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Author Topic: Using your guests as free labor during the holidays, division of labor?  (Read 26393 times)

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Are there any circumstances where you ask your (or at least certain ones) holiday house guests to pitch in to do certain things like: washing dishes, clearing the table, packing up leftovers, taking out trash, cleaning, etc?

Background: Since my parents have the largest home of the family in the local area, they tend to be the hosts for Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas dinners.  They will provide the meat, potatoes, drinks, bread/rolls and a few vegetable dishes.  The rest of the guests are usually asked to bring something like fruit tray, vegetable tray,  salad or a dessert. /end background

Which people here in your opinion should be helping with any of the following: washing dishes, drying dishes, putting dishes away, packaging leftovers, clearing the table, taking out trash, cleanup, and serving?

As an example, let me break down the people normally present then you decide who should do what items:

*My parents - the hosts and suppliers of the home, table, main hot foods, etc

*Me - single & no children

*My younger sister, has 2 kids ages 12 (girl) and 14 (boy) , and her long term live in boyfriend

*My aunt ( who has a few health challenges that flare up from time to time ) and my uncle

How would you divide the chores equitably based on ages, gender and health?  I will answer later with the reality for my household.


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Re: Using your guests as free labor during the holidays, division of labor?
« Reply #1 on: December 02, 2013, 08:27:39 AM »
In this particular case, everyone, with the exception of aunt and uncle, should be helping. 


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Re: Using your guests as free labor during the holidays, division of labor?
« Reply #2 on: December 02, 2013, 08:28:45 AM »
Family fall under a different category than other types of guests, and I think it is fair to divide the cleanup labour among everyone.

You, your sister, her kids, and her boyfriend should all be pitching in to help.  The specific division of labour is harder to decide, but all 5 of you should be pitching in equally.

Your aunt and uncle should help as they are able.  Your aunt should not be expected to help if she is unwell.


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Re: Using your guests as free labor during the holidays, division of labor?
« Reply #3 on: December 02, 2013, 08:30:13 AM »
Since I've already seen your other posts, I know you're not very happy with being asked to do more work than others. I understand your frustration, and I think it's best solved by not staying quiet when you're bothered. Ask others to pitch in.

I think everyone who can be trusted not to break the dishes (so, people who can stand, whose hands aren't shaky, and who is tall enough to reach the sink, and can be trusted not to leave crud on the plates) can pitch in with all of these activities. Gender definitely has nothing to do with it, and age only has something to do with it at the far ends of the spectrum.

I tend to think that the person who cooked shouldn't have to do the bulk of the cleaning, but it often works that way because it's their home, they know where things go, etc. Special considerations you haven't mentioned include minding children, doing other chores, or 'softer' things like catching a TV show/game that's not on any other day, working, etc.

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Re: Using your guests as free labor during the holidays, division of labor?
« Reply #4 on: December 02, 2013, 08:35:11 AM »
Once dinner is done, your parents should be able to enjoy their coffee in the living room with their feet up.

I'd put Aunt on food pack-up and when that was done, she'd go join your parents.  Uncle could help her.

I'd put the kids on the clearing the table and taking out the trash.

You, your sister and her boyfriend, I'd put on dish duty, which would include wiping down the kitchen counters and the stove afterwards.  Your parents may have to get involved at this point because the rest of you may not know where everything goes.

Any other cleaning - bathrooms, vacuuming - I'm assuming your Mom and Dad would have already done before the horde descended.  Cleaning after people arrived would be on an as needed basis by the person who made the worst of the mess.

I'm guessing that you are doing most of the clean-up...
After cleaning out my Dad's house, I have this advice:  If you haven't used it in a year, throw it out!!!!.


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Re: Using your guests as free labor during the holidays, division of labor?
« Reply #5 on: December 02, 2013, 09:39:33 AM »
When I was younger, every year without fail my grandma washed dishes and my sister and I dried them and stacked them neatly because we couldn't reach the cabinets. My parents and uncles and aunts dealt with all the leftovers and trash. My grandpa was the one who had set all of the tables up, so he rested. And I'll note, even though my grandma cooked most of the side dishes, she wanted to do the washing-up.

When more cousins came along, the work got even more divided. Sis and I were tall enough to put dishes away, so grandma washed, younger cousins dried, we put away. And years on down the road, my aunt started washing the dishes, we'd tell my grandma to go sit down and relax after the meal. She let us do it, but it took her a few years to stop hovering around us making sure we did it right.

Family is one of those weird situations where you're not "guests" in the traditional sense, and as such can absolutely be expected to work. If everyone is bringing part of the meal, then everyone is cooking, and everyone can be asked to clean up afterwards.


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Re: Using your guests as free labor during the holidays, division of labor?
« Reply #6 on: December 02, 2013, 10:15:47 AM »
There's a big difference between a dinner party and a family holiday meal. Guest should never be asked to do clean up chores at a dinner party, but a family holiday meal? Absolutely. Everyone (that is able) should pitch in so the hosts don't have a huge, burdensome mess to clean up. If they are kind enough to go to the expense and labor of preparing a nice family holiday meal for everyone, I would think that everyone would want to pitch in. I know I couldn't just sit on my butt and chit chat while mom is busy in the kitchen trying to get things straightened up.

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Re: Using your guests as free labor during the holidays, division of labor?
« Reply #7 on: December 02, 2013, 10:35:53 AM »
MissRose, do you really feel like a guest at your family's holiday meal? When I read the OP, I was thinking of a completely different scenario based on the title and not a meal of mostly close family members.

But I agree with others, based on the list of attendee's I think everyone, accept aunt and uncle, should be offering to help with cleanup.

But if your sister has not trained her kids to help out at home, it'll be a hard hill to climb to get them to help. But there is nothing wrong with saying "nephew, will you rinse the dishes while I load the dishwasher."

But if you are in the situation of your mother asking you to do all the clean up then when she says "MissRose, would you wash the dishes" say "Sure, just as soon as sis and the kids finish clearing the table and putting all the food away."


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Re: Using your guests as free labor during the holidays, division of labor?
« Reply #8 on: December 02, 2013, 10:51:58 AM »
From reading the thread title and then getting the particulars I would say that you are not a guest at your parents' home.  They are well within their rights to use you as "free labor".

The real issue is the division of labor.  This is where you have the right to feel put upon.  Of course your sister and her family should be doing just as much to help your parents.  But just because they aren't, doesn't mean that you shouldn't.

I'd be a little more understanding if your sister was watching over children who were only ages 2 and 4.  But 12 and 14?  That meal could be completely cleaned up licket-split if everyone pitched in.


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Re: Using your guests as free labor during the holidays, division of labor?
« Reply #9 on: December 02, 2013, 11:05:28 AM »
A family party is different to a formal dinner party. I would expect everyone to help.I would not make any gender-based distinctions.
I would expect tasks to be split based on ability to do them, so wouldn't expect aunt to do something which she would struggle with physically, or which would be harder for her than for others due to her health problems. Depending on what hose are, I would also take into account that getting ready for the trip, travelling etc might be more tiring for her than others.

In relation to the teens, I would not be expecting them to do heavy lifting (including carrying the Turkey about!) and it would depend on the specifics what was suitable (ie can they be trusted to wash delicate glasses / carving knife / good china; can they reach to put clean things away or are the kitchen cabinets too high to do so safely etc. If they are not usually asked to do these things then one of the adults is going to need to supervise them so if it were my house I'd probably say something like "Hey could you [sister & Brother in Law) and the kids wash the dishes and get them put away - and would then leave it up to them how they divided up the tasks involved.

I think it is fine to speak up and ask that your sister / niece / nephew / BiL etc to help *you*, if you are being asked to do stuff and they are not.

I also think that as (if I recall correctly from your other posts) you Mom has a habit of asking you and not the others that you speak to you parents privately ahead of time - don't make it about it being unfair that you get asked to do more, focus on the fact that because you're asked to help out so much, you feel you're missing out on opportunities to simply relax and spend time with the wider family, and (possibly) that the others are missing out on the chance to help with the festivities.

The other thing we tend to do in our family , which has evolved rather than being part of a rule, is to do stuff together. Being the one person alone in the kitchen with a mountain of washing up is depressing. Being one of 3 or 4 people washing, drying, putting away and chatting as you do can be fun and sociable. We will also sometimes spit the bigger tasks, so (for instance) at the point where you need to change the dishwater, someone else will take over the washing up.

Meal preparation may be similar - if you are cooking for lots of people then you can have more than one person working at the same time (subject to space) - this can be particularly good when there are kids/ teens as you can have an adult directing them. Maybe Aunt could direct the two teens while they did the running around to (say) clear the table and stack the dishwasher, then sis and her partner can wash and dry the other dishes and you and uncle could put everything away. Or whatever works for you.

It can work well to mix up families - your brother in law is (hopefully) less likely to whine r grumble if he is doing some washing up with you or your aunt than if he does it with his own partner, your neice may enjoy hanging out with you or her granddad while doing a job, more than if she's with her brother or a parents, and so on.


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Re: Using your guests as free labor during the holidays, division of labor?
« Reply #10 on: December 02, 2013, 11:22:36 AM »
It's family. Family helps family. My grandma would have my hide if I didn't help clean up at Christmas because I was a guest. She'd have my grandpa and grandfather's too if they weren't helping. You're family, you help. And if you aren't sure if your family, just start helping, you're probably family if you're invited (this is how my family works). Though we aren't allowed to touch the dishwasher because every single one of us does it "wrong".

Aunt should help as her health allows. My great-uncle has some serious health concerns so isn't expected to help with much clean up. Usually he'll pick up a little around the living room.

This Thanksgiving it was me and Partner along with 4 of our close friends (3 are male, one female, all of us in our late 20s), we all cooked the meal, we all ate the meal, we all cleaned up after the meal. We see each other as family, so the family helps family rule applies. It was easy to divide labor when it was time to clean up, basically went "T, will you help Partner clean up out back (the turkey was smoked out back)? A and B can you put away the leftovers and me and K will wash up the dishes" everything was clean in about 20 minutes. Probably would've been less had K not said "Oh dear, there's leftover wine, we'll need to finish that up". Oh well. Still was quick. Because everyone helped.


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Re: Using your guests as free labor during the holidays, division of labor?
« Reply #11 on: December 02, 2013, 11:24:53 AM »
I think I mentioned this on another thread, but it bears repeating. 
My maternal grandmother* made a chart for every meal that would be served.  There was a distribution of the work and she shifted job duties and who worked with whom at least daily.  For example, Thanksgiving dinner would look like this:

Set the Table and fill water glasses:
Grandchild (youngest)
Aunty #1
Cousin's boyfriend

Help fix food and take platters to table/sideboard:
Aunty #2
Grandchild (one of the elder kids)
Uncle #1

Clean up and dishes:
Uncle #1
Grandchild (at least old enough to dry)
Family friend

The funniest was the year my grandmother scheduled my Great Uncle Ray to help with clean up/dishes.  His wife did everything inside the house.  (Heavens  the women even ironed terry cloth towels).  So when my great-aunt Leona (grandma's sister) saw Ray's name on the chore chart, she told Grandma that she would do Ray's turn.  Grandma said no.  And Ray had a really good time helping with dishes. (Ray, two of my cousins, and one of Grandma's daughters)   

Not sure why it couldn't work for your situation - even with fewer people.  Especially since this your folks are doing the majority of cooking.    Not sure if you have to worry about setting a table, but perhaps it could go something like this. 

Set table (if you do that):
MissRose and perhaps the aunt to help early in case she gets too tired after dinner.

Main dinner cooking:
Rose Parents

Clean up and dish duty:
One child and boyfriend to get dishes cleaned up and food stuff to kitchen
Uncle and Rose sister to put food stuff away. 
Other child and MissRose to do dishes and put away. 

*Note - on my dad's side of the family it is almost always just the women doing the majority of the cooking.  (Though my dad and one of my uncles would help with fixing some side dishes)  And everyone is in charge of bringing their plates to the kitchen.  But the "women folk" do most of the clean up.


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Re: Using your guests as free labor during the holidays, division of labor?
« Reply #12 on: December 02, 2013, 11:48:52 AM »
I do not mind pitching in, but my mother is so insistent that I "set a good example" (and if I hear her use that term, one more time grrr...) but at the same time, I know that she asks less from my younger sister & kids.   I have told the kids privately in past at Xmas time, if you wish to open presents sooner, to help instead of running off to see all whats under the tree and/or play games - that has helped to get things done faster as they want to see what they got as well as what others have received & given.

When I was at the the ages of my niece and nephew are now, I was to help at family gatherings in some way either by cooking, setting the table, clearing the table, packaging leftovers and/or washing dishes.   My sister was to help at the similar age but that was not as heavily enforced by my parents.  Some holidays and gatherings would not always be at my parents place growing up, we often went to the home of one of our grandmothers, and the looks my mother gave me mainly to help could peel paint off walls.  I didn't see the LOOK going to my sister or if present my 2 girl cousins that much if ever.

In my "perfect world", as my parents have the table set and the hot food prepared, me and my sister and her boyfriend plus the 2 kids would do: clearing the table, wash & dry dishes, cleanup and package any leftovers.  A bonus would have my uncle assisting, and my aunt is excused due to her health issues (unless she says she is well enough & wishes to help).  My parents would not do anything beyond the preparation of hot food & table settings.


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Re: Using your guests as free labor during the holidays, division of labor?
« Reply #13 on: December 02, 2013, 11:52:23 AM »
I'd say everyone helps in some way or another.  I usually spent holidays with my parents and grandmother, and was expected from an early age to help with prep, serving and clean up. Later, when we had friends come on Christmas Eve, same thing.

I still remember the one year we flew west to spend the holidays with Dad's side of the family. My grandmother and dad and Uncles did most of the prep, and I was the ONLY one of maybe 6 grandkids who even made a move towards the kitchen to clean up. GMA didn't have a dishwasher, and let me tell you, washing dishes for 15+ was not an easy task! Finally one of my cousins came to help, but none of my other cousin's did, nor were they even asked to. My mom commented on that, and how proud of me she was for taking the lead!


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Re: Using your guests as free labor during the holidays, division of labor?
« Reply #14 on: December 02, 2013, 12:02:39 PM »
I also consider family gatherings different from a hosted party. I think everyone should help with the only exceptions being physically unwell (possibly your aunt), kids who are too young to be helpful, and maybe someone looking after young kids.

In my past, it was only the females who fit that category that helped; we're working to change that.

I have to wonder when your mother says you need to "set a good example".... for WHO? For your sister who clearly hasn't caught on, or the kids, who at this point, will need to be told to step up and help? It sounds like your mom's parenting approach (at least in this context) stopped evolving when you were about 12.

I can see why you feel like you're the free labor, if there are 8 people sitting back and enjoying the visit (7 of which are able-bodied) while you clean up after all of them!

I think you should show up for Christmas with a broken leg   >:D