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Getting the Help You Need at Home

By Linda Avey Bullock

Ah, modern life. You're out of the kitchen and into the world. You can do anything you want now. You're so happy at this newfound freedom, you spring out of bed each morning singing, "I am woman; hear me roar!"

No? Maybe this is more familiar: Ugh! Modern life. You dash off to work in the morning, where you scramble to meet everybody's needs. You come home and use your remaining energy taking care of your family's needs, pencil yourself in for next Thursday, and fall into bed. Rrrrriinnngggg! goes the alarm much too soon. You groan, stumble up onto that treadmill, put it in overdrive, and try to hang on for one more day.

Modern Woman, you need help. What's more, you deserve help. For most of us, that's hard to accept. Women are programmed to take care of everybody else, so we often feel guilty doing something that's just for us. Let's take a closer look at how we justify our own martyrdom.

1. "If I don't do it, nobody will." Amend that to "If I continue to do it, nobody else will." Why should they? We know of an otherwise sensible woman who says that her husband won't eat unless she cooks for him. Frankly, we're suspicious of that one, but she is convinced of it.

Household tasks need to be done, but they don't necessarily need to be done by you. Not only can your partner do them, but children can perform simple household chores, such as laundry and dusting the furniture. As they grow older, they can learn to prepare simple meals. Pasta or rice dishes, for example. And teenagers are much more creative and able than they let on. Your teenager likes to drive? Perfect. He or she can run some errands. Make it part of the deal for driving privileges.

If you're on your own, and you find that you are always the one to organize events, run errands for relatives, and otherwise find ways to put your needs last, ask for assistance. Take turns chairing the annual charity fund-raiser. Tell your brother it's his turn to take mom shopping.

2. "I'm the only one who can do these things right." This one's really an ego trip. If you can delegate at work, you can delegate at home. In either case, it's simply a matter of training. And the first person who needs to be trained is you: Train yourself to say no. Then train others to take up the slack.

Be patient but firm. Children will take a little longer to learn new skills than adults. And they're going to make some mistakes along the way: Your favorite cashmere sweater now fits your dog; your husband's underwear is a pretty shade of violet. Resist the urge to scold. Encourage and teach instead. One of the best ways to teach children is to do each new task with them for a while. Make it something fun you do together. Herein lies quality time.

Be specific. When you assign tasks to children (or ask another adult to pitch in), break things down into small segments, and be specific each time. You'll get much better results with "Please wash and dry the dishes and the kitchen counter" than "Clean up the kitchen"; say "Please put the toys away" rather than "Clean up this mess"; "You cook the turkey this year, and I'll bring dessert" rather than "Let's have the holiday dinner at your house for a change."

Lower your standards. Resist the urge to redo things to your "superior standards." And never expect children to do things as well as an adult. So what if the pasta isn't al dente or the top of the picture frames don't get dusted this week. Your goal is more free time for you, not the Good Housekeeping award.

3. "My children need their childhood." We're not suggesting you use your children as laborers. But giving children some responsibility (as they're able to handle it) fosters self-reliance and self-esteem. You don't do your children or yourself any favors when you insist on doing everything yourself in the name of Motherhood. It's not even a workable role model for the next generation.

4. "I need more help, but I just can't afford it." Write a "Don't want to do list" for your personal life. What's on yours? Housework? Errands? Laundry? Organizing? Gardening? Shopping?

One woman's pleasure is another woman's torment. A female executive we know hates to shop. So she rarely does. Yet she's always impeccably dressed. How does she do it?

"I got to know one of the sales reps at the store where I buy my clothes. When I need something I just call her up and tell her what I'm looking for--whether for a special occasion or for a season--and she picks out each outfit down to the last accessory. All I have to do is go in, try them on, and pay for them. It's a nice arrangement."

Another busy executive we know swears by catalogs. She's got a knockout wardrobe, and it's all done by phone. How's that for saving time?

How about some of the other chores you don't want to do? Before you say you can't afford help, consider all the options. High school students or senior citizens--even stay-at-home Moms or Dads--may charge less than the standard fees for services. Check out the classified section of your community newspaper. It's probably filled with people looking to do the odd job here and there.

If you can't afford to pay somebody to completely take over a particular chore, temporary or intermittent help can give you a break now and then. Even one weekend a month free from housework would be better than none.

Time is money. Spend your time and your money wisely--and don't forget to include yourself.

Also see:
Reduce your household clutter and cleaning time
More articles about work and family balance
Executive moms balancing secrets

Linda Avey Bullock, author of two books and the editor of the newsletter Women as Managers, specializes in humor, health and issues that relate to women in the workplace.

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