Occasionally I’ll come across a social media post or an article in which a parent bemoans their family’s lack of involvement in maintaining the house. The poster will say they’re “rage cleaning.” They’ll say they’ve “finally cracked” and decided to just “do it myself.” Often, it’s a mom who has reached her limit for the amount of mess she can handle in her teenager’s room or bathroom (or both), and she has decided to just clean it all herself. “When will this kid learn?” she’ll ask with, I assume, a strained voice and a maniacal twitch in her eye.
I think that last question is usually meant to be rhetorical, and I’m not going to be the douchebag who offers unsolicited advice, but if she were specifically asking me for an answer, I’d say “never.” Her kid is never going to learn, at least not as long as she keeps cleaning their messes for them. They are going to keep expecting her to do what she’s been doing, because people love keeping a status quo that benefits them. Our kids are human too, after all.
Of course, sometimes rage-cleaning is just that — mindless and perhaps unnecessary cleaning purely as a means to release pent up anger at the world that has no place to go but your toilet, literally.
But rage-cleaning because you’ve had it with your family not helping out? That’s a whole different enchilada. Fellow parents, don’t do this to yourself. Don’t pretend you’re all out of options. Give your freeloading kids chores. Even little kids can help out with age-appropriate tasks. Nobody should have the sole responsibility of cleaning an entire house when other able-bodied individuals live in that house with them.
I’ve heard some parents excuse their slobby teenager’s mess because their kid is “too busy” or “stressed out.” I get that kids are overscheduled and that now during a pandemic they might also be dealing with additional stress, but they still need to do chores. Chores aren’t “helping out.” They’re basic life skills, like brushing your teeth or tying your shoes. They’re also routine and mundane, and in the midst of the stress that comes with pandemic uncertainty, kids need routine and mundane.
I have rage-cleaned. Usually it’s my own damn closet because I’m fed up with the accumulation of clothes that I think I’ll fit into again one day, or the 15 Amazon boxes I’m saving “for Christmas” even though I know perfectly well I’ll only need three or four of them. It’s my own clutter that sends me into a rage. But the rest of the house? I share that work with my kids. Their rooms and bathroom? I don’t touch. I do not rage-clean other people’s messes, and no other parent should feel they have to, either.
When my kids were younger, we had a laminated chore chart on the refrigerator. Until chores were done, no screen time. Now they know the drill, and if they forget, I shout across the house for them to do whatever needs doing. There have been times they’ve given me pushback, of course, but they really don’t enjoy the “you live here, you help” lecture and threat of losing screen time that follows, so usually they just hop up and do what I’ve asked.
Chores aren’t negotiable. You live in a house, you help clean that house, period. It’s just me and my kids in this house, no partner to help. It’s a small house, thank goodness, and that makes cleaning way easier, but that doesn’t mean my kids get out of helping. I expect them to clean, and now that they’re 14 and 10, I also expect them to do a good job of it. I “inspect” their bathroom after they’ve cleaned it, calling them back in to fix any pee spots or hairballs they missed. If they’ve swept or vacuumed and miss a section, I make them come back and redo it. For a long time, my son put just-washed pots and pans to dry right-side up instead of upside-down so they could drain. I always called him back to do it the right way, because dammit, I’m not doing his shit for him. And I’m definitely not sending him out into the world not knowing that pots air dry best upside-down and have his future spouse look at him and wonder where his mother went wrong with him.
I promise I’m not as drill-sergeant strict as it may seem — I let little things go if the job was well-done overall. I just expect to see my kids have obviously put in some effort, and I want them to possess the knowledge of how to clean a house from stem to stern before they reach adulthood. I refuse to let them slack, allow my anger to fester, and then suddenly feel compelled to “rage-clean.”
Does any of this mean my house is perfect? Of course not. We have clutter and dust accumulation and baskets of clean laundry that sit for a few days before we finally fold them like any other family. But does it mean my house is always liveable and clean-ish and I’m never driven to the point of rage-cleaning? Yes, definitely! And I don’t like seeing my fellow parents feel like the cleaning of the house rests entirely on their shoulders or that their family is taking advantage of them.
If your family’s mess is making you ragey, kick their behinds into gear and make them clean! Write up a list to break down the tasks if you have to so it’s not as overwhelming to your novice helpers. Changing the WiFi password is an excellent motivator. No one deserves to be driven to rage-cleaning because of slacker family members who don’t do their share. At least make the adjustment from rage-cleaning to rage-delegating. Hey, we have to start somewhere, right?