Jan 24, 2012

Have you done your chores?

Household tasks...
What a bone of contention they can be. Who cleans up? When? How often? How old should children be before they are expected to help? How do you do housework with a busy homeschool?

This is our family's journey in getting our house into shape.

Look behind you
My mother always worked. We always had a cleaning lady, a dishwashing machine, and a roster for cooking and cleaning the kitchen for ALL of the family on the fridge. My mum always hung a load of washing out in the morning before she left to work as a teacher. 

The only way you can be a working mother is to have help to do all of those living life kind of survival chores. Help invariably means kids doing chores...(and naturally husbands and partners too).

In our family it started early - I remember making my own lunches in kindergarten; I was 4 and a half. One of my sisters rebelled and so only ate 2 apples for lunch every day in high school. Quick to prepare! 

Now I am a mother I shudder to think that was accepted. Well, it was the 1970s...

Homeschool parents are working parents too
One of my biggest dreads having children was all of the extra work they were sure to create - you can see that my childhood scarred me ;-) but I also wanted to be one of those nurturing caring mothers who don't expect incredibly independent young kids. Sure, I'll cook yummy food, tidy up, sew stuff...

Mostly, this perfectionist approach worked, but when Rainbow Mama Amber talked to me about FlyLady when the girls were tiny, phew, did I need the help. Housework needs a structure. I learnt. I followed the baby-steps. But I mostly did the tidying myself - I had a "system" that was daunting to explain to small kids. Silly me.

Bless your house
So up until the recent past, Mike and I had been a bit slack with the chores. From time to time, we'd try to get the girls to clear their plates, sweep the floor, tidy their rooms without asking, take their dirty clothes to the laundry....and invariably one or the other of us perfectionist parents would crack with frustration and end up doing it ourselves.

It requires patience to teach kids to do chores, doesn't it? And it also takes acceptance that the job may not be perfect. Or timely. Or even done.

Step 1: teach them how to tidy that room
After numerous cranky discussions at bedtime about the state of one daughter's room, I realised I was approaching it all wrong. She was feeling overwhelmed and really didn't know where to start. Bedtime discussions were horrible for everyone.

I sat back, had a good think and wrote a step-by-step list for her:

This made a huge difference. Both girls then knew what to do to tidy their room. It is only asked of them a few times a week (increasingly, they do it without being asked) - a bit of chaos is okay, just not to the "can't see your floor" level...

Household chores need to be shared
A smooth running household is good, isn't it. I get cranky with myself if there aren't any clean clothes to wear, or fruit to eat, or an empty dishwasher. Searching for things uses up a lot of day in a homeschool. Order helps things run more smoothly.

I needed to make my own routine to get me on track every morning - especially as a homeschool mother. In doing this, I realised that actually all of us needed to get into a rhythm, together.

Step 2: take responsibility for your own tasks
We sat down and had a family "conference". Together we put together a chore list for weekdays:

Obviously this list needed to be achievable and appropriate for the child's age, so the two girls' lists were quite different. 

And yes, I had my list too! Indeed, I even got an iPad app for that - loosely based on the FlyLady routines, so consistent too.

So life proceeded along okay, and along with some other occasional tasks like verandah sweeping or one-off $2 tasks like washing the car I realised that family household life was going well. Sharing is fair, after all.

Step 3: review and shake-up as needed
Then recently, Amber from Rainbow Mama emailed me a link to Marilyn Rockett's Life Skills for Children - an excellent resource organised by age with a list of skills that accumulates as the child gets older. 

I printed out one per girl and with a lot of laughing (and pride too) on the girls' part, we went through the list. We marked any they still needed to work on with a sticker, added details as needed, and moved through the list.

It has been a timely reminder for me too. It is now time to teach more cooking skills and practice emergency phone calls etc. The girls are feeling really good about their contribution - after all, we do all need each other, and for one thing, I would be happy never to iron again!

Don't forget the Golden Rule
This rule was agreed between Mike and I early in our relationship:
The person who is doing the job OWNS the job 
(so don't interfere or criticise or it might just become your job instead).

This has helped me take my perfectionist hand off the household task rudder - and it is working beautiful. Happy mums make for happy families : )

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