Should My Grandchildren Have to Live in a Dirty House?

Grandparents' Options Are Limited in Such Cases

Child with a messy room
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Many grandparents have dealt with seeing grandchildren living in a dirty or messy house. Part of the problem is that there is a bit of a generation gap when it comes to housekeeping. Of course, some young families have high standards for household cleanliness, and some older families have laxer norms. It's tough to make generalizations. Still, grandparents are often appalled by the younger generation's housekeeping standards.

Many grandparents raised their families in a time when women defined themselves as housewives and when women were judged by the condition of their houses. Today's young women are more likely to take their identity from their work outside the home and from their role as parents. Housekeeping is not a vital part of their identities.

In addition, many modern families operate on the principle that men and women should be equally responsible for housekeeping chores. When one party fails to do his or her part, the other party may refuse to take over, just to make a point. It goes without saying that single parents may have an especially tough job as there is no one to take up the slack when they are sick or over-scheduled. Children, who were once expected to make a contribution to household chores, are often busy with school work and extra-curricular activities to the point that they can't make a meaningful contribution.

Many young families use housekeeping services to keep the mess under control. But one-a-week cleaning services do nothing about the daily accumulation of dirty dishes, soiled clothes and general clutter that households with children deal with.

The bottom line is that times change, and housekeeping standards change with them.

How Important Is Cleanliness?

How clean should a home be? There is no single answer to that question. Pet feces, spoiled food or pest infestations are health hazards and thus a cause for concern, but a generally messy house can be both healthy and happy.

Most grandparents grew up with the idea that cleanliness is next to godliness. Actually, some research indicates that a messy environment promotes creative thinking. And whether people consider tidiness important has more to do with their individual personalities than with any objective standards. 

It's true that a messy house is usually a disorganized house. A lack of organization can cause any number of problems. Lost bills don't get paid, misplaced homework doesn't get turned in and cars don't run when the keys are missing. Still, these are logistical issues and not moral ones. 

Generally speaking, grandparents should look past the condition of the house and focus instead on the good things that their grandchildren get from their parents. If parents would rather do messy crafts with their children than fold laundry, that is hardly a character flaw.  

What's a Grandparent to Do?

Except in the rare situation where bad housekeeping is a health hazard, grandparents should try not to worry about the situation.


If young parents want to do better but are simply overwhelmed, grandparents can offer to help out, either with actual housekeeping assistance or by paying for a cleaning service. This solution is tricky, though, as the younger generation may rightly feel that the grandparents are being critical. 

Otherwise there is little that a grandparent can do but hope that as the grandchildren grow older, the state of the household will improve. They can also arrange to babysit the grandchildren in their own home rather than keeping the children in the messy house.  

How Will the Grandchildren Learn?

Grandparents may also be concerned that their grandchildren are not learning housekeeping skills and that they will also live in dirty houses when they become adults.

Oddly enough, many children who are brought up in messy houses become neat adults, and vice versa.

But grandparents can always teach their grandchildren a bit about household chores. Teaching skills ​is one of the four important things that grandparents can do for grandchildren. At an early age, at least, children are often amenable to such instruction. Grandparents can also be good models of neatness, cleanliness, and organization. Still, a grandparent's influence is likely to take a back seat to a child's natural inclinations and to whatever training the child receives at home.