Managing household chores: a guide for parents living with mental illness

Emerging Minds, Australia, October, 2022

Resource Summary

This resource was developed to help parents consider how they can share responsibility for household chores across the family, while recognising when children may be taking on too much and how to go about reclaiming responsibility for managing the household.


Emerging Minds acknowledges that families come in many forms. For the purposes of easy reading, the term ‘parent’ encompasses the biological, adoptive, foster and kinship carers of a child, as well as individuals who have chosen to take up primary or shared responsibility in raising that child.

When a parent experiences mental health difficulties, children may be required to step in to help with household chores and family responsibilities, which changes family members’ usual roles and obligations. This resource aims to help you think about these changes and look at what is appropriate for different family members, and what you can do if household chores are getting out of control.

Every household has its own way of managing everyday chores and routines. Some families have a more formal arrangement, such as a jobs list for each family member, while in other homes tasks just get done (or sometimes don’t) in a more casual way. Chores can be a source of conflict as they’re not everyone’s idea of a good time. But, on the other hand, having shared responsibility for running the family home can be a source of connection between family members, while building a sense of self-competence and pride in individuals.

Even when you’re well it can be hard to stay on top of managing household chores. While it makes sense for family members to take on additional jobs when you are experiencing mental health difficulties, the change in responsibility may raise issues in the household. Some family members might feel they have no choice but to step up and stop doing their own activities to ensure everything gets done.

Making a plan

One way to manage any tension over chores is to discuss them as a family, negotiating together who will do what and for how long. To ensure everyone knows what is expected of them it is important to make sure things are as clear as possible and allocate jobs in an age-appropriate way. It is not realistic for example, to expect your four-year-old to pack the dishwasher without supervision, but you could expect your 16-year-old to mow the lawn on a Saturday if they have been shown how to do so safely. Raising Children Network has information on age-appropriate chores for children aged two to 18 years, and tips on how to get children involved in chores if this has not previously been expected of them.

As a starting point when looking at changes to managing household shores you might like to consider the following:

  • What your family’s regular routine looks like on a weekly basis: What are the busiest times and are there quieter times when you can reasonably expect your family to pick up some extra responsibilities? This will differ from family to family and what is age appropriate. Again, refer to Raising Children Network’s excellent guide on allocating chores according to age.
  • What responsibilities each family already member has: Do they already help other family members, pack the dishwasher or put on a load of washing?
  • Any jobs that any family member likes, or at least don’t mind doing: Can some jobs be allocated in this way?
  • Sometimes we enjoy tasks more if we feel that we are good at them. Helping your child learn skills to do a task well can contribute to enjoyment, a sense of self-competence and contribution, and their resilience.
  • What extra chores could your child pick up when you are unwell: Could they make their own school lunches or that of their younger siblings, help clean the house or do the grocery shopping?
  • Your child’s understanding of why there are extra responsibilities: Are they aware you are unwell and therefore need more time to rest? Or, are they unaware you are unwell and resentful that you are expecting more of them?
  • What does your child understand about your mental health difficulties: Have you spoken to them about your mental illness? If not, take a look at  Supporting your child’s understanding of your mental illness.
  • How chores impact on your child’s regular activities: By helping out at home more are they unable to participate in after-school sport or do homework?
  • Others who can help you with these chores (so that your child can continue with their own activities): Do you have family or trusted friends who may be able to help if you are unwell? Do you have the resources to get a cleaner once a fortnight while you work on your recovery?
  • How can you check with family members to ensure they are comfortable with their extra responsibilities; have you sat down and asked how they feel about it? If not, ask and then listen when they tell you how they feel. It is important to acknowledge that you understand they may find the extra responsibility difficult, express your appreciation and remind them that they won’t always be required to help so much. Perhaps you can talk about ways you can make things easier on them.

Reclaiming your parenting role

Once you feel better, it’s a good idea to let your child know that you can cope with household responsibilities again. If you find your child is uneasy about this, it can help to talk to them about wanting to step back into your role as their parent and why this is important to you. As they see you gradually take back more tasks, they’ll likely feel more confident about letting you take responsibility. Let them know how much you appreciate all they have done around the house and ask if there is anything they particularly enjoyed doing that you could continue to do together – perhaps making a meal or helping with the grocery shopping. This could be a great way to stay connected and build resilience moving forward.

Concerned about your child?

If you’re concerned about shifting roles and routines, especially if your child is young and taking on a range of extra responsibilities, think about asking relatives or friends for support or talk to your GP to try to find ways to reduce your child’s load.

There is real strength in knowing when you need support – and asking for help.

Although your children may think they’re doing fine, they may not know what their limits are yet. They may prioritise helping over their own activities however it is important for them to maintain these, especially for their own mental health. If you find them doing considerably more to help it is worth accessing support developed specifically for those who are in a caring role, which includes respite, counselling, community activities and peer support. Carers Australia has a Young Carers Network for people up to 25 years who provide care and support to family or friends, in addition to other resources for young carers.

‘I had a sense of ‘OK, the household must return to normal’ – but we had a new normal. I had been sick, very sick, and I still hadn’t accepted this. It was really hard to take on. I needed to make sense of the experience.’

– Sam, mother, New South Wales

Family can be an amazing source of support when you are experiencing mental illness, but it is important to be aware when the extra responsibility is too much for them. It is OK to not get it right all the time, but by keeping the lines of communication open and accessing help from external resources as necessary, your family can support each other in getting through the more difficult times.

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