Cleaning is Man’s Work

As anyone who’s got sons knows, little boys are often messy and gross. That’s just the plain simple truth, from one father of sons and a former little boy, to you.

At least in our home, they somehow manage to pee on every imaginable surface of the toilet except in the bowl, rip and throw clothes off like they’re on fire, wipe boogers behind their beds, fart at inappropriate times, and leave the milk, their bowls, spoons, and the cereal out on the table. Don’t even get me started on scattered toys, missing controllers, or LEGO landmines.  

On the one hand, it’s all part of the messiness that comes with the joy and territory of parenting. I’d take the messes and the constant instructions to clean over an empty, sterile house any day of the week. 

“Where no oxen are, the crib is clean: but much increase is by the strength of the ox” (Proverbs 14:4). 

As the Proverb points out, our children make messes but they must also be trained to be productive contributors to the household. The oxen crapped everywhere, but they were also good for something, which takes practice.  

Our children have serious potential to make the home stronger, livelier, and more fruitful. Which means we need to start regarding our children as assets and not just liabilities. 

Speaking of assets, one of the key ways we turn them into productive contributors, not only to the home but society as a whole, is by teaching them to clean up after themselves. Appreciate order. Respect others by not allowing them to die in the toy-strewn death trap that is your room. Value the sparkle of a clean porcelain bowl. Appreciate the fresh smell of bleach instead of days old urine. And so forth. 

When you teach your sons to take pride in cleanliness (which God apparently found so important He inspired an entire book of the Bible about it) you’re setting them up to be better husbands. You’re investing in a world in which grown men stop spitting their chew in urinals and leaving bubble gum in parking lots for others to step in. 

As I told my wife recently, if I can give my future daughters-in-law one gift, it’ll be men who know how to make a porcelain tank shine. So help me God

Men, Take the Lead 

Men, our sons need to learn how to value cleanliness, and it’s us as fathers who need to lead the way in showing them how. It’s not time to go on the war path or start issuing ultimatums. It’s time to model and to teach

If your home is anything like mine, it’s easy to let mom do all the heavy lifting when it comes to keeping the house clean. Without saying it, many of us have adopted the philosophy that cleaning is women’s work. 

This is utterly unmanly. Your sons need to know, by your example and instruction, that cleaning is a real man’s work.  

If truth be told, many of us are as bad or worse than our children when it comes to creating messes and leaving them for our wives to attend to. Clothes that could go in the hamper end up next to the hamper. I have a dresser but insist on hanging my clothes on the back of a chair. It drives my wife nuts. My toothbrush often doesn’t get put away, nor the caps to my contact lens case. 

One of the best ways fathers can lead in their home, especially if they have sons, is by modeling and teaching on cleanliness and order. Jobs get finished and tools get put away, sparkling and in the right place. When we do this, we are reflecting the character of God: “Let all things be done decently and in order” (1 Corinthians 14:40). 

Men, one of the greatest things you can teach your sons is cleanliness.

It is a matter of godly order and respect to others to leave things in better shape than you found them. It’s a parable for all of life. It’s a way to honor rather than undo the work your wife and their mother puts into beautifying the home. It makes the world a better place. It makes your sons more attractive to your future daughters-in-law. 

Less Philosophy, More Doing  

First, you have to model it. Don’t be a slob. Don’t treat your wife like a maid and expect your sons not to imitate you. They will. If you’ve screwed this up as badly as I have at times, start by modeling repentance and apologizing to your wife for exasperating her. That’s an object lesson every son needs to witness firsthand. 

Start with the toilet and the observe-do-certify method. Get on your hands and knees and show your sons how to properly clean the inside and outside of a toilet bowl. Show them how to use the proper tools. Teach them how to plunge, brush, spray, and wipe down. Watch them do it. Teach and offer correction. Then, more frequently at first, check in on their work at regular intervals. Praise them when they do well; offer correction and encouragement when they do not. 

Teach them how to re-stock toilet paper, replace an empty air freshener bottle, fold and hang a hand towel, and immediately report leaks or non-functioning plumbing to Dad.

The Patches O’Houlihan principle applies here: If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball. Except in this case, If you can clean a toilet with joy and excellence, you can do just about anything else in life well, too. 

The toilet bowl is a phenomenal instructor in manly virtues. Embrace it.

In the words of Helen Unitas, mother of Hall of Famer Johnny Unitas, “If you have to clean toilets for a living , make them shine.” 

Most of all, men, teach your sons that cleaning is man’s work. 

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Photo by Daniel Bernard on Unsplash


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2 thoughts on “Cleaning is Man’s Work”

  1. I’m cracking up that I am the first person to make comments on this post; perhaps (ha) cleaning toilets is not exactly glamorous to apply to the character of strong and brave manliness. (Or people of admirable character.)

    The thing about this article, and Eric’s focus on cleaning a toilet as an example of a virtue, is awesome. This context applies to so many things: when we keep short accounts, it’s easier to do daily life.

    Keep short accounts. “If you sprinkle when you tinkle, be a sweetie and wipe the seatie.” How much easier is it to clean as you go? This applies to broader life; this may look like: Run to Repent.

    If we are impatient with our children, own up and apologize quickly. If we snap at our spouse, own up and apologize quickly. If our attitude is bad, run to repent with God, own up, and apologize to those around us, quickly. I John 1:9 is there for us to keep short accounts throughout the day. Owning our poor thoughts, poor attitudes, poor words, poor actions, keeps the build up of emotional junk at a “sparkling ceramic bowl“ condition. No build up of stinky junk.

    Eric, I’m enjoying your articles. Strong manliness is not just an external, callous-formed hand idea. It’s an entire package.

  2. There’s a key Biblical idea you could add here. In Genesis 1-3, Adam was given the full rule over the garden. It was a large stewardship and required a lot of work, which was 100% Adam’s responsibility. Adam was given Eve as a helper to do this work, but Adam remained responsible to do it or delegate parts of the work to Eve. By Adam’s plan it would all get done.

    Household tasks are similar. All are the man’s responsibility (arguably there could be exceptions, but generally this is true). Husbands don’t need to personally do everything, but they are personally responsible for making sure either he or his wife/helper are doing them. It is always a husband’s decision how the home will be run. Wives should submit to this in every way, and husband’s should show love and honor to their wife while making these decisions (Ephesians 5).

    Of course, in my home there are many tasks my wife does 100% of the time, but even if I didn’t specifically ask her to do those things I am responsible for the work and am trusting her to do it. I choose to allow that division of labor and am responsible for the results. Men, not women, need to set their households in order. If this is difficult for you to do in your household, it is likely that there are bigger things besides household work that you need to set in order first.

    Tl;dr – all work is man’s work, and he should do it himself or plan ways for his wife/helper to do them. Men are responsible for how their household is ordered.


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