"Cleaning the house while the kids are growing is like shoveling the snow while it's still snowing."
Isn't that cute? It's a defeatist attitude, but it gives comfort to the weary mom who struggles with household messes and is constantly wondering to herself, "Am I really such a slob," but in truth realizing that she lives with a few very dear but utterly messy children.
I read this little phrase on a fridge magnet at the home of a good friend when my kids were very little, and it was a comfort. Ironically, this particular friend was just about as tidy as could be; I was not!
When the kids were tiny, I could just barely keep my head above water with an infant in one arm, a toddler in the other and a couple of preschoolers to follow around. I was merely concerned with their safety and the occasional decent meal (Amen for pressure cookers!).
My dear husband had to scoop up the laundry chores and whatever else the poor guy could manage after a long day at work. Yes, even at this early stage, I should have been training those little ones to make their own beds in the morning and put their own toys back in that overflowing box. Many times I did, but usually I would just scramble around doing everything for them during their precious, beloved naptime, instead of teaching them to do it themselves.
Alas, here is where the chaos began. At this unfortunate bend in the road of our family life, they surely lost out, and my, oh my, so did I!
Here is where I would like to draw your attention to the title of this column: You are cheating your children out of a very important life skill if you are making the mistake of doing everything for them! Your job is not home "worker" but rather home "manager."
Who would you rather be, the captain of your ship or the guy down below scrubbing the deck? Now answer me honestly: Who are you really? Are you teaching your kids to be hard workers, contributors and, yes, as Jesus instructed us to be, servants? Or is it more often that you feel like the servant while their royal bottoms sit on the thrones of "Mommy, can I have a PB&J? Mommy, I can't find the remote! Mommy where's my baseball glove?"
It's great to lovingly serve your family, and I hope that you do, but at what point are you teaching them to be little pigs who can always count on mom to clean up after them?
According to Sandra Felton, author of "The Messies Manual, Hope for the Hopeless Messie," and "Organizing Your Home and Family," your job as a parent is to train your children to go from utterly dependant to fully independent contributing individuals in our society. This is obviously not a one-day process, but rather something they should be learning on a continual basis as they are brought up under your care. You are to be training them for adulthood, not allowing them to be perpetually dependant.
According to Sandra's book, children brought up in an organized home were found 25 years later to be more successful and earning a higher income than those who were not raised in such an environment. It seems that children who are taught how to establish order in a home are also able to apply that sense of order to their very lives, thus increasing their ability to achieve. If you're hoping those little geniuses will subsidize your retirement, then what better motivation do you need to get organized?
How do you start? Sandra recommends that you: 1) Start with a vision. Imagine a home with order and beauty; imagine what you'll have more time to do in such a home, more family time, more parties and guests, more time for hobbies. 2) Call the family together including dad. 3) Create a game plan - a system that will work for your family. 4) Cheer your team! Regularly remind everyone of how you can all enjoy an orderly home. 5) Create a family motto for your housework, such as "In our family we work as a team, pulling together to keep our place clean." I also like another I've recently heard: "Don't put it down; put it away!" 6) Get to work! I threw in the last one, but it's obviously what's next, and when you're all finished, reward your kids by enjoying some of that promised family time together with a game of kickball in the yard, a board game or trail ride. In fact, go ahead and ask them how they'd like to be rewarded before you begin working (more motivation for your team!).
What currently works for us is dry erase boards for each child, and using a Sharpie permanent marker, I wrote a list of what needs to be done daily for each child. All they have to do is check off each task upon completion in an erasable marker that is Velcroed to the board (Easily wiped off at the end of the week while the permanent marks remain).
Each item not completed means a quarter off their weekly allowance. They also rotate days of the week when "Kid of the Day" gets to ride shotgun, pick the cartoon for the day and clear the dinner table and wipe it down. We are also teaching our 9- and 10-year-olds to wash and fold their own laundry. Who wouldn't want their very own laundry basket on their ninth birthday?
The truth is, kids actually feel more significant when they become "contributors" in the home; it's nice to know that what they do matters. Also, you'll enjoy a nice "now you know how it feels" chuckle when you first hear one telling the other, "Hey, put your junk away; I just cleaned this room!"
Ruthie Davidson is a mother of four children, ages 5 to 10. She lives in South Daytona and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.