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Ask UfYH: Depression and Husbands and Kids, Oh My

Q: I need your help. My family and I live in a two bed, one bath (guess where the bathroom is) 800 sq. ft. two story town house. I am struggling to keep it clean with two little girls who idolize their dad (I do love him). His one main chore was taking out the trash. He is no longer doing it. I tried paying my 4-year-old in pennies to help me clean… that didn’t last long either. My 1-year-old helps pick up trash and puts away toys, but only for so long, which I can deal with seeing as she is only a year old. I clean and when I turn around, it is a mess again. I do have depression (it and many other mental issues run in my family) so there are days where I just have no energy to clean no matter how much coffee I drink. And that doesn’t help in my many battles with cleaning (meds help for a while, then they just stop and I am back to step one). My husband also has a sensitivity issue. So when I do manage to get the house in a good tidy order, he makes backhanded compliments like, “Hey, I can see the floor,” then I just want to swing something at him. Of course, he doesn’t realize that he said something mean, so when I glare at him, he looks confused. Anyways, I am to the point of getting rid of dang near everything except for basic kitchen items, electronics and limited amounts of clothes, toys and books, but I have a strong feeling that will do more harm than good. So any suggestions? Because I am at my wits’ end.

A: You’re dealing with a few issues here, so let’s break them down:

  1. Your depression
  2. Keeping up with things with two young children
  3. Your husband no longer doing his extremely small part of the housework
  4. Your husband’s “sensitivity issue”

First, taking care of a house when you’re depressed is hard. It’s extra hard because you lack the motivation and energy to get anything done. This is, unfortunately, a pretty common fact of depression, and it sucks. When you’re in a depressive episode, it may help to give priority to a few things: generally, dishes, laundry, and the occasional flat surface. If you can keep up with those, honestly, you’re doing pretty well. Don’t beat yourself up over what doesn’t get done when you’re in the midst of a depressive episode. Just do what you can, and try to do a little something every day when you’re in the higher energy point of the cycle.

Having your kids involved in the mix makes things more complicated, because while they can certainly help out to the best that their age and disposition allow, kids generate a lot of mess. I’d say that certain things, like putting their toys away, should be reinforced frequently enough so as to make it an expectation, and do what you can to enlist their help with other little tasks and chores when you can.

OK, your husband. I don’t know you or your marriage, but a couple of things jump out at me here. First, you had an agreement that he had one responsibility as far as the house is concerned, and that was taking out the trash. And he’s not doing that one task. Second, he says shitty backhanded things when you do accomplish something, which doesn’t exactly inspire you to do more. Third, your response when he says these things is to glare at him. Fortunately, all three of these problems have the same solution: Use your words. Talk to him. Explain how crappy it makes you feel when he says passive-aggressive things about the state of the house. Explain that those comments don’t exactly inspire you to keep up with the overwhelming amount of housework that two adults and two children create. Remind him that he committed to taking the trash out, and ask him to please honor that commitment. Talk to him about how your depression often makes things more difficult, and that during those times, you could use more support, not less.

You may find that a clear checklist of what you need to do might help keep you on track. Try these to start. Do what you can, when you can. Try to keep up on the laundry and dishes every day. That’ll make a huge difference. Good luck. You can do this, but you need some help. Don’t find a reason not to ask for it.

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11 replies on “Ask UfYH: Depression and Husbands and Kids, Oh My”

For the kids (especially the 4 year old), perhaps you can build cleaning into some sort of routine? Like: Dinner, put away toys, brush teeth, read story, go to bed? A visual checklist can be really helpful with kids that age. She gets a sticker for each task completed to an age-appropriate standard and by a certain time and at the end of the week, if she gets X stickers, something nice happens.

It will probably go really awesome for a few days because it’s all bright and shiny and new. Then, Daughter will get bored and start testing the limits, and it will NOT work. Or, you will get frustrated/bored/forgetful and stop doing it, so it will not work. In either situation, DON’T STOP. Not yelling, just being firm. Get over the hump of suck, and it WILL start to work.

Or, you could just do stickers because it’s nice to track achievements and she should be doing the cleaning because it’s what one does, not because Mom is paying her.

On a semi-side note: my parents were always implementing and then dropping chore systems. Hence, chores were never done except for insane Company Clean days. I really think that the big advantage of someone like Supernanny is that she gets the parents over the suck-hump.

I agree with you. A great rhyme to help the kids develop those regular habits is “Before I sleep and after I play, I always put my toys away.” (Alas, if only I followed this myself!) The other thought I had is that it can be really important to take the time to actually teach and practice what it means to “put away” toys.

Good point on the teaching what “put away” looks like. It seems super-obvious to us and we forget that we didn’t always know what “clean up” meant. Give her small, discrete tasks, like “pick up your books and put them in the bookcase.” Start with that, then once she’s comfy with that, add in “put your barbies in their box.” If you want to get real fancy, and if your daughter prefers to be super-independent or just gets annoyed with “being told what to do” you can take pictures of what the end goal should look like and tape them to the appropriate areas. For example, to the bookcase tape a picture with all the books standing on end, spines out. Kids LOVE stuff like that.

I am TOTALLY in your situation. Only knock about 200 square feet off your living space and add a 40 lb dog to the mix. Last year my husband and I both lost our jobs. He got a more physically demanding job – meaning he’s more tired and helps less around the house. And I became a stay at home mom. I’ve also struggled my whole life with depression. But one thing you’re not considering is that the actual situation may just be depressing! It’s NOT always a chemical issue that can be solved with medications and coffee. I look around and I just get depressed. I make a meal, do the dishes, and clean the kitchen only to stumble into a living room floor so cluttered with toys I can’t make a path. I send my 3-yr old to his room to play while I try to wrangle the mess and he destroys his room. Sitting down to a meal means hubby is sitting on the couch – or standing in the kitchen – and my son and I are sitting at a table piled high with toys and books, moving just enough to make space for ourselves. It’s DEPRESSING! I could go on medication but that will not change my physical surroundings. Don’t sell yourself short. I’ve been trying to become an organized person my whole life. I don’t know if it’s possible or not but I definitely see the connection between the two. Some days you’re so down you can’t see the bright side, then when you’re feeling better you look around and realize there’s little to no hope the situation is going to change. I don’t have a solid solution but I do know EXACTLY how you feel. Keep your head up! Best of luck :(

I’ve managed to convince my 4-year-old that a lot of chores are Super Fun Things that Big Girls Get to Do!! Picking up toys is hit or miss, but she generally puts her stuff in the sink after meals, puts her dirty clothes in the basket, and helps with trash/recycling. When putting laundry away, I let her put her underwear in the drawer and have her match up socks (and she just finally got the hang of folding them together, so she LOVES to do that). She does better with putting away toys when they have a specific place to go (a pain to set up, but easier in the long run) and if we make her put one thing away before getting out another.

Oh! And she LOVES to unload the dishwasher and hand me things to put away in the cabinets she can’t reach. Which is awesome because I have a bad back and don’t have to lean over as much. We even play math games while doing it (there were 8 plates, you gave me two, how many more do you have to give me?), so multitasking! I don’t let her do the sharp knives, but she loves to sort the rest of the silverware.

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