7 Steps for Getting Your Kids and Spouse to Pitch in on Chores

With a little organization and communication, you can save money, make your life more pleasant, and strengthen your family as a team. Here are seven steps that can help.
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Today the majority of married women work outside the home (nearly 69%, according to U.S. Department of Labor data), yet women still perform most of their family's housework. So, it's no surprise that a recent Forbes magazine poll found that "92% of working moms say they are overwhelmed with workplace, home, and parenting responsibilities."

Throwing money at the problem isn't an option for many households: A weekly house cleaning service can cost thousands of dollars annually. The cheaper alternative: Hire help once a month, and then fill in the gaps by delegating chores to your family. The latter approach can be challenging, but with a little organization and communication, you can save money, make your life more pleasant, and strengthen your family as a team. Here are seven steps that can help:

1. Assess your home's needs.
Compile a list of the chores that need to be done, and then categorize them by level of importance. Are there some tasks that absolutely must be done every week, while others can be addressed less frequently? Understanding exactly what needs to be done and when can make delegating chores a whole lot easier.

2. Communicate with family.
In order to change how a family addresses household chores, it's important to speak openly about needing help. With spouses, a friendly approach works best, advises couples therapist Dr. Joshua Coleman. "Tell your (spouse) that you've been feeling overwhelmed and that you really need and appreciate help." Your conversation should focus on how you can collaborate on fixing the issue, and not point fingers. Your partner should respond well to this approach; remember, he or she is an adult and generally wants you to be happy.

Children, on the other hand, may need more coaxing. "Let them grumble, and acknowledge with kindness that you understand that they'd rather be doing something else," says psychotherapist and parenting expert Susan Stiffelman. The most important thing, though, is to stay the course no matter how they react.

3. Assign chores.
First, decide what chores need to be done by you and you alone: those that you are especially adept at, or ones that you want done in a very specific way. Next, decide what to delegate. Younger children should be assigned the simplest tasks that can help form good habits (such as making their beds and emptying waste baskets), while older children and your partner should be given the rest. Finally, keep in mind the skills and preferences, and welcome the family's input; the happier they are with their chores, the more likely they will be to complete them.

4. Create a schedule.
Spend some time crafting a well-organized calendar that clarifies the timing of the various jobs. Try to take into consideration your family members' availability (i.e. work, school, and activities). You might even set up a specific "family cleaning time." As a child, I appreciated the sense of teamwork inspired by doing chores at an appointed time with my parents and brother.

To create your schedule, check out ChoreBuster, a website that not only helps you organize your family's duties but also sends out daily or weekly reminder e-mails so that no one can use the excuse, "I forgot." For younger children, try putting a sticker chart on the refrigerator they can reference. Each time your kids finish a task, they can put a sticker on it.

5. Motivate the troops.
The simplest (and often most effective) way to motivate is by praising your partner and children for a job well done. If that's not enough, arrange family fun days that can be earned if chores are completed. These fun days can be spent anywhere your family enjoys (the park, movie theater), and the best thing about them is that they help to further develop a sense of family unity.

6. Hold them accountable.
There will be times when family members fail to follow through. If it's your partner who isn't doing his or her "share of the work around your home, try and discover together why there is such reluctance," writes marriage advisor team Sheri & Bob Stritof. Swapping tasks might help. Ultimately, communicating (and not blaming) is the key to success.

To hold kids accountable, remove privileges temporarily. Try withholding dessert from smaller children and taking away electronics from older ones until they get the job done. It can also be effective to sit down with your child and have a meeting about why he or she is not complying. Some kids will get with the program simply to avoid such meetings!

7. Be patient.
It will take time before your family becomes a well-oiled, chore-completing machine. Understand that you will likely have to supervise and train your family members for a while, and be okay with them doing things their own way as long as everything is getting done.

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