Fairness question about division of specific household responsibility
April 7, 2012 5:25 PM   Subscribe

I am so wrapped up in a depressive period, being self-absorbed, self-pitying, self-loathing, that I cannot figure out the fair way to handle this situation, and I need input that I can't get anywhere else. I keep seesawing between feeling completely put-upon and exploited, and then feeling that I am being infantile, lazy, self-indulgent, and irresponsible. I can’t get a realistic hold on the situation.

I live with my ex-husband and my two teens, 14 and almost 17. The ex lives with us for financial reasons: we have had a series of financial disasters, including lots of unemployment (both of us) and the ex getting the kids and me thrown out of our (not his) apartment for non-payment of rent. Even at the best of times, when both of us are fully employed, his earning power is about 75% greater than mine. He has been working for exactly a year now as a contractor; no benefits or job security. Luckily his employer is currently allowing him to work almost as many hours as he can fit in, up to 60 or so a week, so his income is good—for now. I have only been able to get temp work for the last 4 years, and that has been sporadic. Since last June I have worked a total of only about 8 weeks.

The kids are in school, with almost no extra-curriculars, so both are home almost every afternoon and evening.

I have been struggling with depression my entire adult life. Right now I’m in a pretty bad way, which manifests itself as great, great difficulty keeping up with responsibilities and just getting up off the couch. Essentially, I am doing nothing all day, every day.

One thing that I do keep up with is my responsibilities for feeding everyone. I am the only one who cooks at all (gradually teaching my daughter, but her ADHD means lots of supervision). So I plan meals, keep on top of food inventory, shop, put away groceries, and prepare food for everyone including the ex. There are several foods that others in the family, including the ex, eat that I don’t, but I make sure to keep them available. I cook dinners from scratch about 3 times a week, leftovers about 3 times a week, and order in or eat out about once a week. I also will make breakfasts and lunches most weekends.

The ex has no household or family obligations but working and earning our income. He will not take part in any child-raising planning, discussing, or activities. He will not clean anything but his own bedroom. He is very, very passive (one of the original factors in the failure of our marriage) and will not express any opinions or desires about anything, even if I am upset about something. So, when I complain about this particular problem, he never gives any feedback that he thinks I am being reasonable in my expectations or that I’m being unreasonable.

Here’s the problem: dishes never get done (we don’t have a dishwasher; all dishes must be done by hand). They pile up and pile up until there are no glasses, plates, knives, or flatware to be used and no usable counter space. Not only is this itself a huge pain in the ass, but it means that if I want to cook or prepare something, I first have to spend some period of time washing the equipment I need. Which then leads to me throwing up my hands and saying, “screw this, I’m not cooking, we’ll order out.” Expensive and unhealthy. This is a regular occurrence, happening two or three times a week. I feel that, since I deal with all the other aspects of eating, that the ex and the kids should be responsible for cleaning up the kitchen. This feeling is strongest when I have spent at least an hour in the kitchen preparing food that I have planned to please everyone. The infrequent periods when I am working I have no problem putting my foot down and enforcing this. Even then none of them ever internalize it or do it under their own initiative. It still falls to me to nag people to clean up the kitchen, and there are groans and resentment, and I feel like a shrew. But when I’m not working—so much of the time!—and I’m so stuck in that inertia that keeps me from doing anything else at all, maybe I should be doing the cleaning as well? I mean, they all have school or work. And, yes, the ex works a lot, but he’s just sitting at a desk. I even chauffeur him to and from work (we have only one car between us.). But the planning and shopping and cooking benefits all of us! Why should they be allowed to just push their chairs back and wander away from the table, leaving me to take care of things even after I just put in all that work? Shouldn’t they share the responsibility?

This is making me crazy. I can’t figure out what the fair expectations are. Please help. Thanks.

(I am not asking for help or suggestions regarding my depression. I am dealing with that. I am asking for suggestions about adjusting expectations only. Thanks.)
posted by primate moon to Human Relations (44 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Most people would agree it's a fair expectation for children to do chores in return for all that their parents do for them. Do your children help out with any chores?

If not, you can put a system in place requiring them to do the chores, for example, assign them certain days or weeks that they need to do the dishes. You need a system because as you've found, just nagging everyone all the time doesn't work well. You also need your ex-husband to back you on the system, and there needs to be a penalty that you enforce if the chores are not done, i.e. no allowance, or no TV watching, or something. I've always subscribed to the concept that whoever makes the dinner is not obligated to do the dishes. So if someone else wants to make dinner, conversely, I am happy to do the dishes. I think that is fair.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 5:41 PM on April 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

In every shared living situation I have had, the person who cooked is off the hook on the washing up.

In your situation, I would get a calendar and write out a rotation of Ex, Child 1, and Child 2 that assigns each of them two nights per week to wash the dishes. On the night you do take-out, you eat off disposable stuff and throw it out when you're done.

Keep ya head up, it's tough out there.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 5:43 PM on April 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

I will start by saying that I am a SAHM with a baby and although my house is frequently messy it is really my "job" as the person who works at home to keep the house clean. My husband rather thoughfully is usually the one to fill and empty the dishwasher as I have my hands full just nursing but if I was home (and my kid was at school, or even napped) it would seem only fair that I deal with nearly all the cleaning. Given that he's your ex and you are totally financialy dependant on him I don't think its fair for you to expect him to contribute much more.
The kids, however, seem prime to have to clear and wash up after dinner everynight.
posted by saradarlin at 5:44 PM on April 7, 2012 [11 favorites]

Box all the dishes but one plate, bowl, mug, etc. per person. If they want to eat, they have to wash their place setting. In an ideal world you would get help with the pots & pans but if not, just do em. Good luck!
posted by Zen_warrior at 5:45 PM on April 7, 2012 [7 favorites]

If you want to look at this purely from a "fairness" standpoint, compare it time-wise in relation to family contribution. What is your exes job in terms of the family? It seems to be making money. How much of his earnings go to family good and how much go to his own good? Say half. That's 30 hours a week. The kids' jobs are to go to school, do their homework, and do well so they can have their own successful future lives. School is what -- 35 hours a week? Plus whatever they spend on homework. Your job is buying food, organizing supplies, and cooking. Say 3 hours a week for food shopping/organization, and I'll say 1 hour per meal, 3 meals a day, 7 days a week (although obviously it is less per what you posted). That's 24 hours total. So if you want to look at it numbers-wise, there you go. When you're working, of course the numbers are going to change.

If you want to look at it as "how to teach your children how to be an adult," then yeah, you should make some sort of chore chart. It's good to get your children to exchange. It teaches them to contribute and how to take care of themselves. You might want to start small though, and give a reward. Or give them specific tasks they are responsible for. I wouldn't think about this as fairness though -- I would think about it as instilling values in your children.
posted by DoubleLune at 5:46 PM on April 7, 2012 [4 favorites]

It would be very reasonable to ask both kids to do the cleanup every night after dinner. This is how it was done in my family and in my friends' and cousins' families. We all had to thoroughly clean our rooms (including dusting and changing sheets) on Saturdays -- except the cousins in one family that employed a weekly housekeeper. The breakdown of the nightly chores: One kid, set the table, clear the table, and sweep the kitchen floor. The other kid load up the dishwasher, wash the pans, and wipe the counters and table. My mom emptied the dishwasher sometime during the day. For the year when we had no dishwasher, one kid washed dishes and the other put them away.
posted by wryly at 5:47 PM on April 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

Nthing giving the teens the job of cleaning up after dinner. I don't really think it's fair to ask your ex to do it when he works 60 hours a week and you are working, by your own account, far less than that right now. You could also have your children (not just the one daughter) prepare a simple meal by themselves now and then, say spaghetti or grilled cheese. This both takes some pressure off of you and lets them learn useful life skills.
posted by parrot_person at 5:56 PM on April 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Argh. I sympathize with your depression and I know that it is a very hard thing to contend with. But I do not think it is fair in the least to expect your spouse to do this task when he seems to be working 60 hours a week to your 10 or so (cooking and driving your spouse to work).

Teens are plenty old enough to clean up after themselves but they should not have to clean up after their parents too.

I think the best compromise here would be that immediately after dinner everyone cleans their own plate and utensils. A line forms starting with you and your spouse, then the kids. This should take about 30 seconds per person to do. It is not a huge impossible task if you do it after every meal. To be perfectly honest I think you should be taking care of the bulk of the rest of it with both kids assisting. Why is the daughter the only one learning to cook?

If you cannot solve this problem I see nothing wrong with going to paper plates.
posted by cairdeas at 6:06 PM on April 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

"If you want to look at this purely from a "fairness" standpoint, compare it time-wise in relation to family contribution. What is your exes job in terms of the family? It seems to be making money. How much of his earnings go to family good and how much go to his own good? Say half. That's 30 hours a week. The kids' jobs are to go to school, do their homework, and do well so they can have their own successful future lives. School is what -- 35 hours a week? Plus whatever they spend on homework. Your job is buying food, organizing supplies, and cooking. Say 3 hours a week for food shopping/organization, and I'll say 1 hour per meal, 3 meals a day, 7 days a week (although obviously it is less per what you posted). That's 24 hours total. So if you want to look at it numbers-wise, there you go. When you're working, of course the numbers are going to change."

This perspective is good - but it is missing an account for time spent on child-rearing. Primate moon said they also do the raising and planning for the children, not the ex-husband. This definitely counts toward work-time spent. I'll venture to offer an opinion since your former husband won't: it sounds like it would be great for the kids to get a part-time job, school extracurricular, sport (such as biking to/from school), or to volunteer somewhere - it could help them learn responsibility for tasks such as dishes.

Personally, I believe the best approach is the one mentioned above, in which you wash and box up (and hide!) all the dishes that would otherwise get left out. The beauty of this solution, the beauty!
posted by aniola at 6:09 PM on April 7, 2012

On a practical level: I know finances are tight, but is there any way to put aside $10/week toward getting a used dishwasher off Craigslist? The portable ones can be wheeled up to the sink, and then rolled out of the way when you're done using them (they come in 18" and 24" widths, depending on what kind of space you might be looking at). Based on your profile, I see that you're in New England; I looked at Craigslist Boston, for example, and saw a couple of portable dishwashers listed for as little as $60-75.
posted by scody at 6:10 PM on April 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

Also, I think there are a bunch of red herrings here about who cooks vs. who cleans afterwards, division of housework between working-at-home, working-outside-the-home household members.

The point is that all the adults should be contributing equally. If everything else is equal then it is fair to expect, if you want to split it that way, that one person cooks and one person cleans. If someone is working in the home for 8 hours and someone is working outside the home for 8 hours, it is fair for the home chores to be split for the rest of that day.

But that is not the case here. That, to me, doesn't apply AT ALL when one household member is working 50% overtime and the other household member is barely working at all. The household member working overtime should not have more tasks added until the situation is more equitable.
posted by cairdeas at 6:11 PM on April 7, 2012 [4 favorites]

Instead of cleaning up after dinner, how about one of the kids (alternate roster) helping you with the dishes while you are preparing dinner. Cleaning up while preparing a meal makes the after-dinner wash up much less - and then the kid on roster does those few at the end. You will be both teaching the kids cooking and efficiency skills and getting a clean kitchen. And, maybe, some quality time with the kid. You say you are gradually teaching your daughter to cook... I hope both kids are learning regardless of gender.
posted by Kerasia at 6:12 PM on April 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

If your ex is working 60 hours a week to support you all, even though he's your EX, then I would probably not complain about him not doing dishes.

The kids, however, are a different story. Make a chore chart, give them allowances, whatever it takes. Your kids are the ones who should be helping you with the dishes.
posted by katypickle at 6:13 PM on April 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

Essentially, I am doing nothing all day, every day.

One thing that I do keep up with is my responsibilities for feeding everyone. I am the only one who cooks at all (gradually teaching my daughter, but her ADHD means lots of supervision). So I plan meals, keep on top of food inventory, shop, put away groceries, and prepare food for everyone including the ex. There are several foods that others in the family, including the ex, eat that I don’t, but I make sure to keep them available. I cook dinners from scratch about 3 times a week, leftovers about 3 times a week, and order in or eat out about once a week. I also will make breakfasts and lunches most weekends.

It seems totally fair that you shoulder all the responsibility for feeding, cleaning house, and washing up after meals, if your ex is working 60 hours a week.

You could complete all your responsibilities with feeding and cleaning in far less than 60 hours.

It does seem fair that the kids help, too. But as to the allocation between you and your ex, he has earned the right to be passive about household stuff.
posted by jayder at 6:25 PM on April 7, 2012 [10 favorites]

That they should share the responsibility doesn't mean they will. Stop feeding them til they do the dishes or do them yourself.
posted by liketitanic at 5:39 PM on April 7 [1 favorite +] [!]

No. Not this, not ever. You don't threaten children with the notion that you'll stop providing for them as a parent. This was one of my father's many emotional abuse tactics, and trust me, it's not good for a kid to hear it. Granted I was about 8 years younger than your kids, but I don't really believe the idea that "they're teens-abuse won't hurt as much."

Ok, done freaking out, lets move on...

You are not being unreasonable. I have been in your situation, though it's not been my children, but my partner and sister. I do not suggest you stop feeding your children. That's just not ok, maybe thats me. No matter how much of a brat your kid is, it's your responsibility. Especially when one of them is only 14 and has [at least moderate] adhd.

But, for your sanity, I'd stop going out of the way to please them. I'm the same way, especially when I'm depressed, which is odd, I know. I think I might unknowingly seek out actions that are solely meant to please others, in the hope that I'll get some gratification and validation in return. But more often than not, my efforts [and it seems yours, too] go unnoticed. So don't stock the house with foods for them. Just buy food. Hell, start buying groceries that are your favorites.

Second, keep asking for help. Preferably from your children. Just because ex's job is at a desk doesn't mean its a walk in the park. And when they groan and gripe at you for having to put forth some effort, just let it roll off. They're teenagers. Don't take it personally. And to help, you should set a schedule, that way you [hopefully at least some of the time] don't have to ask, which will avoid some of the moaning and groaning.
posted by FirstMateKate at 6:28 PM on April 7, 2012 [7 favorites]

declare "dish bankruptcy" and buy some disposable dishes and silverware. it's not particularly cheap in the long term, but it will help a lot with the triage now, so you will have time to get other things in order.

in terms of food preparation: even though it's not any healthier than fast food, convenience food, like frozen pizzas for example, help a lot with making the prep easier.

in general, try to cut corners where you can to free up time and energy to rebuilding your life.
posted by cupcake1337 at 6:30 PM on April 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

Seconding the idea that "Lifeboat rules are that you use disposables right now. Better would be if the kids added dishwashing to their chore list. Best would be if you could figure out a way to make a dishwasher happen."

Do dishes get put in to soak, or do they just get left around? Insisting that everyone clean food off their used dishes and utensils and put them in a dishpan of soapy water to soak, rather than just leaving them around, does make things easier.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:37 PM on April 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

You know what? You have an illness! It's just as much of an illness as if you had chronic fatigue syndrome or something. Leaving all else aside, it's not unreasonable to expect the teens to do dishes to help out a parent under those circumstances. If each kid did the dishes twice and week and you got take-out once and did the dishes twice yourself, that would be a pretty generous way to do it if you ask me and would give you five nights a week of no dishes to do.

If your ex is working sixty hours a week with no benefits or permanent position, that's got to be incredibly stressful and tiring for him, so he's probably pretty maxed out with the cleaning his room. However, I think it would be totally appropriate for him to help make decisions about the kids or be pro-active about spending time with them or driving them places on the weekend. His relationship with the kids is a valuable thing in itself; it's not just a chore that should be calculated out on an hourly basis.
posted by Frowner at 6:44 PM on April 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

It's not infantile or self-indulgent AT ALL, by the way, for you to assume that the three other currently able-bodied people in the house can do basic tasks like washing dishes. Your kids are well old enough to be part of the housework. Your ex sounds like he has a lot of resistance to being part of housework, and it does sound like he has a pretty exhausting work schedule outside the house, but he should be able to rinse his own glasses, mugs, dishes and utensils and put them in to soak, even if he feels like he already does enough in other ways that he shouldn't be part of a formal chore rota.

There are people being self-indulgent and lazy in your house, but (at least regarding dishes) they're not you.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:45 PM on April 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

At 14 and 17, the kids are MORE than old enough to take over all table setting, table clearing and dishwashing duty. (And they should BOTH know how to cook full family meals, not just spaghetti or grilled cheese as a poster above says.)
posted by easily confused at 6:55 PM on April 7, 2012 [7 favorites]

I agree that the kids should be helping with the dishes. After you show them that you value a clean kitchen. After you model that you are worthy of a clean and healthy home. After you show them that the dishes need to be done nightly.

Do the dishes because you appreciate yourself, and your family. When they come home from a long day at school and work they can enter a clean and bright kitchen. They can feel relaxed and get a snack and get ready to start their homework instead of worrying that mom has been sitting on the couch again all day.

Instead of thinking how you are getting screwed, you could think about your kids. They may want to invite friends over. They may want a clean glass after school. Make that happen for them. You could view keeping the house clean and welcoming as an act of love instead of a chore.

In my self-pitying days, I used to feel put upon too. I used to have this weird thing in my head that went something like, Why should I clean this house? Nobody appreciates it. Why should I clean my house? Why should you clean your house? Because YOU are worth it. If for no other reason, clean the house for yourself and your own comfort. You are worth a clean house. You deserve healthy meals.

This is so not about dishes. It's not about them and it's not about fairness. I find that the happiest people don't go around thinking about who isn't doing their fair share. They just do the dishes. This is about you and your feelings of self-worth. You can let laundry, dishes, and dirt pile up with or without your family. What are you doing for yourself?
posted by Fairchild at 6:56 PM on April 7, 2012 [8 favorites]

The kids should be helping with the dishes and food prep so they can learn how to be responsible adults. But if the behavior you're modeling is to spend most of the day on the couch and then coerce your dependent children to do chores -- after they've spent the day at school, presumably doing productive work toward their futures -- then I don't think they're going to be learning the right lessons about adulthood. You have to model motivation and discipline first if you expect them to learn it.
posted by crackingdes at 7:02 PM on April 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

I am going to somewhat disagree with a lot of other's suggestions. A man working to earn the income and then coming home to not lift a butt-cheek to fart is an idea that's from the 1950's. This is a rather sexist idea. You are keeping a household, and doing all the parenting while fighting a debilitating disease. Yes, he is putting in a lot of overtime. I think that should be taken into consideration.

You have said he already has a tendency to be passive. Allowing him to not do squat won't set a good example for your children, and will continue to cause you to be resentful. Even if you do the cooking and have the kids take up the chore of dishes, he too should have a regular chore to do, even if it's just taking out the damn trash. Most studies I have seen show happier marriages with more equal division of labor in the home (I don't have any citations at the moment). Even though you are not still married, the family dynamic is still there. Even a little bit of assistance can help you feel less burdened.
posted by annsunny at 7:17 PM on April 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

Do the dishes because you appreciate yourself, and your family.

People don't have trouble doing household tasks during depression because they "don't appreciate" themselves or their families. Nor is it unappreciative in any way for someone who is having a hard time managing household tasks to call upon teenaged children to pitch in.

Depression isn't feeling sorry for yourself.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:24 PM on April 7, 2012 [13 favorites]

I just want to acknowledge that telling you that the teens should be helping with the dishes doesn't make it any easier to get them to do it. Chore chart? Not going to work. Sometimes it's all you can do to get teens to sit at the table without glaring at you.

You're exactly the kind of person Flylady.com has in mind. Depressed, feeling resentful about not having help with housework, overwhelmed. I hope you will check it out. Nagging is exhausting.

Maybe you could start with an open ended question at the next meal. Ask at the beginning of the meal, before they're one foot toward leaving the table. "Kids, what can you do tonight to help me with this mountain of dishes?" and then just be silent. Wait and hear what they say. They might offer more than you would guess. If they offer nothing, ask again tomorrow night, in exactly the same way.

If you can pull it off without resentment, and without demands or nagging or rolling your eyes if you don't get a great response initially, eventually they will start coming through.

And you need to thank them even if all they can do is rinse their plate. Cheerfully say "thank you, Becky..every little bit helps!"

(they might be depressed too)
posted by vitabellosi at 7:40 PM on April 7, 2012 [4 favorites]

Depression isn't feeling sorry for yourself.

I am aware of this and I apologize if my answer comes across as callous. I can relate to this question in many ways -- the depression, the feelings of being exploited, the piling up of housework, etc. I have been there. I am assuming since the poster is capable of cooking, getting up to drive ex-spouse to and from work, she is capable of washing dishes in the daytime when the kids and ex are out so there will have clean dishes to prepare dinner. I do know how depression can distort. A half-hour (or less) of dish washing may feel like an insurmountable task. My answer, my opinion. I did not mean to offend and I am sorry if I did.
posted by Fairchild at 7:49 PM on April 7, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks, Sidhedevil, for making this point for me.

Annsunny, I don't "allow" the ex to do nothing (aside, of course, from supporting us all financially). I have spent the last 19 years (8 together, 11 apart), sometimes within the context of couples counseling, begging him to be more involved with me, the household, and most especially the kids. I can't ultimately make him do anything. Since moving back in together I flirted with the idea of providing no food or home services to him and taking care of only myself and the kids, but that seemed both wildly impractical and like a very bad model for the kids.

Crackingdes, the most tragic, shameful aspect of my quite crippling depression is that I am completely aware that I am providing an awful role model of how to manage oneself and one's life to my kids. But, regardless of how guilty I feel and how every day I vow to change, I quite simply can't help myself.

Someone asked about why I'm teaching only my daughter to cook. My son, the 14-year-old, has mild Asperger's and consequent anxiety issues, including around food. He eats very, very few food items and cannot bring himself to touch or smell certain things, let alone eat them. He already knows how to prepare his "own" food. He can't handle being shown how to make food he cannot eat.

My kids do have other regular chores (feeding and walking pets, trash/recycling, cleaning the bathroom, personal laundry, etc.). Also, when I am actually successful in getting the wherewithal to clean other parts of the house--much too seldom--this is something the kids and I do together. The ex is never part of this (he never leaves his room anyway, except to use the bathroom and to eat).

I actually love cooking; it's one of the very few things that I actually derive pleasure from and feels like a creative activity. I'm reluctant to give up making interesting, healthy, homemade food for instant or processed easy-to-prepare foods just to cut down on dirty dishes and pots and pans. And I don't plan things only the others like. I make stuff that we'll all like (except son). Also, I always and routinely clean up as I go, in an effort to minimize the post-dinner mess.

The kitchen is too small for a dishwasher. Also, I find that that doesn't really cut down on work significantly; dishes still must be scraped and rinsed and then put away. Also so many pots, pans, knives, etc. can't be run through dishwasher. Moot anyway since no room for a built-in or "portable."

It's been interesting to see the split opinions. I thank all of you for responding.
posted by primate moon at 7:50 PM on April 7, 2012

Response by poster: Edit: the ex also leaves his room to go to work; he works in an office, away from home.
posted by primate moon at 7:51 PM on April 7, 2012

I'm really sorry but you're not in full-time paid employment and your ex is working 60 hours a week to support your entire household. As far as I'm concerned, he's off the hook. Your teens should each be taking a turn to do the dishes one night a week. Your husband can take one weekend night.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:51 PM on April 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

If it makes you feel better, you're one of many mothers who struggles with this. It sounds like your kids are helping, so is there a specific reason they don't help with the dishes? Is it just habit? From what you've said, I think it's reasonable to ask your kids to help with the dishes without demanding it. Kids hate to do things when it's demanded (I'm speaking from experience here). The suggestion to ask them each meal what they can do to help with the dishes will probably be your most successful tactic.

And by all means, if cooking gives you pleasure, don't give it up!
posted by DoubleLune at 7:59 PM on April 7, 2012

OP, I most certainly wasn't trying to criticize you. I really can understand that kind of frustration.
posted by annsunny at 8:01 PM on April 7, 2012

Unfuck your habitat is a bit like flylady. I like it, if only for the prevailing attitude.
posted by idb at 8:02 PM on April 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

In case it is helpful, I will give you the perspective of the teen, at least my teenage perspective from my own family.

My mom was a SAHM who cleaned rarely, and was also something of a hoarder. I was not often allowed to have friends over because my mom was ashamed of how the house looked. I cooked all my own meals and did my own laundry beginning from the age of 10. Even when her large mess piles were invisible to her she always spotted anything I left around the house, so I always had to keep my own stuff put away or in my room. I'm not sure what my mom did all day while we were in school. When I was home I mainly saw her watching TV or talking on the phone.

She would also always massively "talk up" the things that she did do (one thing she said all the time was how she had been "RUNNING AROUND ALL DAY," when she had made two short car trips within our tiny town. "RAISING CHILDREN" was another big one even when we were teens and all spent almost all of our free time as we could away from her and that house) So I kind of cringed when I saw you describe driving your husband to work in the morning, in order to have the car the rest of the day, as "chauffeuring" him.

This situation for me as a teen all made me angry. Very, very angry. I'm not saying that was the most mature or the best reaction, I am just trying to give you the teen reaction. I was angry that because of my mother, I couldn't have my friends over. I was angry that she did, to my perspective, NOTHING, and on top of it tried to hugely trump up what she did do. I was angry that there were double standards for her inactivity and her mess, and mine.

She often tried to get me and my sister (not my brother) to do stuff around the house and I was not going to do SHIT. I saw it as her trying to make us her servants and slaves so that she could get away with not doing anything. And I saw her as trying to get US to clean HER mess.

I am telling you this because I think it would help if your teens saw you trying. I know you try when it comes to the cooking. I mean on all of it, all of the house stuff. Again, I completely understand how hard it is for you. But I think they really need to see you at least trying. Even ask for their help. Maybe let them know that YOU really want to do more, that you wish you could do more in general, but you are having a hard time and just really cannot do it without their help. I think if, however unfairly, they see it as you foisting everything off on them so you can be inactive, they will not cooperate at all. So in situations where they are cleaning make sure you are cleaning with them and not just supervising or resting. I also think guilt tripping them for not "doing their part" will not work at all because I do not think they will feel guilty at all, they will just think "she is not doing her part so why should I."

Also, at this point, I think they are old enough to have some say in how certain things are done in the house if they are going to be taking on a significant amount of chores. For example, one reason that I was NEVER was going to help my mom clean the carpets because she let my brother tromp all over them with his muddy shoes. So if the teens feel that they would rather make some changes so things don't get as dirty in the first place, rather than having to do a ton of cleaning, I think it would be good to have them be involved in making those decisions.
posted by cairdeas at 8:08 PM on April 7, 2012 [15 favorites]

Stop cooking. Let them make their own cheese sandwiches, pb&j sandwiches, cans of soup, whatever. Just stop for a couple of weeks and see if they beg you to cook. Give them each their own assigned plate, bowl, cutlery, cups, glasses. Your kids are too old to be pulling this shit. Your ex is a whole other issue, but at least he's paying the bills. After a couple of weeks of boring food suggest that they each help you cook one dinner a week and teach each one how to cook their favorite meal.

My very traditional 1950s father always cooked on Sundays. My similarly traditional uncle always did the dishes and made a spectacular brunch on Sundays. I have three adult sons, they all know how to cook and clean, getting them to do their share was like pulling teeth sometimes, but they learned and they appreciate it now, as do their lovely lady partners.
posted by mareli at 8:18 PM on April 7, 2012

Your ex works 60 hours a week. Your kids go to school and have other household chores. Right now, your only occupation, really, is driving your ex to work and doing the meal planning, cooking, and dish-washing, right? I think that's totally fair, and it would definitely not occur to me that you are over-worked in this situation, however unpleasant it may be for you.

I totally get how difficult depression can make simple, daily life seem. However, I do not think the labor division in your household is unfair, no.

Keep in mind that you are still the mother, and they are still the children. It IS important for them to learn to work, but it sounds like they are doing plenty of other chores. It IS your job to do things that benefit and provide for them, because they are your children, and you chose to raise them. It is NOT their job to make their existence as easy as possible on you, or to make your existence easier.

You said you don't want comments on your depression, so I'll leave it at that.
posted by ohsnapdragon at 8:31 PM on April 7, 2012 [11 favorites]

It sounds like you are a "guest" in your ex's house. You don't pay rent, you don't have a self sustaining job and you don't seem to have parental respect. If your ex sent you packing, what would happen at his house? The kids and he would find a way to get a meal and clean up afterwards or whenever they felt it necessary. It sounds important to you that they have a home cooked meal, but it does not sound important to the ex or the kids.

You say you chauffer your ex to work, but I see it as him being willing to be driven to work so that you can have access to the car all day if you want. Alternatively, let him drive himself. Then you have no car. Seems reasonable that if you want the use of his car that you would drive him to work. Who pays for the car, the insurance and the gas?

Do you think cooking is enough of a contribution to the household regardless of what anyone else is doing? I think it is reasonable for you to expect your children to participate in the household chores, but if you cannot get them to, then cooking and cleaning in exchange for room and board seems like a fair deal to me.

As this is no longer a marriage or a relationship, this is now a business transaction. Your ex sounds like he is willing to keep paying for room, board, transportation and other living expenses in exchange for ??? being a nice guy? cooking and cleaning? something else?
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:31 PM on April 7, 2012

Chorewars (http://www.amazon.com/Chore-Wars-Households-Share-Peace/dp/1573240540) is a good read if you're looking for some practical tips on getting kids and a household together on sharing work.

I would totally ignore your Ex's contribution and see the house as your job for up to 20-30 hours to start a week, giving yourself Sunday off, maybe Saturday once you get the kids involved. There's lots of great housekeeping guides out there - FlyLady.net is particularly good if you need a very rah-rah optimistic and sympathetic guide, RealSimple's website is decent if you just want a schedule and what-to-do guides.

Your kids should do up to an hour of chores a day and pick up after themselves. They will hate it initially, but once they get used to it and see that they're helping create a nicer home, it becomes routine. And a big big thing is: this is one of the most helpful things you can teach your kids. How to take care of a house, how to clean and cook, how to do basic life skills, and how to work together as a team. Vital life stuff. And what, you're cutting into their valuable texting/TV time? Tough.

Also, do you have freezer meals? They can be a godsend on a bad day. Or quick-fix meals like an instant stir-fry or simple pasta dishes with canned tuna.

And nthing everyone else - the person who cooked the meal is NOT the person who cleans up. If you really feel guilty at first, fill the sink up with hot soapy water and put in the dishes as you cook so that after dinner, they have a sink full of soaked very easy to clean dishes to quickly deal with.

Buy flowers and put some in the kitchen, some on the dining table. Actually, FlyLady may be just the thing for you - she can get the cleaning down to just a couple of hours a day and is big on making yourself calm and happy, not frazzled and worn out.
posted by viggorlijah at 3:44 AM on April 8, 2012

Does your kitchen have space for a decent drying rack? I ask because of an exercise in habit acquisition that I've been working on for a few months now.

We have a rack like this which I know from long experience can be piled up with an absolute mountain of plates and cups and pots and pans and cutlery.

And I got sick and tired of seeing this absolute mountain of long-dry plates and cups and pots and pans and cutlery sitting there staring at me every single time I approached the sink with a dirty plate in my hands, because I knew full well that yet again it would fall to me to put the friggin' dishes away before I had space to dry the one I wanted to wash; nobody else in my house seems interested in doing that and I had got to the point of resenting that bitterly.

So I resolved to acquire a new habit. For every wet thing I put on on the mountain, I put two dry things away first. If I want to put two wet things on the mountain, I put four dry things away first and so on. Doesn't matter what the things are. Maybe I'm putting on a wet plate: if the dry things I choose to put away are a teaspoon and a flexi-straw, that's fine.

It has taken about six months for that habit to get to the point where I just do it automatically instead of having a little fight with myself to force myself to do it. The little fights were always easy to win, because putting away a few things is such a small amount of work. And it's paid off; there is very rarely a mountain of things on the drying rack any more, and when there is, it only takes about two days to disappear.

The next habit I plan to acquire is always washing one more thing than I need to. So if I'm walking toward the sink with that dirty plate, I will wash it plus something else that's been left lying around, and put away four dry things from the rack, and then put both the things I just washed on the rack to dry.

If I can make that one stick too, then all I will ever need to do when it comes time to clean up the kitchen is run over the counters and the table with a damp rag. I'm looking forward to that.

Also: let me absolutely endorse the "disappearing dishes" idea. I ran that one really successfully while living with eleven other people in a large share house; at any time, there were six to eight slobs who thought it was OK to leave crap all over the kitchen. One day I just decided that anything left behind on a bench I wanted to use would get cleaned, dried, and hidden. Result: the slobs ran out of things to crap up the kitchen with. It was magic.
posted by flabdablet at 4:57 AM on April 8, 2012 [3 favorites]

Holy shit guys. Yes, this is kind of a special situation, because most ex-husbands (or ex-wives) would not allow their former partner to stay in their home and continue supporting them. So in that way, she is a guest in the house.

But being a SAHM is not all peaches and roses and sitting around eating bonbons, as apparently some of you seem to think. If she's the only one responsible for child-rearing--and it sounds like the dad isn't doing shit--that is a 24/7 job. You don't get to punch out the clock at 60 hours and say "Welp kids, time for me to go, have fun!" Housework is relatively the same damn thing, maybe the total hours don't add up to 60, but if the dog throws up at 3:00am and you're the only one who bothers to clean, guess who's getting up? The reactions to this woman's "easy job" are exactly why Ann Crittenden wrote her book.

It sounds like you have the kids helping you out with cleaning, which is great. You would benefit from giving them a chore chart--there are regular times they should clean, do the dishes, etc. Having kids do chores is not getting free labor, or whatever the implications from some of the posters here is. It's teaching them responsibility, to respect the space they live in, maintain it, and how to clean in the first place. I'm entering my late 20s and it is astonishing to me the number of people I know my age who still don't know how to clean a bathroom, starting from getting lost at what cleaning products to use.

It would be nice if your ex contributed, but again, given that this is a special circumstance you can't really expect anything (and from your account expecting anything would end in failure anyway). Try to just focus on the kids, and approach it not as them appreciating you or anything, but on teaching them to be self-sustaining adults.
posted by Anonymous at 9:33 AM on April 8, 2012

As far as your general situation, I haven't really got any answers although I will say that I wouldn't push for much housework out of your ex. Mainly it seems pointless, so pick your battles and let that one be. However, I have had teenagers who never did anything and I feel for you. It's almost as much work to get them to do it as it is to do it yourself, I know. I have found, though, that the chore chart works with teenagers - sometimes. But it's better than nothing. What worked the best was a combination of the chore chart and logical consequences: assign each child 2 days a week to do dishes. (I always just did the other three. Three isn't so bad.) Anyway, here's the kicker - this is more of a rotation than an actual day assignment. If the child does not do his/her dishes on his/her day than nobody does them and the child gets two days worth of dishes to do the next day. Repeat ad nauseum and yes, it can get nauseating. Kids get the idea of this pretty quickly - their siblings will help, because they will get all "you have to do my dishes, ha ha."

Then once they've done the dishes, the rotation continues with the next person in line doing the dishes, which changes everybody's day, but that's okay. In other words, say Sally does Monday, Johnny does Tuesday, you do Wednesday, Sally does Thursday, Johnny does Friday and you do Saturday and Sunday. If Sally doesn't do her dishes on Monday, then she does all the dishes on Tuesday and her day is now Tuesday, because Johnny's dish day is always next in line. This sounds much more complex than it really is. It worked surprisingly well with my kids.
posted by mygothlaundry at 1:56 PM on April 8, 2012

Adding to the chorus who say that it's unreasonable to expect one partner to work 60+ a week, bear all of the financial burden, and contribute to housework when the other partner does not work outside the home. I think it's possible your illness is deeply coloring your viewpoint here; it sounds as though you may already know that.

From reading your question, my understanding is that you are responsible for driving your ex to and from work (and I assume driving him and your children to/from activities); purchasing food; and preparing meals. I'm not seeing how this could take anywhere near 60+ hours a week. It's entirely reasonable for you to be responsible for cleaning dishes, too.

If your illness is making your household tasks too difficult to manage, what about some stop-gap measures until your depression is under greater control? Would it be possible to use paper plates and napkins and plastic utensils for a few weeks? Could you simplify your meal planning and preparation? For example, make the same meals each week (spaghetti on Monday, tacos on Tuesday, etc.) for several weeks? How about some crock-pot meals?

Finally, it's perfectly reasonable to expect teenagers to help with basic household maintenance, including washing their dishes.
posted by pecanpies at 3:53 PM on April 8, 2012

Skip disposable plates, as plates are actually easy to clean. Instead I recommend disposable cups (unless your family only drinks water) and disposable forks, as those are the two most annoying things to clean.

Cut down on the number of utensils that you give your family per meal. ONE fork. One plate. Dessert can go perfectly well on the dinner plate. Even ice cream goes on the plate.

Cut down on the number of dishes you use while cooking. This doesn't mean skimp the cooking, but start looking at the "one pot" trend, where you make recipes that can be completely prepared and cooked in a single pot. (Our library has a couple of books on the topic--check yours!)

Use disposable dishes for cooking in. Aluminum baking pans are good for a lot of things--meats as well as traditional baking. If you do your messiest dish in a disposable pan and line everything else with aluminum foil, that cuts down on the cleaning considerably.
posted by anaelith at 9:39 AM on April 9, 2012

This thread is a bit old, but I have a different perspective than many of the commenters on it, so thought I'd weigh in.

I am at home with three small children, and I do basically all household chores while my spouse works at a job outside the home. I work hard right now because the children are very small and need a lot done for them, but am not exploited, because:

We are a married couple. This means that under the law, I am basically being paid half my husband's salary. I am entitled to half the payments being made on our house. I am entitled to half the savings going into the bank. Every year, when we buy into retirement funds, we put equal amounts into each of our funds.

You are being exploited, and certainly would be if you took the advice here to start doing all household chores with great alacrity and dispatch, because:

You are not a couple at all. This means that under the law, all you're getting is room and board. That's not fair market value in the least. It's the "deal" those disgusting exploiters give women from other countries when they bring them here to be unpaid servants. I don't think your ex-husband has thought about it that way, but I hope he wouldn't want to have an unpaid servant. I would not.

I have family with live-in servants here in the US, who do all the cooking and cleaning and some of the managing children of all ages. They get paid salaries.

Spend your days looking for a job that pays money. Don't spend them cooking and cleaning for someone who isn't connected to you in a way that warrants you taking care of him.
posted by palliser at 3:58 AM on April 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

Put another way, I take very seriously my obligation to put in as many hours as my husband before asking for help. The benefits our household brings in (his salary) are being split equally, so the burdens should be, too.

Your ex-husband works 60 hours a week and gets paid for 60 hours a week. Why should you match that, as suggested here, unless he's splitting his salary in half? If he is having his paycheck split between your two bank accounts, and then you're both splitting the bills at the end of the month, then I take it back, and everyone here is right. But if he's taking all benefits except room and board for one person, then you should bear only those burdens that would "pay" for room and board for one person. Certainly that's far less than "all household chores," and in my opinion less than you're doing now (cooking and grocery shopping for four, and taking on all child-rearing for two special-needs teenagers).
posted by palliser at 5:03 AM on April 19, 2012

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