If you want to get a group of women talking, just ask them if they nag to get things done at home.
“Yes, I do—and I hate that I do.”
“Don’t we have to, because nothing would happen otherwise?”
More From Oprah Daily
“The more I nag, the less they do.”
“My mom still nags me, and I’m 50!”
“Nag? I’ve never needed to,” said no one ever.
Needless to say, women are still the primary naggers in the household. Men are sharing more of the housework than they used to, but females in heterosexual partnerships remain more likely to be responsible for the laundry, cleaning, and cooking, according to a 2019 Gallup poll. And there’s also cognitive labor, which refers to the time and energy spent finding a tutor for AP bio, remembering the birthday of every extended-family member, and calling the vet because the dog is throwing up again. This work of organizing a family’s life is also called the mental load—it can be heavy, indeed—and, according to a 2019 paper in the American Sociological Review by Allison Daminger, then a PhD candidate at Harvard University—more of it is shouldered by women than men.
Nagging doesn’t apply to just school-age kids, teens, and partners, either. “It’s taking young people today longer to become adults in the conventional sense of the word than it did in previous generations,” says Laurence Steinberg, PhD, professor of psychology and neuroscience at Temple University in Philadelphia and author of the new book You and Your Adult Child. In other words, there’s a good chance your kids will live at home for a few years in their 20s before becoming financially independent. Some friction is natural, but nagging isn’t going to get them standing on their two feet any faster.
If you’re feeling ignored or unsupported by members of your household—or seeing red when you get in the car and the gas light is on—try to remember that nagging more isn’t the best solution for getting the tank filled, or the best thing for your relationships with your loved ones. When all they hear is nagging, they may tune you out, which only leads to more…you guessed it. Worse, says Lynn Saladino, PsyD, a clinical psychologist in New York City, “nagging can build resentment—on both sides.” Here, she and other experts give advice on breaking the cycle.
Start with you
While you may feel justified in your repeated asks, take a step back before doubling down. Here are some questions to ask yourself—and more effective approaches, depending on the answers:
Are you worried about the chore—or something more?
“Sometimes it’s not actually the task. It’s more like, I want to know that I have a partner who’s going to help me, or kids that respect me,” says Saladino.
When a chore goes undone, many women take it personally, thinking, I’ve asked them to do it; they have not done it. They’ve disobeyed and disrespected me, explains Charmain F. Jackman, PhD, licensed psychologist and founder of the national-based directory InnoPsych, which helps match people of color with therapists of color. “It’s really important to depersonalize that,” she says. “Take the emotion out of the situation and leave it at Okay, they did not do this.”
To address someone’s (lack of) behavior, communication is key. In a calm moment (not mid-nag), try saying to your family members, “I know this might seem silly to you, but you’re truly going to make me feel so much better if you put your laundry away/walk the dog/unload the dishwasher.”
You may want to share some vulnerability, says Saladino, especially if you have anxiety around unfinished tasks. Let’s say you and your partner like to watch a show after dinner, but you can’t enjoy it unless the kitchen is cleaned up first. Try: “I’ll be able to relax more if the dishes are done. This is something that could really help me.”
If you have a bigger issue with your other half that’s breaking through in anger about taking out the recycling, Saladino suggests going after the bigger thing. You might say, “Hey, I know I can be naggy when I’m anxious. But I’m having trouble trusting you right now. Can we actively work on that?”
Are you flexible or rigid in what you ask for and expect of others?
Maybe your partner will fold the towels—but not right now and not in the (clearly superior) way you do it (in thirds, of course). Conflict and nagging often happen when people don’t do things when or how you would like. Ask yourself how crucial or urgent a task—and how it’s executed—actually is. “Really challenge yourself,” says Jackman. “There’s an element of control in thinking your way is the only way.” What’s more important? That the towels are folded or that they’re folded in the way you think is right? “If it’s really important to you,” she says, “maybe you take that task on, and give something else over.”
How often are you giving critical feedback to family members? How often are you bringing joy into their lives?
If nagging and criticism are your love languages, something’s gotta give. Jackman encourages you to remember that it’s okay to not be perfect. A pile of backpacks and sneakers by the door and chip crumbs on the kitchen island might mean your teen is comfortable having friends over to hang out. Try to enjoy those moments—the cleanup can wait.
Rally the troops
Okay, now that you’ve done some work on yourself, it’s time to get your family on board.
Don’t just nag. Listen.
Rather than assuming it’s about you (it’s probably not!), find out why someone is delaying a task. Maybe your child is nervous about asking a teacher for a college recommendation. Or if they often forget to text you when they reach a friend’s house, it’s probably because they get easily distracted when seeing their pal, and setting a reminder on their phone will help. Or the 20-something playing video games is taking a little downtime to de-stress before a Zoom interview. Ask what’s going on before reacting.
Saladino often hears from people whose partners are avoiding doctor appointments or other aspects of their health—and in this case, getting to the root of the problem is crucial. People might be nervous about the dentist because of a past experience, worried about the expense, or fearful about what medical tests might reveal. If this person is usually proactive and they’re being resistant, you might try saying, “You know, I’m going to sleep better at night when you take care of this.” Or ask, “How can I help you with this?”
Get everyone’s buy-in.
Once you’re on a nag-a-thon or you lose your temper, it’s hard to get a message across, no matter how valid. “Nobody does well when they’re angry,” says Steinberg.
If a particular task is a repeated source of stress (and nagging), Steinberg suggests collaborative problem-solving—a technique borrowed from the business world that simply means working together to find a solution. For example, if you’re engaged in the age-old debate of whether a teen needs to keep their room clean, sit down together and discuss it. You might say, “The problem is that when your clothes are all over the floor and there are dirty dishes on your desk, it’s not just messy—it’s unhygienic. So let’s see if we can figure out a way we can solve this problem together.” Both of you make suggestions until you have a solution—in this case, maybe it’s that dishes come to the kitchen every night, and clothes have to be picked up by Wednesday nights so the floor can be vacuumed on Thursday.
Family meetings can help you stay ahead of problems, says Jackman. Once a week, like over dinner, spend a few minutes talking about how things are going and what’s coming up on the calendar. You might say to your kids, “This is your responsibility, your job in the home. What do you have going on this week so you can squeeze it all in? Let’s figure it out.”
Look at the list with your partner, too, and divide and conquer so you’re both clear on who’s doing what. Play to both of your strengths. Some people prefer carpooling to cooking; others are better at masterminding a to-do list than executing the items on it.
Roll with the punches.
Be clear about what’s expected, but build in a little flexibility, especially with school-age kids. They aren’t necessarily ignoring you out of disrespect; their priorities just aren’t the same as yours.
Encourage cooperation by saying, for example, “If you want to take the car on Saturday night, you need to mow the lawn first.” Kids should know your expectations—but don’t throw things in at the last minute, because you’ll lose their trust.
A game plan is particularly important with young adults who have moved back home—make that before they move back home. Do they have a section of the fridge for their own food, or is everything communal and they help with the grocery shopping? Anticipate as much as you can, and when the inevitable conflicts arise, don’t just lay down the law—try that collaborative problem-solving approach.
“When both parties have some input into the solution,” says Steinberg, “they are much more likely to be enthusiastic about implementing it.”