Dear Margo: Mr. Clean He Is Not

Margo Howard’s advice

Mr. Clean He Is Not

Dear Margo: I’m not sure whether this is a problem, but it sure is annoying the heck out of me. I am newly married (less than a year). My husband and I did not live together before we tied the knot, so it’s come as something of a shock to learn he is in no way neat. In fact, he is a slob who thinks nothing of tracking in dirt, sand, gravel or whatever. He seems totally unaware of the mess he makes. I suppose there were hints before we shared a dwelling, but I guess they didn’t register. Now that “our house” is my house, I am noticing, probably because I am always cleaning up after him. He responds to neither hints nor direct requests. Do you have any advice for me? — California Neatnik

Dear Cal: Grit happens. Because your guy does not respond to hints or requests, you may find it easier and less stressful to take matters into your own hands (along with a broom and a vacuum), which would make it a non-issue. If there are things he does for you, and I hope there are, in your mind make them a trade-off. I pass on to you something I learned from my mother. It is easier, in terms of aggravation, to just pick up his socks, sweep up the dirt, wash the dishes in the sink, etc. When the irritation goes away, you will be minus one problem. I think the fact that your spouse spaces out about what he tracks in is small potatoes. I suspect the equality brigade will come after me, but truly, I think it’s easier to train a dog than a man. — Margo, historically

Picky Eaters

Dear Margo: We have an 8-year-old grandchild. He’s a good child; however, he is picky with foods. Like many children, he loves all the foods that aren’t the best nutritionally. My concern is that when our grandchild visits us, come mealtime my husband becomes angry to the point of not speaking to the child and making faces at him when he doesn’t eat foods he’s never had before. In addition, he rarely finishes what’s on his plate, usually eating less than half of the meal. I have limited his snacks so that when it comes to mealtime he is hungry. I’m trying to help my grandchild, but I am at a loss to understand my husband’s way of handling the situation.

He says discipline is needed, but I find this type of “discipline” not only harsh, but mean. As a result, our grandchild becomes anxious and worried when it’s mealtime. I have told our grandchild that the rule is to at least try one new food each time he visits. A little history: The child’s mother has some emotional issues that unfortunately interfere with her ability to be on top of her game in parenting. As a result, this child often has to fend for himself, which includes getting himself up and ready each morning for school and most often leaving the house without any breakfast. In the meantime, how do I cope with my husband’s behavior toward this child? — Torn Between Two Loves

Dear Torn: There’s a lot going on here. For one thing, I am wondering who is the child. Making faces at a kid thinking it is instruction is juvenile. Tell the old boy to cut it out, and also to bag his anger. He is making things worse. I like your rule of “try something new.” If he doesn’t eat it or doesn’t finish, say nothing. Hungry kids will eat. As for the situation at home, show your grandson, when he’s with you, how to fix cereal and milk with fruit or grab a health bar. If you stay on the case, time and teaching will ease the problem. — Margo, sensibly

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Dear Margo is written by Margo Howard, Ann Landers’ daughter. All letters must be sent via the online form at Due to a high volume of e-mail, not all letters will be answered.


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84 Responses so far.

  1. avatar JCF4612 says:

    LW1) How much dirt can any one person track in?

    LW2) Dinner at your place sounds like a gas. Don’t be surprised when, as the years fly by, your grandson opts out of visits to your home. No warm, fuzzy memories of din-din at grammy’s house for him, thanks to your silly notions and your husband’s childish behavior. Serve the kid foods he’d enjoy.  

    • avatar bamabob says:

      what silly notions? she wants him to eat something besides chicken mcnuggets. Sounds like dinner includes veggies and a salad instead of fried foods and twinkies.

      • avatar JCF4612 says:

        Silly notions? How about “I have limited his snacks so that when it comes to mealtime he is hungry.”
        Most kids that age are always hungry, snacks are not. Gram may mean well, but she’s coming off like an ogre. Between the two of them, both grandparents are making meals a nightmare not a pleasant experience.  The casual slam at their offspring — “the child’s mother has some emotional issues that unfortunately interfere with her ability to be on top of her game in parenting  –” apparently makes grams feel entitled to step in and make sure this kid eats like she thinks he should. Way to go grams, that way maybe he can grow up with emotional issues, too.      

        • avatar JCF4612 says:

          Meant to say “… snacks are not mere ‘carrots’ for withholding to induce a child’s hunger. They are necessary nutritional components for most fast-growing kids.”  

          • avatar Maggie Tenser says:

            I take it then that you’ve never had to bite your tongue watching an 8 year old chow down 12 cookies when he gets home from school and then listen to his parents complain about how he’s “so picky” and never finishes his dinner?

            Kids today do not suffer from a dearth of snacks. They suffer from, as grandma said, an over abundance of junk food snacks. “Limiting” snacking is not cruel, it’s basic common sense.

          • avatar persey78 says:

            And I wonder what snacks the kids will eat? Are the snacks that this kid is picking as nutrition as carrots. I love to bake so we have baked goods often, but we also eat well. My mother gave us a great variety to our diet and as I got older I was more willing to try even more exotic things. My daughter sometimes doesn’t want what I make and if she is hungry she eats. At 13 she can get a snack if she wants one, but I don’t have huge amounts of junk.

        • avatar Anais P says:

          Who’s coming off like an ogre here? Methinks it’s the commenter who doesn’t realize the grandmother (LW2) is trying to give her grandchild some nutritional meals FOR A CHANGE, instead of the junk it’s apparent his mother feeds him.  Perhaps she can ease up a meal or two and make him something he likes that is a little more nutritious. Margo’s advice is very good. LW2 is operating with a couple of killjoys here, her intolerant husband and her somewhat irresponsible daughter. I say, kudos to her for trying against odds to help her grandson, who is lucky to have a caring grandmother.
          As for LW1, I would go on a silent strike and not pick up any of his clothes. Then, come laundry day, just launder the clothing that’s in the hamper. If hubby does the laundry, then he will have to pick it all up in order to have some clean socks. She may have to grit her teeth for a few weeks, but he may come around. And when he picks up anything, she should praise him lavishly. Even dogs respond to positive reinforcement. 

    • avatar lebucher says:

      RE LW#1:  I live in the country.  This house of mine gets more filthy than any other I’ve lived in.  One person can track an amazing amount of dirt/mud inside if one is not mindful of either removing shoes or scraping them on the way in.

    • avatar Carib Island Girl says:

      You’d be amazed, depending on where you live. Interestingly, Dear Abby had a similar letter, but this one was the boyfriend wanted to live together before marriage, she did not. I would not marry someone who I did not live with first, for the very reasons LW1 found. It’s just foolish not to.

    • avatar Anais P says:

      If a person lives out in the country, he can track in a LOT of dirt from gravel driveways, etc. People of many Asian cultures have the right idea: take off your shoes as soon as you get in the door and leave them there. Problem solved. LW1 should set this rule and make sure the messy hubby follows it. If he doesn’t, there are ways to make sure he does …

  2. avatar Artemesia says:

    How sad. It is so easy to provide a pleasant mealtime and varied foods some of which a child will enjoy. What does your husband hope to accomplish by being a total jerk to a little kid — he raised one child with emotional problems — does he really want to guarantee another? Grandparents need to be havens of acceptance. You don’t need to serve junk food, but you do need to make dinner non -contentious. Serve a variety of foods some of which you know he will enjoy, have a one bite rule if you can (although grandfather vicious may have poisoned that well) and then ignore what he eats and talk about something else. ‘Cleaning your plate’ was always a stupid idea; serve tiny tiny portions and let him have seconds if he wants.

    And time to have him help you plan meals and cook — an 8 year old is the perfect age to learn to put a meal and they learn some nutrition and it is fun.

    And tell grandpa vicious that you don’t want to hear another word about what the child eats, particularly directed at him or at the table.

    REgarding the messy husband and ‘men like dogs are hard to train’ and other such complete nonsense. I am guessing both these people work — the problem is not that he is messy but that he thinks the housework is her job and that she is cleaning up after him.

    Time to sit down and decide explicitly how they will manage their household — and for each of them to be responsible for their full share. My husband and I did this over 40 years ago — and in the beginning many things were split down the middle e.g. we each did half of the cooking, (and whomever cooked was off kitchen duty — the other person cleaned the kitchen after dinner) our own laundry, were responsible for particular chores during Saturday morning house cleaning (e.g. he vacuumed while I cleaned the bathroom) When you start like this, it is easy to adapt to people’s preferred chores and talents later — but to let things slide often means men assume it is all woman’s work and they smugly occasionally ‘help.’

    For day to day mess — if the place needs to be swept or vacuumed every day because someone doesn’t take their shoes off or clean their feet before entering — well make that part of what gets done in daily chores. I am the messy one in our life — so in our first place, we laid out a clean zone — the living room, kitchen and bathroom had to be kept picked up and basically visitor ready because my husband liked living in an orderly environment — the mess could occur in the bedroom or my office.

    This is not a ‘boys will track in mud’ issue — it is a ‘are we going to be grownups together, equal partners or are we going to be a 50s sterotype of Mommy and her ‘Big Boy” — the later is pretty much the end of love or desire for me.

    • avatar Carib Island Girl says:

      Agreed, I normally agree with Margo, but this was way off. A wife should not have to be a mother and slave too. This would kill my sex drive pretty quick.

  3. avatar mayma says:

    Dad acts like a four-year-old in an adult body? And mom is “torn” about telling him to grow the eff up? And — wonder of wonders — daughter has “emotional issues.” You don’t say.

    And LW2 thinks it’s the eight-year-old — the one who gets himself to school every day — who needs help??!


  4. avatar Katharine Gray says:

    Letter #1:  I suspect that Margo’s advice is probably wise.  Since you are newly married, however, now is the time to set up *jurisdictions* for household duties.  For example, he takes out the trash, he empties the dishwasher, etc.  And think of ways to keep the dirt outside like a very good foot mat that he has to cross when coming in, even if he doesn’t use it.  My father was not a neat man and to make matters worse, he worked as a machinist which meant he was standing in dirt and oil all day and getting his clothes very grimy.  He was *trained* to come in the back way over a tile floor, had a *work clothes closet* (it actually was one intended for guest coats but never used for such) with a pile for his dirty clothes and his *house clothes* inside) and changed and washed before joining *civilization* again.  Oddly and sadly,if I think of the smell of machine oil  I get teary eyed.  Basically, my very particular mother made it easier for him to keep the house clean and he cooperated.   

    Letter #2:  Has it occurred to you that your husband’s idea of discipline may have contributed to your daughter’s emotional problems?  Surely he hasn’t suddenly become this *harsh and mean* when dealing with children.  If he won’t stop, maybe you should feed your grandson separately.   I’m not a fan of pandering to children’s tastes to the point of becoming a short order cook…they should be served what the entire family eats… but neither do I think they should be force-fed or told they cannot leave the table until they clean their plate.   The rule when I was growing up and faced with new foods was *take one bite and if you don’t like it you don’t have to eat it*.  I still remember my shock when I first tasted coleslaw, which looked like it would taste horrible, and discovered I loved it!

    At 8 years old he is old enough to get himself a basic and healthy breakfast, even if its a peanut butter sandwich and fruit or cereal and fruit and teaching him to make it is an excellent idea.  Another idea is that *gogurt* in a tube.     


  5. avatar Dan Bingham says:

    I’m a tad confused– why does everyone keep referring to the grandkid’s mother as the LW’s daughter? It doesn’t say so in the letter (that I can see) and the fact that LW refers to her as ‘the child’s mother’ would seem to indicate that she not their child.

    • avatar JCF4612 says:

      Good point, Dan. Ah, the emotion of it all. Kid’s mom could easily could be the DIL. Or grams could be a step-mom … or, or, or. .

      • avatar LuckySeven says:

        Or the ex-girlfriend of their absentee son.

        • avatar redessa says:

          While certainly possible, it’s unlikely the parternal grandparents would be that involved if the son is not in the picture.

          Then again, if the father is involved and the mother has “emotional issues” that keep her from so much as making sure her kid gets breakfast, I’d like to know why he isn’t stepping up!

  6. avatar lisakitty says:

    If your husband is tracking in that type of stuff, you need to designate an area of your home as the “mud room” or transition area.

    First off, make him remove his shoes before entering the house.  If his clothes are dirty, put a laundry basket close to the door (they have nice covered ones) and have him undress before getting too far into the house.  Leave a robe or something for him to put on there.

    Since you are still newlyweds, you can even make this a sexy time.  I used to meet my husband (worked in construction) by the door every night and it was some of the sweetest times of the day.     

  7. avatar wlaccma says:

    No women should have to clean up behind a man. Make him remove his shoes. I have a sign on my beach house door, no shoes allowed or the guests would track sand all over my house. After a few reminders, it works.

    Letter No 2. I have the exact same problem with my grandkids. They only eat a few things and those things are not good for them but…they will grow out of that. In the meantime, I cater to whatever they want to eat to keep them coming over and keep them happy. Otherwise, believe me, this child will stop coming over for sure.

    • avatar Brenda S says:

      For LW 1, I salved my problem of doing all of the housework years ago.  I broke my foot to where I couldn’t get around.  My husband took over cleaning the house; and, I’ve let him continue ever since.  If he dies before me, I’m up the creek.  I’ll have to do more work.  Unfortunately, I can’t get around as well as I could when I was younger.

      For LW 2, please don’t force the kid to clean his plate.  Try to encourage him to take at least one bite of all things new.  Not any more than that.  My parents forced me to eat things and “clean my plate”.  Now, I have weight problems that I attribute to starting because of their initial demands.

  8. avatar Donna Sampson says:

    Kids don’t always “grow out” of eating chicken nuggets and french fries. Why do you think there is such an epidemic of obesity? Kids need to be exposed to a variety of healthy foods at an early age. Fast foods should be limited. NEVER EVER EVER MAKE A CHILD CLEAN THEIR PLATE!! All this does is create a person who has difficulty knowing when to stop eating. I agree with making the child taste new foods, but not having to eat all of it is they don’t like it. I also agree with the person who suggested teaching the child to cook. Involving the child in the decision of mealtime will give the child a sense of control over food. The bad food habits this child was allowed to begin have been set into the child’s mind now and will be very difficult to change, but they can be changed.

  9. avatar Belinda Joy says:

    Letter #2 – So that I am clear, this letter writer has basically admitted that the grandchild’s mother is emotionally ill-equipped to care for her child and is neglecting their needs? But this letter writer is more concerned about the kid being a picky eater?

    SMH…..That’s like finding a man with a massive head womb on the side of the road, but you are fixated on the fact his shirt doesn’t match his pants. This letter writer is missing the bigger issue. This letter is a joke.

    Letter #1 – I agree with you Margo.

    One need only watch an episode of Hoarders and you will never make another big deal about cleaning up after someone you live with. Story after story of one person that was annoyed by all the clutter created by a spouse, child or roommate, yet the FIRST TIME trash or garbage was left on a floor or counter, no one picked it up or cleaned up because they didn’t feel it was there place to do so.

    I’m a clean freak, I love coming home to a clean, fresh home. I would have no problem cleaning up after a messy roommate if it meant my home would remain clean. Especially if I knew before hand the man I would be sharing a home with was a slob. (I would NEVER be with a slob, so this topic for me is fantasy).

    The feminist in me would be frustrated that I have to play maid to a grown man. But the realist in me would say, is it worth a fight just because I had to pick up dirty socks or do dirty dishes that are not mine? I would say no. Better to simply do what I have to do to make sure my home doesn’t look like I live in squalor. I could say “I’ll show him I am not his freakin’ maid!” as my home fills with trash and dirt – or simply clean up. The choice is simple.

    • avatar LuckySeven says:

      The thing is: One of the most obvious patterns I feel I see in “Hoarders” is that one partner is a bully (the hoarder) who makes life Hell for the spouse who wants the house cleaned, and the other (the spouse) is weak and allows the hoarder to get away with it. All the more reason to get him to shape up now.

      • avatar Hellster says:

        What, dear God, is a “massive head womb?” Is it what makes a woman have to get a C-section, because they have a baby with a massive head?

        • avatar Belinda Joy says:

          Yassum massuh, you be rite, hows cud I be so ignit, it is WOUND it ain’t WOMB. I is so sorey massuh….owley u kin make a misstake….rite?

          • avatar David Bolton says:


            There’s no reason to be obnoxious about being corrected. Hellster’s comment actually sounds like he or she is making a joke.

          • avatar Hellster says:

            Thanks, David, but I was making what my mother would have called “a joke with a jag in it.” So Belinda is right to be peeved. But you are right, too. It’s all in good fun, right?

          • avatar Priscilla L says:

            Being obnoxious is basically Belinda Joy’s thing, David. How have you not noticed?

  10. avatar Kathy says:

    LW2 – Grandpa’s behavior makes him look stupid, and he just needs to be told that.  The real concern here is that Mom is not emotionally equipped to parent.  Sure, an eight-year old can get his own breakfast once in awhile but no child should have to “fend for himself.”  His home life is likely at the root of his eating problems and there are almost certainly issues elsewhere, such as school.  Grandma is focused on the wrong thing. Either that or the letter is a set-up.  Read the last two sentences.  It’s like saying, “my leg just fell off but in the meantime, what do I do about the extra sock?”

    • avatar redessa says:

      A little off topic, but I had to laugh when you said no child should have to “fend for himself.”  My youngest (coincidentally who is 8 yrs old) frequently asks if we can have “fend for yourself” night for dinner. In our house that’s what we call leftovers night when you just pick from what’s in the fridge or can heat up some soup or a frozen pizza or something. We do this every couple of weeks but he asks about twice a week and is dissappointed when I tell him I’m making dinner. :)

  11. avatar martina says:

    I have never seen anyone who can make as much mess in the kitchen as my husband does. There are puddles of water on the counters and the floor, used paper towels lying around and breadcrumbs all over. The man is oblivious to this mess. I did not wipe up the counter by the toaster for three weeks just to see what would happen and he didn’t notice at all. If all LW1’s husband is doing is tracking in dirt , she should consider herself lucky. Try getting him to use the mat outside to wipe his feet otherwise, keep a broom or a carpet sweeper handy and accept it for what it is unless you want to spend the rest of your married life nagging the man.

  12. avatar Cindy Marek says:

    #1: So long as he’s helping out otherwise, I’d (begrudgingly) deal with it. Trouble is, it’s an *ongoing* problem. I take it you do have big sturdy rugs at doors? He should at least be willing to wipe his feet on rugs before going into the house. Is it possible to place some nice plastic “runners” along carpetways he frequents? But definitely do make sure you are being “paid back” of him helping out. Husband and I had some go-arounds early on (married 20 years this March); for years now he helps with dishes, does laundry (including clothesline!), etc. :-)

    #2: I don’t have children so can’t offer any suggestions beyond what Margo and others have said. Your husband needs to knock off the silent treatment and making faces…geez.

  13. avatar Afton says:

    Margo’s advice to letter #1 reminds me of a favorite Pickles comic strip from years ago. The daughter asks her mom how she has had such a long,