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Housekeeping tips for Mr. Mom

Do you struggle with your spouse to keep the house clean? Stay-at-home dad David Bowers offers tidy ideas for men in his new book.
/ Source: Weekend Today

It's a common bone of contention between husbands and wives — housekeeping. Typically, women do more of it than men, but often times men are expected to step up to the plate and contribute. In an effort to help bring married couples together, David Bowers, author of “Dad's Own Housekeeping Book,” shares some tips for the guys. Here's an excerpt:

Remember Mr. Mom? When it came out in 1983, the movie’s premise — that Michael Keaton’s character stayed home with three children, while his wife, played by Teri Garr, went to (gasp!) an office every day and made big bucks in advertising — was daring, even groundbreaking. America marveled at the zany scenes of Dad’s (sorry, I mean Mr. Mom’s) inability to cope with washing machines and grocery stores and diaper changes. Today the joke is all but lost.

These days it’s the norm for dads to be involved in the upkeep of the house, at least on a part-time, after-work-hours basis, and sometimes even more than that. Recently it’s become more common for Dad to be the stay-at-home parent. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, “more than 2 million preschoolers in America are primarily cared for by their fathers while their mothers work.” And I’m one of those dads.

Welcome to a whole new generation of men doing something our mothers may never have taught us: housework. I raise my two sons and run a busy household while my wife is a cell-phone-totin’, travelin’, meeting-takin’ office drone. I know how to run a washing machine and a dishwasher, make beds and buy clothes, pay bills, shop for groceries. (I might add that I’m an excellent cook.) And I get it all done with a speed and efficiency that leaves me plenty of time to pick up some work on the side and actually play with my kids.

I used to try to “help out” around the house, but like most guys, I saw it as not really my job. My wife and I both worked full time outside the home, but while my job was manageable between nine and five, hers would sometimes keep her until eight or nine at night. Eventually her schedule became so hectic that she rarely had time to be home, let alone do anything around the house, so I began to take on more of the day-to-day duties such as shopping and cooking (although I won’t deny that for a long time we kept our local Chinese restaurant on speed dial). However, I still saw what I was doing as “helping out.”

After having children, however, everything changed. When there was just the two of us, we could let the laundry go for weeks. The bathroom only got cleaned when the soap scum in the tub became treacherously slick. Before the need for baby bottles and soft-edged baby spoons became a reality in our lives, dirty dishes would just sit in the sink. There are different standards for “clean” when the health and safety of your kids are at stake, and suddenly housework was no longer a catch-as-catch-can affair but something that needed to be done regularly. There was more dishes, more clutter in every room, and monster loads of laundry that had to be done a lot more often. (I’m not the first parent to wonder how one tiny little person can make such a mountain of dirty clothes.)

With some gentle wifely prodding, I started adding more duties, cleaning the bathroom and doing the laundry, for instance. The more I got into doing stuff around the house, the more it became part of my life. When I got home, instead of flipping on the TV, maybe I’d throw in a load of wash and start making dinner. And you know what? It wasn’t so bad. At the end of my wife’s first maternity leave, we did a quick evaluation of salaries and decided that she should keep working and I would stay home most of the time and look after the house and kid.

The more involved I got in running the house, the more pride I began taking in what I was doing. Before I knew it, I was interested in doing things right rather than merely seeing them done so my wife wouldn’t complain: “Would you mind not putting in chlorine bleach when you do a load of darks?” But don’t get me wrong. It doesn’t mean I woke up one morning and turned into my wife. I may be more on top of things these days, but no matter how many chores I can get through in an afternoon, the fact remains that I’m never going to keep house the way many women would. Neither are you.

Good Enough Housekeeping
We’re men, and men generally see things differently than women do. Where my wife sees 20 things around the house that need immediate attention, I notice maybe five; where she strives for an “A-plus” level of clean, I’m happy to get by with a “B.” Women subscribe to Good Housekeeping; men subscribe to a philosophy of “good enough” housekeeping, and that goes double when you’re a dad. The key to keeping house Dad’s way is to do what’s absolutely necessary in the quickest, easiest way possible, and never give a task another thought once it’s done. Dad’s Own Housekeeping shows you how. This is not a book about keeping house as if you were Felix Unger (or to any other standard of “perfection”); it is about keeping one that’s comfortable and clean and safe for kids.

The big question for a lot of dads is: How often do I really have to do this stuff in order to keep my home in reasonable order? In each chapter, we’ll break down the main parts of each job, assign it a priority level, and show you the most efficient way to do it. How can you make your kitchen most functional and then keep it up? Where and how can you keep a clean corner to tend to bills and other household paperwork? And, yes, real men do dust and do do windows.

Dads do things a certain way, and we think it’s a good way. It can take a little adjustment for most women to get used to the new system and go with the flow (see “Managing Expectations,” page 3), but most moms are so grateful to dads who do the laundry and shopping that they wouldn’t dream of complaining.

There are definitely other benefits to being a housekeeping Dad. Having the confidence to run my own household while raising and enjoying my kids has been one of the most satisfying things I’ve ever done. And here’s the unexpected bonus: When you’re a competent man around the house, able to mind children, do laundry, cook, and clean with equal aplomb, well, chicks really dig it, especially your own wife. Who knew that women could be so turned on by a man who’s mopping the bathroom floor or talking about what he’s making for dinner?

1. We like a no-frills approach. We generally don’t have the time or inclination for extras. We’ll clean the bathroom but won’t hang those tiny guest towels or freshen up the potpourri. We just want it to function; we’re far less interested in imposing our personality on a room.

2. We’re doing it for our kids. Most women have no idea how profoundly today’s dads are moved by their children. So much so that we’re willing to give up a traditional “manly” image in order to be with our kids, even if that means washing diapers and coaxing crabby little people to nap.

3. We have selective vision. To stay on top of tasks, it’s important for us to establish a routine for cleaning (see page 13). Otherwise, as hard as it is for women to believe, no, we really don’t see the overflowing garbage can or the pile of dirty towels we keep stepping over.

4. When we focus, we really focus. If a task interests us, we’ll work at it harder than a woman could ever imagine doing. We might let the dishes sit in the sink all day, but we’ll remove every particle of melted cheese from the inside of the toaster oven.

How to Use This Book
Dads, choose your cleaning comfort level. This may require some trial and error until you and your partner agree on how often the kitchen floor really needs mopping (see page 2). Then flip through this book to see what applies to you.

Lick-and-a-Promise Clean
Not too bothered about the details? Look for the 5-Minute Attack for each room you’re going to clean. These will show you the minimum work required in that room.

Average-Guy CleanWant everything moderately tidy but don’t want to drive yourself nuts? Follow the directions for the Weekly Clean in each room — even if you don’t do it every week.

Felix-Unger Clean
Are you a Type-A personality? Each chapter has a Priority Level and a guideline for frequency (daily, weekly, monthly, etc.). Follow these rules and each step to the letter and everything will sparkle.

Excerpted from “Dad's Own Housekeeping Book: 137 Bright Ideas,” by David Bowers. Copyright © 2006, David Bowers. All rights reserved. Published by . No part of this excerpt can be used without permission of the publisher.