Be Grateful For His Creativity Rather Than Grumpy About His Clutter

Be Grateful For His Creativity Rather Than Grumpy About His Clutter July 21, 2014

Dear Shaunti,

My husband seems to miss the point of giving me “down time.”  When I get out of the house for a few hours, and he is with our five-year-old twins, I always come home to a mess!  It is not like the house is trashed, but he and the kids are having such a great time together they completely ignore that I’M going to have to be the one to clean the dishes piled in the sink, and pick up the sweaty clothes dropped on the floor after their bike ride.  It puts me so far behind to come home, that I end up not wanting to go out!  I try to tell him this, and he gets defensive.  How can I get him to see how frustrating this is for me?

Frustrated stay-at-home mom

Dear Frustrated,

Sister, you need something much more important than a clean home: something called P-E-R-S-P-E-C-T-I-V-E.  Your husband just gave you a few precious hours of solitude and not only was “with” the kids, but was actually engaging with them, and building a great relationship!  What’s more important?!

Now, don’t get me wrong, if an orderly home is a big thing for you, then he and the kids should care about that – and do something about it.  And I’ll get back to that in a second.   But I think the real problem here is bigger than a heap of peanut-butter-encrusted plates that haven’tbeen put in the dishwasher: In expecting and focusing on something that your husband isn’t doing, you’re missing (and thus not appreciating) what he is doing that is far more important.

I’ve done a bunch of research on what makes happy vs. unhappy marriages. Across the board, one of the main reasons for unhappiness is having an expectation that is not met. You thought you would get a few hours of blissful solitude, that your hubby would spend quality time engaged in “Dadland,” and that while he was living his “Dadland” adventures, he would also be sure to clean up along the way so you wouldn’t have to.

But you did have to.  Result: unhappiness.

But now be honest and ask yourself: are you fully giving credit to your husband for the ways he met or exceeded your expectations?  After all, he didn’t just passively “babysit” – he’s been off on an adventure with them!  He’s pouring life into them.  And he gave you some precious hours away while doing it.

Is it truly not worth the hours away, and the knowledge that your kids are getting precious Dad time, to have to pick up after them when you get home?

I will tell you that one of the key habits of the happiest spouses is recognizing when their expectations might be unrealistic, and choosing to instead focus on and appreciate what their spouse can and does do for them.

Now let’s get back to that issue of him and the kids caring that an orderly house is important to you.  It is very legitimate to want your husband to care about that.  It is not unrealistic to hope that your “down time” doesn’t have to include extra “work time.”  The question is whether it is worth being unhappy when it does.  And whether there is way to gently move toward a better solution over time rather than ditching the whole effort to get you regular time away, because the process of getting there is – um — messy.

Your husband likely wants to make you happy—that is one of the reasons he wants to do this in the first place!  So if you have mentioned this problem several times, and it doesn’t change, my guess is that he is one of those people who is naturally “messy” instead of neat.  I must confess I am in the same category, and to me the big, vague things (“clean the house before I get back”) seem unattainable and confusing but I (and maybe your husband) am more than willing to do a few specific things if asked. (“Could you put all the dirty dishes in the dishwasher, and have the twins put all the dirty clothes in the laundry hamper?”)  Then once the “few” are mastered, adding others over time seems do-able.

Praise him and the kids for what they get right (including the Dadland adventures!), and refuse to be offended by what they get wrong, and, over time, you’ll almost certainly find that both your appreciation and their household help will grow.


Shaunti Feldhahn is the best-selling author of eye-opening, research-based books about men, women and relationships, including For Women Only, For Men Only, The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages and her newest, The Good News About Marriage. A Harvard-trained social researcher and speaker, her findings are regularly featured in media as diverse as The Today Show, Focus on the Family, and the New York Times. Shaunti speaks regularly at churches, conferences, and corporate events. Learn more about speaking inquiries here.

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  • This mom needs to be a proactive parent. Five year olds can be taught how to pick up their own clothes and place them in the hamper. They can also be taught how to place their own dishes in the dishwasher. Make it a game, sing songs whilst teaching, so that “chores” become easy, and there is no work stigma attached to it. Picking up after oneself then becomes something one does. Just a part of life’s routines. The children will become competent human beings as they grow, able to care for themselves. This is called self-reliance. When they are adults, employers and spouses will appreciate that competency.

  • Iesis

    Seriously, this Mom deserves a little R.E.S.P.E.C.T! Dad absolutely should, and probably already does know that the mess he creates bothers her. Give Dad a little credit, I am sure he is not stupid. This is a two way street. You can’t tell her to appreciate him giving her time off, when he refuses to appreciate all the work she does in her “time-on.” It’s great that Dad wants to play with the kids, but Dad and the kids need to clean up their own mess!

  • Mari

    Wow, I think you were a little harsh on mom!. If this husband actually told his wife to take some “down time” then he and the twins need to clean up their messes (& maybe a little more). But if he was spending time with his children and she is taking some “down time” then she should expect some extra messes to clean up or engage dad and kids in a clean up game when she returns home.

    If dad doesn’t get the opportunity to spend this kind of time with his children very often, then she can be happy for their time together and not expect a clean house when she returns. But if this is a regular, ongoing playtime with the kids, then he needs to take some responsibility and clean up the messes.

    Dad needs to MODEL LOVE FOR HIS WIFE to their children by not creating extra work for her. And he needs to MODEL RESPONSIBILITY TO HIS CHILDREN by teaching them to clean up their messes.

  • SJR

    I think you missed the boat on this one. As they say, a women’s work is never done. However, when she does get a break, she comes home to a much bigger mess. I personally don’t think the outing was worth the clean up duty. I agree with another comment, that Dad & the kids should have cleaned up. Why let Mom enjoy her few hours out and come back to twice the work. I always left the house in order when I went out, I expected it to be close to that order when I came back. That isn’t asking too much and it isn’t an expectation that should be ignored. Done ranting!

  • I have spoken with soooo many women who say that in order to go out with the girls, they have to get a baby sitter or drop the kids off at a grandparents. Translation: Dad doesn’t want to watch the kids.

    This resulted in a HUGE amount of gratitude in me towards my husband who pretty much doesn’t care when I go out, and how long I stay out. He only asks that I am home more than I am gone.

    So, as long as they are alive, fed, and moderately clean when I get home… I don’t say a word about it.

  • Shelly

    Wow. Gmc3mom, alive, fed and moderately clean ? Dads don’t WATCH or BABYSIT their own children . They are the parent . Why would you be just grateful with no expectation ? It’s his responsibility too . Maybe I am assuming that some of the readers of this blog actually do something outside the home and therefore share duties with the husband . As for the author of this , what kind of lesson are you teaching here ?? Perspective ?? What does that even mean here . I agree with the other replies . Dads can pick up after themselves . You don’t have to just be impressed that they played with their own kids . Unless you are speaking only to housewives that otherwise have no other responsibilities ( 5 year olds are usually in school all day ) , then I absolutely do not understand why you always admonish the women . It’s 2016 .