When family shares the chores, home runs more smoothly


January 15, 1995|By Susan Hipsley | Susan Hipsley,Special to The Sun

"If it works in the workplace, why not take it home?" asks Ann McGee-Cooper, a Dallas time-management expert. She's extolling the time-saving graces of delegation at home. "You can get the family to help with chores -- and actually like it."

Sharon Rippey, a 30-year-old Baltimore mother of three preschoolers who works full time, knows what Ms. McGee-Cooper is talking about.

She and her husband delegate regularly in their children's lives. Five-year-old twins Gabrielle and Aurora put their clean laundry in clearly labeled drawers (socks, shirts, underwear). Their 3-year-old puts her clothes neatly into drawers, too, but isn't expected to sort things yet. Everybody takes his or her own dishes to the kitchen after meals.

"They don't always like it, but they do it because they know it's part of our family rules," says Ms. Rippey. "And most of the time they do it willingly and happily. Jasmine [the 3-year-old] asks to help with the dishes. It takes more time to do the dishes with her, but I see it as a learning experience and an investment in the future, when she'll be able to do it on her own."

But what if you didn't start delegating early on with your children? Is it too late to get them to pitch in? No, says Ms. McGee-Cooper, author of "Time Management for Unmanageable People" and "You Don't Have To Go Home from Work Exhausted."

Here's her action plan, which she says works with children of all ages:

* Call a family meeting. Let the group decide the time and place. "People will support what they helped to create. And giving choices will get you further than a mandate. That just gets resistance."

* Talk about the family in terms of a team. Make the meeting interactive by bringing a big pad of paper for noting ideas and colorful markers. Make it fun. You will get a lot more input, and input is the door to commitment.

* Plan ahead. Know the issues and think through a nonjudgmental way to present them.

* Let everybody know what's in it for them. Some payoffs are obvious, such as having everybody in on planning the family vacation.

Others are more difficult to detect, says Ms. McGee-Cooper. Say a single mom has been working and keeping up the house with no help. She's overwhelmed and cross and knows her children feel anger and resentment about her lack of attention.

"She should be honest with her children. Say, 'I need your help with keeping our lives running smoothly. I'm not getting enough time with you, and you're letting me know I'm grumpy and not available for you. Let's have a family meeting and brainstorm about ways we can improve this situation so we can have more fun together.' "

* Don't worry if you reach an impasse. "These meetings will tend to run out of steam," says Ms. McGee-Cooper. "You'll get tired and want to say, 'You had your chance. Now let's do it my way.' But hang in there -- even if you have to decide to meet again the next day when everybody's fresh."

* Find creative solutions. "Look for those third right answers. It's not my way or your way, but another way that we may not have thought of before."

* Build in some accountability. This doesn't have to be a sour end note. Ms. McGee-Cooper tells this story to demonstrate her point: "I know a single mother with three children -- ages 7, 9 and 11 -- who was getting her graduate degree and working. She was trying to do it all and became overwhelmed. She just sat down in the middle of the kitchen floor one night and sobbed in front of her children.

"She told them she needed their help. It was the best thing she could have done. The children felt needed and helped because of that, not because they had to. They divided up the chores and decided to meet each Friday night and look at what they'd done pTC during the week. They forgave their mistakes and celebrated the good things they'd done."


What do you do to save time, to make life easier? What have you cut down on or cut out to make more time for yourself and your family? Have you found a way to simplify your lifestyle? Call the Sundial number that follows to tell us your tips and thoughts. Future columns will feature your ideas. Be sure to leave your name, city of residence and daytime phone number when you call Sundial, The Sun's telephone information service, at (410) 783-1800. In Anne Arundel County, call (410) 268-7736; in Harford County, (410) 836-5028; in Carroll County, (410) 848-0338. Using a touch-tone phone, punch in the four-digit code 6220 after you hear the greeting.

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