“Mom, if I have to teach one more person how to do his laundry, I’ll throw him in the dryer. Thanks for not sending me away to school as a total idiot.”
AHHHH! Giant mom tears roll slowly down my cheek. There is an unfamiliar clenching in my throat. Where is my medal?!?!?
My kids, all five of them, have always done chores. And over the years, I’ve had many moms ask me ‘how’ I manage this. “How do you keep your house so clean with five kids?” “OMG, you only have the one bathroom? Where’s all the stuff?”
Really, friends. You know me. So you know it’s not me doing all the cleaning. It’s my kids. And I’m beginning to understand that there are more than a few of you who would like to know how I still manage to get five teenagers – okay, one just turned 20, but it’s close enough – to help around the house without so much as a heavy sigh. Here’s my best advice….
Start early. Seriously, I’m talking 6 months old. Babies first toy should be some blocks and a shoe box. “Okay, sweetie, yes! Block in box! YAY!!” Nobody goes anywhere, bed, play, dinner, until all toys are thrown back into the toy box. Yes, let’s learn how to throw a dinky car across the room and hit the bucket – after all, serious basketball skills could end up being your retirement plan. Make a game of it. Put on some music. When he’s ready to walk, don’t let him hang on to the table; give him a broom! Much more developmentally challenging. Tall enough to see over the top of the washer is tall enough to do her own laundry. If she can get herself a drink of water – even with a step stool – she’s old enough to learn how to wash dishes. Seriously, don’t underestimate your kids!
Be persistent. This is key. I know it’s hard to keep repeating the same thing over and over, day after day, year after year, kid after kid. On the plus side, I now hear the older ones spouting off things like, “We never leave an empty roll of toilet paper for the next person!” to younger siblings. This pays off in the end. Trust me. Don’t give in. Don’t give up. Not for a day. Not for a moment. The smallest crack in your armour can be turned into a pothole in a flash by one smart-ass kid. Then watch how fast he can take the others with him. Much easier to stick with the plan than to get it back on track.
Respect and explain. I’m not talking about, “Johnny, do the dishes please. Johnny, please do the dishes. Johnny, the dishes need to be done. Johnny did you hear Mommy? Johnny? Hey! Did Johnny just slam front door?!!” Oooh, there is nothing that grates my nerves more than parents pleading and bargaining with their kids. By respect, I mean simply telling your kids what needs to be done and standing over them until they do it. We don’t make up things for them to do. We don’t make it harder for them. We explain. The bathroom needs to be cleaned regularly, or it will stink and grow mold and we will get sick. Leave it clean for the next person. This is how and why we do each and every one of these chores. I am a firm believer that people are far more compliant to an unsavoury situation when they understand why. Kids are no different. “I know you don’t like it. Neither do I. But that doesn’t change the fact that it needs to be done.”
Find a plan that works. But be prepared to change it. Regularly. A plan that works when your kids are 5 and 7 won’t hold a lick when they’re 14 and 16. Job jars, reward plans, calendars, time sheets, bonus points – whatever works for your family.
Use it. If it doesn’t work, get rid of it and try something else. There’s no shortage of great ideas online. My best success came from the fridge magnet chore chart. Each kid has a colour-coded magnet – the two youngest shared one – and the magnets rotate around the schedule every Monday. The first few weeks were iffy. The kids who didn’t have to clean the bathroom left it in shambles for the one who did. By the time the last kid got bathroom duty, even the toilet was spotless all week as they all learned how much work/pride goes into a clean bathroom. I, myself, have not cleaned a loo in over 20 years…
And last, but most importantly,
Sit down. Yes, this is the Golden Rule of child-rearing. Mom, grab a coffee, a magazine, a glass of wine, a romance novel, and sit your tired ass down. I learned a long time ago that my pitying my kids does not help them. My doing everything for them does not increase their competence on any level at all. I am the coach, the foreman, the director. I am there, present, available. But I don’t actually do the work. No child can clean his bedroom by himself – even up to 16/17 years old. They all let their rooms fall into ‘disaster area’ status, then they have no idea where to start. (You certainly cannot send an 8-year-old to his room to clean it and expect any sign of success.) Instead, from about age 4, pull up a chair and instruct. Put on some music, prepare some snacks – only time the kids are allowed to eat in their bedrooms, supervised, planned, and they can’t get away! – and direct the begat in the process of the cleaning. Collect the dirty laundry – perhaps you hold on the hamper while you point and she picks up. Next comes garbage. You hold the bag, he gets better at throwing. Sort through stuff – maybe even make a special trip to the dollar store for some hangers or bins to make the process a little more special. At the end of the day, you’ve spent some serious quality time with said child, had some fun, made some memories, taught a lesson, relaxed a bit, and ended up with goal accomplished – one clean bedroom. Accept that this will happen again and again X #of children. But these days, my kids will ask for this help, not so much for the help, but for the company. A very worthwhile investment.
Sure, sometimes it’s just easier to move the kid out of the way and get ‘er done. But in the long run, that’s not the easier thing to do. Remember the big picture. The end goal. Everybody, ready, responsible, and out of my house!! In the end, it’s all about the empty nest…
So moms, share your wisdom; what’s the best idea you’ve found to get your kids to pitch in?