Household chaos: this is the term parenting researchers use to talk about homes that are noisy, crowded, and have no set routine. It’s the kind of home in which, on a regular basis, kids have trouble locating clean clothes, have to raise their voices to be heard, and don’t know when dinner will be served. Household chaos is about growing up in a home where you never know what’s going to happen next.
The home environment is the background against which parents raise their children. Raising children to be self-assured and successful comes with providing them with safe, predictable, and nurturing homes. Researchers have found links between household chaos and poor academic outcomes, poor behavior, and poor health in children.
You might have thought that household chaos comes with poverty. But research shows that household chaos doesn’t care how much money you have. It doesn’t distinguish between low-income and high-income homes. And that’s the good news. Because it means the opposite is also true: low-income parents can offer their children a stable home. It also means that just by imposing order on your household, you can improve your child’s health, behavior, and schoolwork.
On the other hand, it may be more of a challenge for a low-income mom to offer her child stability, especially if that mom is a single, working mom. It can be more difficult, for instance, for a working mom to keep her home clean and uncluttered. Moms who aren’t home aren’t home to clean and de-clutter. Moms who come home exhausted at the end of a hard day of work, may not have the energy to clean and straighten their homes.
Claire Kamp Dush, an assistant professor of human sciences at Ohio State University, also notes that with chaos comes stress. It’s stressful to know that your child is sick and your boss won’t give you time off to take your child to the doctor. It’s stressful to come home to a messy home with a sink full of dishes each night. It’s a vicious cycle. Mom has to work to support her family. Mom can’t take care of her family and home while at work. And she may not be able to afford cleaning help.
“We’re not blaming the victims here – there is a larger system involved,” says Kamp Dush.
Meantime, household chaos is increasing as a phenomenon in U.S. households. Kids in America are growing up against a crowded background of constant noise and disorganization. It’s a problem: kids and their parents can’t develop healthy relationships in an unstable environment where they never know what’s going to be. Worse yet, research has proven that household chaos comes along with parents who are harsher, less responsive, less involved, and less likely to supervise their children.
Now no one is suggesting that your home be perfectly ordered, calm, and supportive. Parenting children is, by definition, rather chaotic. Just watch this video of a mom dressing her triplets and toddler for bed.
But this mom is engaged with her children. She’s patient and smiling and the bedroom is neat. The children are happy and clean and getting a change of fresh clothing. This mother is on top of things and she’s imposing organization on her little family. She knows where everything is.
This is not household chaos. Far from it.
So if that’s not household chaos, what is? And how do you know if you have it?
Have You Got Household Chaos?
Here are some statements that researchers use to help them determine the level of chaos in a household. Read each one and ask yourself to what degree you agree with each statement—totally, not even a bit, maybe sometimes—to get a good measure of the pulse of your own household:
- There’s not much noise or fuss in our home
- We can find the things we need, most of the time
- We’re always running late, even when we try very hard to be punctual
- Our home is an absolute zoo
- In our home, family members talk to each other without interruption
- Someone is always quarreling about something or other at home
- We try to make family plans, but they never seem to work out
- I always end up getting pulled into someone else’s argument at home
- Our home is a place where I know I can rest and relax after a hard day
- From the time we’re awake until we go to bed at night, our home has a predictable routine
It shouldn’t be too difficult to figure out whether or not you have a chaotic household, based on your answers to the above statements. Did you spot any problem areas? Not to worry, here are some measures you can take to take back the night—and your home!
- Write up a schedule
Sit down with paper and pen (or keyboard!) and figure out when to schedule what. Ask yourself how much time each family member needs to get ready for work and school and begin there with wake up time. Write out times for breakfast and dinner, as well as homework time, and family time. You don’t have to schedule when to inhale and exhale, but you do want to rough out the times that will help your family get its act together!
- Cancel everything you don’t need to do
If you’re having trouble juggling things because everyone has all sorts of extracurricular activities, you should seriously consider cutting some of them out. You can’t get Little Bobby to chess classes at the same time as you get Little Susie to her coding class. Cancel both and you get to spend time with Susie and Bobby. How great is that?
- Stop comparing
Don’t try to keep to someone else’s routine. What works for the Smiths may not work for the Jones family. But you can talk to other parents to get a general idea of how they’re doing it, and you can use any workable ideas you gain. The idea is to get more time for interacting with your own family.
- Figure out what’s important
If you’ve got a case of household chaos, think where you’re having the most trouble. If your household chaos is about noise, try to figure out how you can reduce the noise level. For instance, you might try instituting some no-television hours and use those times for family discussion or games, instead. If it’s about clutter and crowdedness, throw out, per day, ten items you really don’t need and put away ten items you want to keep. Once you get started, you’ll find life in your home more pleasant, and you’ll be motivated to keep going.
- Delegate responsibility
Give each family member a list of chores. It’s so much easier to get things done when you have the joy of seeing each task in print. It’s so satisfying to cross things off a list. It just takes a little forethought. Not only that, but every chore successfully completed makes your home that much more pleasant a place to live in.
When your home is quieter and more orderly, you’ll find that everyone is more productive and happier, too. Your kids’ grades will improve and so will your relationship with them! Say goodbye to household chaos and hello to home sweet home.
What will you do today, to lessen the chaos in your home?