in the room.
10. Change the filter for your HVAC unit monthly.
11. Change the oil in your car every three months.
12. Use coupons (especially for the oil changes).
13. Don't eat out. Its cheaper (and healthier) to eat steak at home than going to McDonalds.

Sounds more like "nice-to-haves" or even just matters of taste than basics.
posted by drjimmy11 at 8:44 PM on April 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

The children are not in danger. I know this beyond a shadow of a doubt.
posted by CleverCrow at 8:55 PM on April 22, 2010

The OP is really weird and the way you seem to relate to these people is unsettling. Either way, therapy and capitalize on their desire to change. I doubt they actually will, but that's basically all you can do.
posted by wooh at 9:00 PM on April 22, 2010

OK You have lifehacks, and you want to share. That's it, entirely it... passing judgement on their upbringing is tasteless and rude. You have lifehacks. Oil change coupons! Don't pay any mechanic's bills for 100k miles, and there are coupons! Cheep!

They will get it eventually. They may never acknowledge it, and they may roll their eyes and groan, or they may indicate they never want to see you again. Take your chances. In any event, just be the guy wo has the tips, the inside line to easy money ("Save! Better than spending on any stock... talk to the guy at the bank, it will make saving for college absolutely painless! You won't feel a thing! And ironing, man, have I got ironing tips...")

Any other tack will see you out of their lives in short order.
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:02 PM on April 22, 2010

1. Wash all the dishes in the sink before you go to bed.

Dishwashers can be had for as little as $200, and are easy to install. Without my dishwasher, I might be a candidate for a related post.
posted by StickyCarpet at 9:12 PM on April 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

guidelines that will straighten out their life

1. Get into therapy and work out a personalized strategy for addressing the multiple, serious areas of dysfunction in their family life.

Family problems like this are not solved by changing the HVAC filter and cutting out fast food. What you describe needs a serious mental health professional's intervention. And the kids are in danger if the parents don't address the factors that got them where they are in the first place.
posted by Meg_Murry at 9:17 PM on April 22, 2010 [5 favorites]

Yeah, something is really off about this question. Who exactly are you? A relative? A friend? A grandparent? You seem intimately connected with the details of these peoples' lives and yet you hold yourself above the fray. You are trying to "save" them but you don't know what that means, exactly. The best thing you can do for these people is to put them in touch with a trained professional as soon as possible.

This "crisis intervention team" sounds both strangely regimental and bizarrely ad hoc. Am I correct in guessing that this is a church thing? Wife's parents' initiative, maybe? Recognize the limits of your expertise, OP. The humane thing to do would be to put these folks in the hands of people who know exactly what they're doing. If you see a house on fire, you're a good Samaritan if you try to save the people inside. You're a nuisance or worse if you keep trying to involve yourself instead of calling the fire department. Doing good also means knowing when to step aside and let someone else take charge.

If you must do something, buy them a copy of Home Comforts and annotate/flag the hell out of it. It'll keep you busy and give you a sense of having done something concrete. Because I think we both know that oil change coupons are not going to save these folks.
posted by felix betachat at 9:17 PM on April 22, 2010 [4 favorites]

If they have this many problems, I don’t think handing them a giant list that includes like “it’s better to cook steak at home” isn’t going to be helpful. This is probably going to be overwhelming to them and it sounds like they may not even know how to do half these things (change oil, cook steak). I would also suspect that there may be additional problems (if this is the condition of the house, are they entertaining guests/having friends over? What about the kids?)

If they truly want your help, sit down and have them list a few important goals (eg. Paying bills on time? Saving money? Learning how to cook?) Let’s say they decide they want to learn how to cook. I would show them how to cook a few basic meals. While doing this, show them how you clean up afterwards. Alternatively, have them spend an afternoon at someone’s home who likes to cook. If they seem to indicate an interest, then go find books, more tips, etc. Does the guy really want to lean to maintain his car? Have someone show him how to change the oil in the car, whatever.

I'm also going to mention that metafilter has a vast treasure trove of answers discussing every possible related topic. So if they decide they want to learn how to cook simple meals if you don't really know how to cook

One small thing that I am going to add to your list is to involve the kids.

So maybe….

14) Before you (insert activity [eat dinner, leave the house, go to bed]), put the toys back where you found them.

15) Put your dirty clothes (in the laundry hamper/location).

If the kids are young, this can be made into a game. It can be a rule for everyone, too (put your things away).

Nthing the other posters. Do send them to counseling.
posted by Wolfster at 9:21 PM on April 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

13. Don't eat out. Its cheaper (and healthier) to eat steak at home than going to McDonalds.

But they don't know how to cook. And all of their dishes and pots and pans are dirty.

Some of the items on that list do seem judgmental or at least stuff that maybe YOU do and think that's the only and right way to do things. Not all of my mail/bills go in the same place. Sometimes I don't wash the dishes at night. I eat in my bedroom all the time. We eat out frequently - sometimes I don't have the energy or creativity to put together a meal. I know it's not as healthy or cheap as eating at home, but I do the best I can and sometimes I just can't get a meal together.

If you want to help them, give them kind suggestions, not harsh lists. What exactly precisely are they asking help for? Everything? If so, have them narrow it down so you can give them suggestions for one or two areas at a time. Maybe they come to you and tell you they have a hard time remembering to pay their bills. Share your experience and ideas on how you tackle that in your own household - like you make sure all the bills go in the same spot and you pay your bills as soon as you get them or you pay them on the 1st and 15th of the month. Maybe they come to you and ask you how to keep their house clean - then you can suggest that what works for you is that you make sure to have all the dishes clean before you go to bed at night and that you only allow eating at the kitchen table.

A list is overwhelming, especially that list. I don't even measure up to that. If they want help, ask them what areas specifically they want help in. Tackle one or two areas at a time. And keep the tasks simple and realistic. Telling them to not eat out is unrealistic. Instead approach it with teaching them how to cook a simple meal and suggesting they make that meal once a week. Kindly mention the nutritional value of a homecooked meal and the savings. Give them tasks (if they ask) they can actually accomplish and feel proud about.
posted by Sassyfras at 9:23 PM on April 22, 2010 [3 favorites]

One of them is trying and the other one isn't; she's expecting to be taken care of. While they did ask for help and are sincere, things WILL stay the same if there's no incentive for the one who isn't trying. After all, she's getting basic needs met so at some level this 'expecting others to come through' has been rewarded all along.

If the kids were older I'd suggest having the husband attend move out to attend grad school, and have counsellors come in to give the wife coaching in life skills. People do rise to the occasion when push comes to shove. But with diaper-age kids that's not a safe thing to do.

So I'd recommend in-home life coaching. Her dad has bailed her out before; convince him that they both need the kind of intensive life skill training that an in-house worker can give.

And for the love of Pete, make it clear to both of them that an equitable distribution of labour needs to be worked out pronto, or they may go down with the ship together.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 9:56 PM on April 22, 2010

They sound as if they are completely overwhelmed with 2 young children and little life experience. They KNOW that the dirty clothes go in the hamper. They KNOW that trash needs to be thrown out. What they don't know is how to prioritize tasks and figure out systems to make it easier to keep things in some sort of order.

1. Wash all the dishes in the sink before you go to bed.

How about helping them prioritize how many dishes they need to have in use? It's hard to make giant, unwashable piles of dishes if there's only 1 plate, bowl, silverware and glass for each person.

2. Don't walk over garbage, pick it up and put it in the garbage can.

They know this.

3. All the mail goes in the one spot.

Help them find a spot that works for them and a system for dealing with incoming, pending, and stored mail.

4. Don't eat in the bedroom.

That sounds like your rule.

5. Dirty clothes go in the dirty clothes basket.

It was in the laundry room - help them figure out how often to do it.

6. Trash goes to the dump. Do not let it pile up.

If they don't have garbage pickup, help them find a hauler to take it for them regularly - it shouldn't cost too much.

7. Empty your car of all trash each time you go to the dump with your household garbage.


8. Put groceries away when you get home from the store. Do not leave them in the grocery bags on the floor, counter and table.

Help them figure out a good system for storing their groceries, so that they are easy to put away.

9. Turn off the lights when you are not in the room.
10. Change the filter for your HVAC unit monthly.
11. Change the oil in your car every three months.
12. Use coupons (especially for the oil changes).

What? These are weird. Help them figure out the basics first before lecturing them about HVAC maintenance and oil changes.

13. Don't eat out. Its cheaper (and healthier) to eat steak at home than going to McDonalds.

This isn't even true! Sure it's healthier, but steak at home is certainly NOT cheaper than McDonalds.

I think you need to step back a bit and deal with the task at hand, helping them get organized and keep a system going in their household. Let them worry about oil changes, bills and eating in the bedroom. Who cares who's daddy did what? Help them find a way to stay on top of things and then back off.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 10:06 PM on April 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

Whiteboards, to-do lists and clear, established routines will help fix some of this, but there is a gigantic amount of emotional baggage in this relationship that no matter of 101-How-To housecare will fix.
posted by GilloD at 10:25 PM on April 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'll second everyone who's suggested the child protection services in your area. They are very likely to be able to refer this couple to an appropriate service for the problem. If they are in public housing their housing provider would be another good place to go for help.

What you're describing is known where I am as "domestic squalor", which is a serious problem that cuts across ages, socio-demographic lines of class, and levels of independence and ability, and is best addressed by professionals. The caseworkers who work with people with these problems do make lists of things like how to keep a house clean, but they do it as part of a wider intervention---addressing things like making financial plans, budgets, shopping lists, and so on.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 10:38 PM on April 22, 2010 [3 favorites]

The children are not in danger. I know this beyond a shadow of a doubt.

I'm sorry but when:

Trash and filth was scattered about. Diapers that never quite made it to the garbage can.

the situation is hazardous to babies. Shitty diapers on the floor are dangerous, and whatever psychological assessments you've made about how she's a Spoiled Bitch and he's the Good Dad who just doesn't know what to do? Everyone knows that shitty diapers go in the trash. Everyone. And the fact that they are living in squalor is a sign of psychological problems. Lists won't help, and I'm worried for them and their kids. You're out of your depth, really and truly. Please listen to those (not just me) who are saying so.
posted by moxiedoll at 11:09 PM on April 22, 2010 [10 favorites]

They don't need "life tips", they need intensive therapy. And until (or, if) this is ever sorted out, I would seriously consider getting children services involved. Their kids should not be living in piles of trash.


People live in different ways, because they don't conform to your norms you feel the need to intervene. Frankly unless you are immediately affected - it's non of your business.
posted by the noob at 11:32 PM on April 22, 2010 [3 favorites]

it's non of your business.

It is your business, OP. Child services are better equipped than anyone else to assess whether these children are at risk from their living conditions or not. Believe me, they will be _ecstatic_ if there's no need for them.

But it is your responsibility to make sure the children are safe, and one of the best ways of ascertaining that, and getting this couple the help they need is, through child services.
posted by smoke at 11:43 PM on April 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

WTF, this is so obvious.

They need a maid. A weekly housecleaning would cost them +/- $150, and would take care of every single one of those problems except for cooking and changing the oil of the car. Seriously: hiring a housecleaning service was one of the best decisions I've made in regard to housing, and I am not nearly as messy as these people (in fact, nothing like what you described has ever been the case in my house).

If you want to help this couple, get them a housecleaning service. Everyone will be much less stressed out, looking forward to going home and spending time with the family, and, ultimately, healthier.

Cooking at home is the default for me and my family, but many people don't feel that way. Don't force your opinions on others.
posted by halogen at 12:34 AM on April 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

Call me naive, this seems to me like exactly the situation that social service/child services are designed for - helping parents become better parents. Of course, the quality of the care varies, but please, please do consider either encouraging the parents to refer themselves or to refer them yourself.

A good case worker should be able to neutrally assess what help they need and either give them guidance (and possibly a list like you mention specifically tailored to what they can/should realistically be doing) or refer them to community support available (such as counselling).

And definitely agreeing with those above who said the situation is concerning for the kids. While you might be 100% certain they would never hit them, are you completely certain that the kids won't be playing with open tuna cans that never made it to the bin? Or drinking cleaning product that didn't get put away? Eating something that was a bit off because the groceries never made it to the fridge? Bitten by a rat attracted by the food scraps left out? These parents need the skills to keep their home less hazardous for the little ones.
posted by brambory at 1:10 AM on April 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

You're a friend/relative of the husband, aren't you? I'm guessing that because, to me, you're making it sound like she just sits on the sofa and eats chocolate and is pampered all day long while he slaves away around the house.

So while the house might be as bad as it sounds, and she might have been overprotected as a child, she does sound like she's trying to do her part - after all, if she didn't give a damn, they wouldn't be buying new clothes. They'd just be all going around in filthy clothes.

But speaking as a slob (including accidentally leaving trash around the house because I try to throw things in the bin and I occasionally miss, and including my complete inability to wash dishes, and having huge piles of clothing that need washing), they just need to have small, easily achievable tasks to start with.

Your idea of a list is good, but you're filling it with waaaay too many things. Anyone would look at a long list filled with strident things, and promptly go "Oh God, no. This is too hard. I can't do any of this."

So start out simple. I've written things on calendars to make sure that tasks get done on a regular basis (like mopping the kitchen floor, tidying up the living room, that sort of thing).

I'd even say the first list needs to be nothing more than:

* Make sure all mail is opened and any due dates for bills are put on the calendar and paid
* Do at least one load of laundry per week
* Anything wet, cold, or leaking needs to be thrown or put away immediately
* Rinse all dishes right after using them (you don't need to wash them right away, just remove all the food gunk so that it doesn't develop sentience while you wait)

And, for gods' sakes, don't judge them as they're learning. Don't sigh heavily and then go "I'll do it, you inept little creatures". They've got to learn, just like how I had to learn, and by doing it for them, you're just feeding into that "someone will save us, someone always will" mindset.

They're young, they have tiny children, and things can be incredibly overwhelming. Don't make things worse by insisting on perfection as well.

(Also, you're really focused on the oil changes. Have you had to rescue them a few times because their car broke down? Just put "take the car to be serviced every __ months" on the list. Don't focus on oil changes or coupons or whatever. That's what mechanics are for.)
posted by Katemonkey at 2:06 AM on April 23, 2010 [4 favorites]

The children are not in danger. I know this beyond a shadow of a doubt.
just because there are no roaches yet doesn't mean that there isn't plenty wrong with living in garbage. if nothing else, the children are in danger of becoming their parents, amplified.

beyond that, therapy. not just for the couple and the children, but for her parents, too. (just curious, but have you ever been in her parents' home? is it the same way?) although i think it's way too lenient, 2nding katemonkey's list. (maybe augment with something like '* Do at least one load of laundry per week and ensure that the children have clean clothes EVERY DAY'.) i'd also leave the part about oil changes every 3 months for the car: car repairs are expensive even for a family that isn't cash-strapped.

look: *everyone* comes from a dysfunctional family and pretty much no one 'knows' how to be an adult. however, we're like monkeys, especially the 'monkey see, monkey do' monkey. and what these monkeys have seen is not doing them any good. note: hardly a subjective opinion if they're in debt & living in unsanitary conditions. kudos for wanting to help, and here's hoping your attempt to help these people doesn't break your heart & your spirit. good luck.
posted by msconduct at 6:04 AM on April 23, 2010

People live in different ways, because they don't conform to your norms you feel the need to intervene.

Absolutely. But I'm pretty sure that any norm doesn't involve feces in strewn diapers scattered throughout living quarters or having toddlers wading through garbage or ingesting bacteria from dishes and cooking utensils that are never cleaned.

This is a serious question that requires serious attention.
posted by meerkatty at 6:20 AM on April 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

Now, there's a spectrum of answers.
I am kind of smiling here because part of my family (by marriage) is very much like this. My wife's brother and his family reflect the very image of this story. There are a couple details changed but the theme is the same.
His parents tried to fix the problem by giving them money and paying things like insurance, house payments, utility bills. Well, that didn't work. Both of his parents (my in-laws) are gone now and there is no money faucet. When his dad died, my brother-in-law got the house and a third of the stocks, bonds, and cash.
My wife and I pumped some cash in before we realized it was a black hole. She tried your method of helpful hints and suggestions. She did a couple of weekend cleaning marathons over there to give them a "fresh starting point".
I know that it is very difficult not to sit in judgment.
It is also very difficult to watch them struggle with each other, with the kids, and with life in general.
You cannot "suggest" them into a different way of life. You cannot wish them into a new situation. They must want to change. You cannot impart a desire to change. If they have the willingness, they will seek out the methods.

You can make the road easier to travel, you cannot influence the direction they take.
posted by Drasher at 6:21 AM on April 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

If they aren't bothered enough by dirty diapers to put them in the trash, then I don't see how they could possibly be helped by someone from the outside. They're going to have to want help, but it doesn't seem like they do because they let things get so bad and weren't too embarrassed to let the intervention team into their house.
posted by anniecat at 6:34 AM on April 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

If these were my friends, I would encourage them to seek therapy and to read through the various ADHD threads here to see if anything resonates with them. The severe trouble with housekeeping and errands, the unpaid bills/unopened mail, the solving problems by spending money (laundry! eating out!), and even the expressions of helplessness all made me think they should at least consider ruling out undiagnosed adult ADHD. If that's the case, medication could solve what lists and nagging never could.
posted by Gable Oak at 7:34 AM on April 23, 2010

People KNOW to do all the things on your list, they just can't get themselves to do them regularly. It's not as if they don't realize that trash goes in the trash can, not on the floor. Presumably the daughter grew up in a clean house thanks to her dad. A lot of times people who live in squalor do so because of mental health problems, such as depression. Social services need to get involved. When adults are incapable of properly caring for themselves and ESPECIALLY their children, intervention is necessary beyond a list of handy tips. I can almost guarantee that they will maybe start trying to follow the tips, but then give up eventually and go back to their old ways unless their underlying problems are addressed.

The children are not in danger? Yes, they most certainly are. They can't have normal lives because they will 1) will not understand how a household should operate, 2) be totally lacking in life skills, and 3) not ever be able to have friends come play at their house, which will make them feel isolated and 4) One day when they realize that their parents didn't take as good of care of them as they should, it will be damaging to their self-esteem. In this day and age, unless they live in some shitty place, once the kids go to school, a teacher will probably pick up on things not being right at home (do the kids get baths often enough) and get someone involved anyway. Better now than years down the road.

I know a person who grew up in squalor like this. It was very emotionally damaging. Her parents were loving, but she says she wishes CPS would have gotten involved so her parents would have realized that it's not cool to make your children live in filth and been forced to work hard to stop living that way. She felt like she could never have friends, either.
posted by ishotjr at 8:12 AM on April 23, 2010

I just also want to say that this thread inspired me to clean my kitchen a bit more properly. So maybe do a bit of "by example" work as well? Watch some programmes like How Clean Is Your House so that they go "Oh god, we're almost that bad. Guess we better kickstart this thing."

(And, last point, honest - but you say there was like a foot deep of laundry in the laundry room? that's nothin'. When I was growing up, we had a aundry mountain in front of the washer/dryer. Family of five, and we all learned at an early age to grab a bundle from the laundry mountain, put it into the washing machine, and do at least one load.

Laundry Mountain was awesome. Especially when we whittled it down to Laundry Hill, then Laundry Speedbump. Never got to Laundry Nothing, though. Unsurprisingly.

Now I just have Clean Laundry Mountain in the wardrobe. Still working on turning that into properly organised clothing.)
posted by Katemonkey at 8:28 AM on April 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yourself, this "crisis intervention team" (whatever that is), and the girl's parents are all enablers. This couple will never figure out how to do it unless everyone stops doing it for them. Leave this couple in the deep end and let them figure out how to swim or die. It's part of being an adult. From your story, the girl came from a house where she saw chores being done. Her lack of knowledge on how to do chores isn't the problem, its her lack of motivation. If everyone stopped helping them with the banal minutia of being an adult, they'd figure it out. Stop holding theri hand.

The only help I would give this couple is a referral to a clinic to get birth control, because if they can't even handle the household they have now they don't deserve to bring more humans into their world.
posted by WeekendJen at 8:33 AM on April 23, 2010

The children are not in danger. I know this beyond a shadow of a doubt.

CleverCrow, I grew up in a household much you like are describing. My mother is a hoarder. Those children ARE in danger. They are probably not in immediate physical danger, but they are in danger nonetheless. Please understand that growing up in that kind of environment has lifelong consequences for children. I still deal with them, even though I'm in my thirties. Giving their parents a list of handy helpful tips is so useless in this situation that it is laughable.

The physical safety and emotional well-being of these children should be your immediate priority.
posted by crankylex at 8:59 AM on April 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

I mostly don't follow your rules. My house is cluttered, untidy and the floors need to be vacuumed. Sometimes the mail lands in the bathroom because I get the mail, then have to run to the bathroom. I eat in the bedroom and sometimes the groceries sit on the counter all night, just not the ones that need to be refrigerated. I don't live in squalor. My house isn't breeding insects or disease.

1. Define the goals
2. Set up processes that work, and can be easily adopted.
3. Find other resources.

For example:
Rule: No eating in bed.
Revised to Goal: clean bed, clean bedroom.
Process: Dirty dishes smell bad, attract critters and are really messy. Make sure they get to the sink when you get up in the morning.

Rule: mail in 1 spot
Goal: manageable household
Process: Mail gets presorted & advertising gets pitched asap.
Mail gets opened within 1 week, and sorted according to a plan. If you walk in the house w/ the mail, and a baby's crying, the dinner's burning, etc., drop the new mail in the basket and sort tomorrow.

Try to keep it really simple. Coupons require a lot of organization. They may not be able to manage that yet. Start small, keep it simple, and build on success.

Focus on the goals, and how pleasant they make life. Not having the power turned off is terrific. Having the house smell good is terrific. Clean babies smell so good that if you could bottle that smell you'd be a bajillionaire.

Triage. They need to learn how to manage the garbage 1st. One help is for them to own less, which means shopping less, which saves money and is environmentally better, too. When I had a toddler, I had to do laundry, or he wouldn't have any clothes to wear. He had what seemed like a lot of toys, but in comparison to families I see lately, he had hardly anything. More toys aren't better. Great toys that are organized are better than lots of disorganized toys. The most important thing is to have appropriate trash receptacles in each room, use them, and empty them regularly.

Other resources: Do they use the Internet? Books? Magazines? is loved by many. There are books on managing clutter, managing a household, etc., at the library. A subscription to Better Homes and Gardens, Family Circle, Women's Day, or something similar will have monthly articles, as well as pictures of lovely homes to aspire to, plus the usual celebrity crap, which may get them reading the mag, at least. Magazines are a nice incremental learning tool.

Praise is the best motivator. Praise what they do right.
posted by theora55 at 11:32 AM on April 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

As everyone above has said, this may not be something you can fix with a mere list. But at any rate, there are tons of questions in the archive that concern household management. Here are a few that I remember, but digging will turn up more if you want more.

- Routines and rules for teaching your children household responsibility
- What does a trust-fund baby need to learn to take care of himself?
- How often should I do recurring household tasks like changing the sheets?; and recurring tasks/events to put on my calendar (there are several other questions of this sort if you dig deeply into the archives)
- posts tagged 'chores' (many questions about how to split up chores among a group etc)

The first thing they should probably do -- if they are in a position to do it maybe with your help -- is to establish a "place for everything" and then follow the rule that every night before bed, everything gets put back in its place. Garbage in the garbage, laundry in whatever place is established for it, dishes rinsed or whatever, mail in the mail place, books on the shelf, toys in the toy box, groceries in the fridge/pantry, etc.
posted by LobsterMitten at 5:34 PM on April 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

But it is your responsibility to make sure the children are safe, and one of the best ways of ascertaining that, and getting this couple the help they need is, through child services.

You clearly have little experience.

Speaking to the OP

Once human services are involved - the least that will happen is that these people will no longer wish to have anything to do with you. That's how you will be affected - which seems to be the point of your post.

About them

Are they abusing their children? Is there violence? Are the kids being schooled? no to any of these? Call human services, otherwise do not.

Human services will start a process that is irreversible, and you cannot control. Your friends may end up losing their kids, the way risk is managed in these departments now, that is increasingly likely.

Human/Child services remit is not to help your friends, they exist to minimise harm to minors- they may do this by removal, they may not. It's a process that you ill have no input into and no control over. This will not help your friends, that's not what they do.

Once they have removed the kids to foster care- that starts a whole new chain of events that is the least best option.

What you can do, stay friendly, be around, help clean their vacuum filter if you really think it needs cleaning, help change the oil if you really can't stand the thought of a car driving around with ninety day old oil in the sump (the prospect sends shivers up my spine) - but do not do anything that could cause the removal of the kids or break-up of the family.
posted by the noob at 7:02 PM on April 23, 2010

Echoing what others have said, but just because those kids aren't being physically beaten doesn't mean that damage isn't being done.

do not do anything that could cause the removal of the kids or break-up of the family.

Keeping the family together shouldn't be the priority, it should be what's best for the kids. Maybe having DSS called on them will be the wake up call they need to get their shit together.
posted by bluloo at 9:05 PM on April 23, 2010

Acquaintances of mine sound a lot like this couple; I remember thinking at their wedding (the female half of the couple is the sister of a good friend) that neither one of them were "old" enough (emotionally speaking) to be married and living on their own. The female had been coddled by her mother all her life and was still very much a child at age 23. The male worked steadily but spent much of his salary on "toys" - video games, CDs, concerts, etc. They often fought, using very vile language. They had two children and one night one of their arguments was loud enough for a neighbor to call the police. The cops got there and commented on the mess in the house. Dirty clothes and dirty dishes stacked every where, old empty pizza boxes and empty pop cans all over. No food in the refrigerator (she didn't cook, either). The older of the two children (he was four) peppered his conversation with "f*ck," "sh*t" and "c*nt." The police called Child Protective Services despite the pleading and tears from both parents. They had to agree to take a series of parenting classes in order to get their kids back, and had to be ready for a surprise visit at any time by CPS when they did get their kids back. It was only then that both of them finally kicked into gear and at least kept dirty dishes in the kitchen sink and washed them regularly and didn't leave trash all over the house.

Perhaps you can present this true story as a worst case "it could happen to you" scenario to your friends.
posted by Oriole Adams at 9:50 AM on April 24, 2010

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