Getting your kids to help and lighten your load
Raise your hand if you feel like your family’s entire existence rests on your shoulders. Is there ANYONE out there who doesn’t feel this way at least ONCE in awhile? I want to meet you!!!
In the “old days” of our grandmothers and even in some cases our mothers, women pretty much held up the family, and it was expected that she would take care of the house and everyone in it. Alone.
Fast forward 50 years and what have I been doing? Taking care of the house and everyone in it. Alone.
I recently realised that I had two choices: keep doing this and lose my mind, or vote for my sanity and make some serious changes.
I readily admit that I am not a great delegator. I’m sure someone could psychoanalyse me and get to the root of that little problem (and actually I have spent years psychoanalysing myself!!!!) but who cares how I got here. I’m here, and it really just doesn’t work.
My husband is Awesome. (Not a typo—he is Awesome with a capital “A”). I’m certain this man will be canonized upon his departure from this earth. He never complains about anything I ask him to do. But he works outside the home ALL DAY long! So if I ask him to do something to help, despite his lack of complaining, I immediately inflict a massive guilt trip on myself (which in and of itself takes a lot of work from my side). And then where am I? I still have the same amount of work along with a healthy dose of guilt! Then there is the guilt that it would all fall apart without me (partially true, partially fantasy. Just let me have that fantasy, OK??). Then there is the record that plays over and over in my head: “Kristin—this is your role. This is your reality, you choose this life. Just ZIP IT and get to work and stop arguing with me!” Arguing with oneself is exhausting too. Whole lotta work and guilt. Not recommended.
So a few months ago, when I was playing the “Kristin this is your role” record again, and simultaneously feeling totally unappreciated, overworked, overtired, and just totally fed up, I realized that I was coming dangerously close to hitting the proverbial end of the road. And as I had that thought of a car careening off a cliff with me inside it, I looked down and saw three little people just standing there looking at me with big eyes waiting for their next instruction. And I at that moment I thought: Hey! You are the little people who cause most of my work. And now, it’s your turn to HELP!
I admit, this was not an earth shattering moment for me. I had thought about it many times before, but quite frankly it can sometimes be more work to have your kids help than just blitzing it and doing it yourself. Not to mention having to endure the complaining. Who wants help from someone who complains how life is so unfair, who can’t finish a job without getting distracted by a lego figure on the floor and who always conveniently has to run to the bathroom the moment I ask if anyone is free to help? Don’t get me wrong, I have attempted previously to involve the kids in chores around the home, but I lose my patience quickly. And did I mention the complaining?
But you know what? That was the issue. It was MY issue. I finally realized that if I just IGNORED the complaining and tried my very best not to let it get to me—we might be able to get somewhere.
We started with lunch. In Switzerland the kids come home for lunch every day. Sometimes I even inherit a friend’s kid or two. Whoever walks through that door—they are all hungry and therefore very motivated. I make a hot meal every lunchtime and in the past it has taken me a good hour to prepare it with all of the interruptions which come from my toddler and various other sources. But the fact is that these kids need to have lunch on the table no later than noon so they can get back to school on time. Which means that I really need to get down to the fixing-lunch-business by 11:00. And then there is the post-eating clean-up activity that I oh so love—and in the end I figured I was spending about 2 good hours between all of the stuff that had to happen to feed those little mouths.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m happy enough to cook, and blessed to have the children to do it for, but there’s the matter of setting the table and cleaning up that they are more than capable of doing by now. So the other day I shook up the house and broke it to them that they would all be a part of lunch time (if they wanted to eat). Each little mouth agreed that eating over lunchtime was a good thing so I marched forward and assigned them each tasks. Here’s how I broke the jobs down for them:
• Set the table with plates, forks, knives, spoons, and water glasses
• fill the glasses with water
• clear the table of plates, silverware, cups, and food and scrape plates into the compost
• load the dishwasher
• put leftovers in glass containers and then into the fridge
• vacuum the floor
• wipe the table
• recycle appropriate items
• wash dishes
• dry dishes
We keep a schedule on the fridge, so there are no excuses for not knowing who has to do what each day. Even little Z is getting in on the act helping out where she can. As it worked so well, we transferred the list over to dinner times as well. Everyone is now pitching in to help make all of our day go a little smoother. And Mama is a whole lot happier for it.
What if they don’t help, you ask? Or what if I have to remind them too many times? It’s simple—I go on strike. They can do all the jobs i’ve been allocated to do as well as their own. I promise you, this has only happened once!
Just from this little list, I have now shaved a good 30 minutes off my lunchtime routine. And the kids are feeling more involved and helpful and quite frankly proud of themselves. But IMPORTANTLY, it wasn’t just the kids who had to learn how to do something. I had to accept a couple of things as well. First of all, the complaining continues. That’s just life, I guess, and but I have chosen not to focus on that part. If they want to complain and be miserable, then that’s their choice. This is a massive departure from my previous mindset where complaining felt like an utter failure on my part because my little people weren’t “happy.”
Secondly, the tasks are rarely done as perfectly as I could do them. This was also a big one for me to get past, particularly with my need for control. I am trying. But the question for me was: am I striving for perfect or do I just want a few moments back to my self? I have finally accepted that these jobs don't NEED to be done perfectly. (Whew. I feel better even for having said that!) Imperfect is my friend! Can you just hear the minutes actually being added ON to my day? Tick tock. Tick tock. And those little things really add up. I now start lunch 20 minutes later than I used to—and am so much less stressed! Win win win!
Because of the success of this little experiment, I’ve since expanded the scope of the kids' responsibility to include doing the recycling. We live rather close to the facility that accepts our empty cans, bottles, and paper, so this was actually a no-brainer. Not only do they have to walk it all over there, but they also have to make sure the recycling station in our home is tidy, and that that the kitchen is free of recycling after each meal and put away. (Tick tock! Tick tock!)
This success has motivated me to look elsewhere at our day to see if there are any other places where the kids can take some of the burden off of me and gain even more time. I have been brainstorming how I can easily incorporate new jobs into their every day life and have come up with a couple of ideas that I’m going to be trying out very soon.
• The I’m Bored list: Have a running list of things that need to be done called the “I’m Bored” list. Bingo! When they claim that they’re bored, I'll have an instant re-direct ready for them!
• The “keep your own space tidy” principle: While we are lucky to have a lovely woman cleaning our home we’ve decided to cut back to one day every two weeks instead of every week. I’ll still have her help with the deep scrubbing that I can’t do but as a FAMILY (read: kids, too) we will maintain her work in between her visits. To begin with, each child can
• vacuum their own room
• dust their own room
• take turns cleaning the kids' bathroom. Our 9 year old has recently learnt how to clean the toilets.
So talk to me, all those Mums and Dads out there who are fighting the good fight! Tell me how you do it? Which jobs do your kids do? And how do you make it work in your family?