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My husband is cleaning. Shouldn’t I be more psyched?

Categories: Making Time, The Juggle


With five kids, two parents who work full-time, a 75-pound black lab who sheds hair like he’s desperately trying to clone himself, no housekeeper, and my tendency to clutter, I don’t need to tell you that my house isn’t pristine. It’s not filthy — in terms of the National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization’s Clutter Hoarding Scale, we’re not more than a 1, the lowest score. But still, I wouldn’t happily eat off of the floor or anything. (My toddler is far less discriminating.)

The other day, my husband went on a cleaning tantrum. He started with the kitchen, moving things off the counter tops and scrubbing the stove and swabbing the backsplash with powerful detergents. He tossed the newspapers I’d left languishing in a pile on a chair and wiped down every surface he could find while I worked in the next room.

I was grateful. I was also mortified. I appreciated the fact that he recognized I was overloaded and couldn’t get to the cleaning myself, but still… it made me feel like I’d failed, somehow.

In spite of everything I do, I can’t shake the feeling that I should be able to do more. Is this the Achilles Heel of the modern working mom? Shouldn’t I be able to keep my house spotless and clutter-free, decorated tastefully yet stunningly? Have all the clothes cleaned and folded and put away properly instead of heaped in clean or dirty piles in the hallway near the laundry room? Pack five exciting, delicious, nutritionally balanced lunches for the kids, preferably the night before, all while while working full time, supporting my family, freelancing on the side, socking at least 10 percent of my income away, and climbing the corporate ladder in 3-inch heels?

I know, I know… I just wrote about how, sometimes, working moms do it all by not doing it all. But I want to be good at everything, even if I don’t have the time or the wherewithal to do so. And, really, I suck at housekeeping.

My husband has moved on to the dining room, and I think I should move on, too. Instead of being upset that I can’t do it all, I’m going to try to be grateful that my husband is doing this. Maybe, together we can get it all done, if we take turns. And, if that doesn’t work, I’ll take solace in the fact that our house is still a few clutter-levels away from utter chaos.

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17 comments so far...

  • I’m with you. I suck at housecleaning. I have no idea what instrument or cleaner to use unless it is clearly marked on the bottle with pictures. I’ve probably tried every cleaning gadget that came along telling me that I’d be the perfect housewife if I used it. Ebay, trash divers, and babysitters have all been the happy recipients of my numerous cast aways.

    I’ve just about given up. I’d love to hire a cleaning service. My husband thinks it is a waste of money. So, like you, balls of white dog fur blow gracefully through the kitchen even with daily sweeping, and the clutter of kids and parents migrate throughout the house.

    My husband washes laundry daily leaving a dozen clean baskets around our room and closet. He organizes the kids to vacuum and unload the dishwasher. And, he scrubs the shower before he gets out each day.

    Me, I’m into the swiffer. I am brutal in throwing things in the trash. I make sure the toilets and bathroom counters are clean. I wash the kitchen counters and pans in the sink.

    But, our house horrifies my mother and mother-in-law. They always say to get a maid. Friends don’t seem to care, and actually say how nice our house is. So, when I think logically about what we/I can do, I’m okay. I’ll never be June Cleaver. Good god, do I really want to?

    Michele  |  July 28th, 2008 at 6:23 am

  • You just described my exact feelings. When I find hubby washing and folding AND putting away laundry I get instant guilt. I work from home for crying out loud so shouldn’t I be doing more? I can’t stand seeing the house a mess and when I simply can’t get to that dirty bath tub all day I feel horrible.

    When you figure out how to let it go will you please pass it along?!!?

    Mandy at Dandysound  |  July 28th, 2008 at 8:53 am

  • I think there’s a big difference between when your husband spontaneously decides to clean the whole house, versus an everyday arrangement where he’s responsible for certain chores such as washing the dishes, cleaning the toilets, or whatever. The latter is a bargain, just like so many others that any marriage has.

    The former almost seems like a tacit criticism, like he’s saying “I’m fed up with my wife, who doesn’t keep the house clean enough, but instead of getting into an argument, I’ll just do a lot of cleaning, and she’ll get the idea.”

    You could take turns, but then you have to remember whose turn it is, and you might get into the “you don’t do it as carefully as I do”. It works out better for us to divide up the chores, so when the sink is full of dirty dishes, it’s clear who should go clean them.

    DLW  |  July 28th, 2008 at 9:28 am

  • Oh boy, does this sound familiar - although it was a much bigger issue in my first marriage. I’m glad to learn I’m not the only one conflicted over this. On the one hand, it’s great not to be expected to do it all; on the other, when someone else steps in to do it for you, it does feel like an implied criticism. (Maybe that’s because when I step in to clean up after my husband, there’s an element of implied criticism of HIM?)

    Florinda  |  July 28th, 2008 at 12:05 pm

  • I’m so glad other women share my pain. My biggest problem is I am a clean freak. It drives my husband nuts. But, I just can’t help it. I do have a housekeeper that comes every other week, which is wonderful. But with three children, there is lots to be done in between.

    And sometimes, you have to ask yourself….what’s more important, reading a book to your child or vacuuming the floor AGAIN!

    Lisa Willard  |  July 28th, 2008 at 12:11 pm

  • I feel like this a lot. My husband is really helpful and I feel guilty, often, that I am not doing more. I know we shouldn’t feel this way, as moms, women — but I do.

    Nataly  |  July 28th, 2008 at 1:07 pm

  • I don’t know about grateful… I guess it is important to appreciate each other for what we do, but really, isn’t he just doing his job as part of the household? Shouldn’t everyone who lives in the house be responsible for maintaining it? I love it when my husband gets a cleaning bug up his butt, but I also think to myself, well, why shouldn’t he clean the house every once in a damn while?

    Robyn  |  July 28th, 2008 at 1:23 pm

  • Why is it so engrained in our culture that women do the housework? I’m a man, I did housework when I was married - dishes, laundry, vacuuming, everything except dust mopping (I suck at that). My wife and I shared the chores.

    When I got divorced I hired a cleaning lady. She was great, but my kids grew older and wanted more allowance/chore money. So we do our own house cleaning again - me, my teen daughter, and my pre-teen son.

    dadshouse  |  July 28th, 2008 at 2:16 pm

  • dadshouse: I wonder about that, too. I was really surprised to find that my guilt about it was entirely internal — my husband wasn’t resentful about cleaning, he just could see that I was too busy right then to do any of it. But I still felt like I’d let my family down. Bizarre.

    Robyn: Good point! I think my gratitude came from the fact that he told me he could see that I was swamped with work… that acknowledgement was great, but at the same time, I felt like I should have been able to “do it all.”

    Nataly: The only way you could do more is if you cloned yourself — twice. You’re amazing!

    Lisa: Reading the book, no doubt about it! :)

    Lylah  |  July 28th, 2008 at 2:27 pm

  • Florinda: Oooh, I hadn’t thought of it that way. Good point.

    DLW: That’s true about taking turns… I think with us it’s more of a “who has more time today” (or I should say “tonight” — the cleaning usually happens when the kids are in bed, or else it starts again as soon as it stops)!

    Mandy: Sure thing! And that’s EXACTLY how I feel… glad to know that I’m not the only one!

    Michele: I grew up with cleaning services coming to the house, so my mom doesn’t really see why I don’t have one now, but right now I’ve decided to pay for karate class for the kids instead of housecleaning (it’s about the same price), and there’s just not room for both in the budget. I need to make myself be more brutal about throwing things away, though — I’m on top of the mail just fine, it’s the other little things that accumulate and overwhelm.

    Lylah  |  July 28th, 2008 at 2:30 pm

  • When my husband cleans, I sometimes feel critical vibes from him. Like, sometimes he’s cleaning because he realizes the cleaning belongs to both of us—but other times, there’s a palpable “GEEZ!!!” feeling coming off of him, like he thinks he shouldn’t have to do “my” work but he can’t stand it another second. It’s not that I feel guilty—it’s that I feel like his cleaning attitude is critical, which makes me feel defensive.

    swistle  |  July 28th, 2008 at 8:52 pm

  • I’m with you except I’m not happy either way. If my husband is cleaning and I’m lying in bed resting I feel guilty and inadequate. If I’m cleaning while he’s in bed, I resent him. He can’t win and he knows it, which is probably why he chooses to just let me clean over helping me most of the time, lol.

    rei  |  July 28th, 2008 at 11:33 pm

  • Lylah, yes this is bizarre.
    Dadhouse, I like what you are saying.

    I guess there is something still in us women that makes us feel guilty about this whole thing.

    But from the day I got married I always shared household chores. I was a college student and my husband was a pharmacist. I didn’t care that he made more money or was working full time while I was in college working part time. I split up our one bedroom apartment. He cleaned the living room, foyer, and bedroom. I did the kitchen and bathroom. We both did the laundry. I started cooking after having kids.

    I grew up watching my mother do everything around the house and I didn’t like that. So I promised myself that my husband will contribute just as much, and he does.

    vera babayeva  |  July 28th, 2008 at 11:50 pm

  • hmm i dont feel the least bit guilty when my hubby cleans, am i the weird one? (very possibly). I think i just hate it so much that if anyone else does it i am so greatful there is no room for guilt.
    Occationally hubby will vaccuum and/or wash the kitchen floor (on hands and knees! i take pictures) to which i lavish great praise! Ok so this happens like 2 or 3 times a year but it’s still fun, not guilt inducing.

    Honestly, we both are terrible housekeepers and one day… ONE DAY i will hire someone to do it. even have an ad for an environmentally friendly one on the fridge.

    do you feel guilty if you hire someone to clean?

    Kate  |  July 29th, 2008 at 1:04 pm

  • I have three kids and a cat who loves to shed all over every surface of the house. By the time we had our youngest, my husband and I realized we spent way too much of our precious time on the maintenance of our home, and not enough with our kids. That’s when we hired a housekeeper to come twice a week, and it has saved our lives. We can spend more time together as a family, enjoying our daily routine instead of just focusing on getting it all in every day.

    I think there should be no guilt involved in sharing responsibilities and even hiring an outsider to help out. Also, my housekeeper only charges $15 an hour, so it’s pretty affordable. I found her online at a site called She uses organic cleaning products and does a way better job than we ever could.

    So I say there should be no more guilt for us modern moms who do it all! The time they are a changing…

    Sophie  |  July 29th, 2008 at 2:45 pm

  • I really do understand where you’re coming from! I feel that when my husband does several loads of laundry in a row. While I’m thrilled he’s helping, I still find myself feeling inadequate. So yes, this is the Achilles Heel of the modern working mom! Well put.

    Shannon (a.k.a. Believer in Balance)  |  July 30th, 2008 at 5:18 pm

  • When my girls were younger I was always organized and house clean. Used to wash a tub of clothes every day. But since my Mom passed I don’t get things organized as much. Things just didn’t matter as much as couldn’t never get back to where I was before. So am much slower than I was (older too) and still keep trying to keep things clean and organized. My youngest helps way more than my hubby does. And I appreciate all the help. Oh-hubby does help was the dishes and cook the rice for us. I like that.

    eileenb  |  October 26th, 2008 at 1:05 pm