My house usually starts out in the morning fairly clean. But by the end of the school morning, the living room is always a mess: schoolbooks and pencils and Barbies and blocks, all in a mish-mash. The mess might drive me nuts except that I know right after lunch, everyone will spring into action and pull the whole place back together: my 16 year old son cleans the kitchen. Our 15 year old daughter sweeps. And so on down the line. Even the 6yo helps by spot-mopping the kitchen floor with a wet rag.
Within an hour, the main part of the house looks great, which is a huge morale-booster for me. And it sets the tone for a peaceful afternoon. It seems obvious that most moms would like a system that works as well as that. But when you’ve got a bunch of teeny ones, how do you GET to that point?
FIRST DECIDE WHAT’S MOST IMPORTANT
It can be really tempting to tell yourself that if you just get organized you could keep your house nice looking all the time. Nope. Not if you’ve got a few kids and a desire to do something besides cleaning all day. You’ve got to keep your expectations reasonable. If you have only preschoolers, you are probably going to need to let some household tasks slide, and if you’ve got a young infant, your standards need to be even more relaxed.
Decide on your minimal level of household cleanliness.
This is not about doing it ALL! This is about finding your own minimum standards for happy living. Everyone is different.
For me it’s three things:
- Living room vacuumed every day
- Dishes done after every meal
- Three loads of laundry a day.
That’s my absolute bare minimum. My DON’T DO list is longer. I don’t care too much about made beds, or spotless kitchen floors, or perfect windows. I dust once a month, iron three times a year, and I don’t knock myself out doing yard work.
My list may work for you, or it may not. Every family is different. Remember to take your husband’s wishes into consideration here too. The point is to decide what is really important, and what you can let go, so that your expectations are more reasonable.
The next key to housework is to involve your kids. Most moms like that idea in theory. But often we have to get past some mental barriers — and some resistance from the kids — to make it really happen regularly.
Barrier #1. It’s easiest to do it myself.
At first kids are sooo inefficient at those chores. And especially if you’ve got a stubborn kid who seems intent on proving he can’t do a job well, it really is easier in the short term to do it yourself. But we moms have to look long term. Will it benefit our kids to be able to manage household chores efficiently? Will it benefit them to learn to work without complaint? Will it benefit you to have teens who can plow through a chore efficiently. You bet!
The only way they learn this stuff is by doing. Your persistence will pay off.
Barrier #2. But it’s really mom’s work.
Lots of moms hesitate to work their kids because it gives them guilt. They feel like if only they were better organized, they’d be able to do it themselves. And shouldn’t kids be outside playing after school, not inside working? But look at it logically: who’s making a lot of those dishes? Who’s leaving toys all over the living room? Who’s wearing 3 outfits in one day and sticking them all in the laundry bin while they’re still clean? NOT mom, right? Giving kids ownership of the mess TRAINS them to clean up after themselves. Kids who work now are much better prepared for adulthood. Remember, our goal as parents is to work ourselves out of a job—to raise kids who can DO for themselves, and for others.
When it comes to job training, be really deliberate. Start young so they will see it as a normal part of life. Work alongside them. Give them real jobs that really help. A two year old can pick up toys, sort silverware, or use a rag to wipe up dirty spots on the kitchen floor. A 3 year old can fold pants or towels. A 7 year old can empty most of the dishwasher with a stepstool if someone else removes sharp things first.
Break each job down into steps and spell out the requirements of each. A 10 year old can do an excellent job at bathroom cleaning if you give him two things: careful instruction and a checklist. And require obedience. If a kid knows lunch (or a sleepover) isn’t happening until he scrubs the toilet, he’s most likely going to get it done. And it is highly unlikely that he’ll actually need to miss the meal or the sleepover more than once to learn the lesson.
Divide and Conquer. When I ask a pair of kids to clean their room, instead of dividing the room into sides, I usually assign kids categories of items. For example, one child puts away toys and shoes, and another clothes and books. That makes it more likely that both kids will work, and it also breaks the task down into more doable segments for the kids.
Ask for Re-Do’s. Always inspect the work. Always. Even teens need the accountability of knowing that mom is actually going to look over their work. And remember, inspection give you a chance to PRAISE, not just fault-find. When my kids do a job unusually well, I try to make a REALLY big deal about it. Sometimes I’ll even fall down pretending I fainted in shock at the sight of a beautifully clean room. Little kids LOVE that kind of drama.
Teaching kids to help around the house is definitely work. It takes a lot of persistence, and more than a little faith. But it is work that pays off, both in older childhood and in your kids’ adult lives!