I have a family of three. I have an adult son who is mentally challenged and a spouse who just won’t grow up. As soon as he gets home from work, he starts messing with motors for small engines but doesn’t help fix anything that has to do with the house, from plumbing to shelves.
My adult son does nothing at all unless I ask him to do something. The trash in the house is not thrown out unless I remind them both about it. They can’t even bring any of their own garbage to a trash can. I come home from work to a sink full of dirty dishes before dinner. When I’m done with the laundry, I ask my spouse to put his laundry away and he doesn’t do it even when it’s all been placed on hangers. When I clean the living room area, they both just go mess it up again.
I clean the yard and cover the house bills, while my husband wastes his paycheck on I don’t know what and asks me for money even though he earns $700 a week. I just don’t get it.
I’m a Cinderella [the fairy tale character] waiting for some prince to come save me. I want to just run away or even better move out and leave them to tend to themselves. I’m so tired of cleaning and haven’t had one day of a break or a vacation in five years. I’m tired of talking to them as neither of them will budge. What is a woman to do?
It Is Time To Put YOU First
Janine Hayward is a director of ComposurePsychology, chartered clinical psychologist and honorary research fellow at University College London in the UK
Oh, Gracie, I would also feel tired and wish to escape if doing all of the household work alone! Fortunately, you can be your own prince and “save” yourself by placing YOU and building your well-being skills, first. Below are six psychology-based skills to foster helpful change.
- Be self-compassionate: Like your husband with engines, when did you last do something for yourself before starting chores? Self-time doesn’t have to be grand: walks, meeting friends, sitting, reading for 15 minutes, or daydreaming are examples. Regular prioritization of yourself over chores leads to more balance and less burnout.
- Live from your values (qualities of behavior): How much do you demonstrate your values? If your top three are “kind, loving, and strong” what will you stop or start doing for yourself/others? Behaviors aligned with values often lead to a sense of time well spent and feeling happier.
- Beware of unreasonable standards: Do you set very high standards? Will it matter if clothes are not put away today? Letting go of having everything “our way” reduces stress and welcomes others to contribute “their way.” We see things differently; wanting someone to complete a task they deem unimportant is unlikely to work.
- Create a “TEAM”: Explore what others prefer, are willing to do, and when. Your husband and son may hate putting out the trash, yet be willing to strip a bed or fold laundry. Together, list the most important tasks (with sub-steps) and how often they could be done. Invite everyone to assign themselves to parts of tasks according to their preferences and strengths. This encourages empowerment, team, and mutual gratitude.
- Reward behavior you want to be repeated. Attending to and rewarding desired behavior helps people to feel good about what they do. Acknowledging the person and their actions means they are more likely to repeat the behavior. Similarly, pointing out unwanted behavior invites more of the same. Instead, try to notice what is working well.
- Learn to say “no” and tolerate discomfort: Saying “no,” sticking to it, and riding out uncomfortable feelings, thoughts and sensations is fundamental for self-respect, clear communication, managing others’ expectations, and setting healthy boundaries. Practice saying “no” to little things until your mind and body learns it can cope. Then say “no” to important things (like money) and trust that you will survive any discomfort even if it feels unbearable.
My advice assumes you feel safe in your relationships. Feeling unsafe? Talk to a trusted friend and contact local support groups for advice.
Express How You’re Feeling, What You Need, And Your Wish for Change
Wendy O’Neill is a clinical psychologist based in London, UK, who works with individuals and families with emotional difficulties.
Understandably, you are feeling fed up and frustrated by your husband and son as you are juggling a number of different responsibilities and have little time to look after yourself or be cared for by them. I wonder if you are also feeling unseen by your husband and son as they do not listen to or acknowledge your role and the things you do at home.
You mentioned that your son is experiencing some difficulties and I wonder if on some level, this acts as a barrier for him to help you out at home. Given that he responds well to your request for help when you ask him, could you speak to him and create a list of tasks for him to complete during the week, offering lots of positive feedback when he carries them out. This may also improve his sense of agency if he does not believe that he is able to accomplish tasks.
It sounds like you are feeling rejected by your husband and through his actions when he spends time repairing items outside the home when you would like him to fix things that are important to you in the home you share. You have indicated that you have spoken to both of them, although I wonder about having an open and honest conversation with your husband, expressing how you are feeling, what you need from him in terms of support, and your wish for change. This can then be reviewed over time.
I wonder if you feel like you have lost a part of your identity in the day-to-day reality of life currently. Some of the lessons from the Cinderella character are about perseverance in adversity, determination in trying to change, and taking charge of a situation. You strike me as an independent and strong woman and perhaps you can down tools and see what happens when they don’t have you to rely on and add some much-deserved sparkle by treating yourself to something that brings you joy. Wishing you well.
If you have a similar family dilemma, let us know via firstname.lastname@example.org. We can ask experts for advice, and your story could be featured on Newsweek.