... That is the question.
Have you ever visited a friend who works outside the home (and whose children are in daycare) and been really discouraged because their house looks like a page from a magazine? That is so not my house. Why? Umm... we live here. So, sometimes things get messy. When you have three children, that's life, I guess.
Usually, I feel like I can keep up with things. There are those times, though, when I feel like Cinderella minus the Fairy Godmother. Then I think of my own mother, who had six children to chase after, six schedules to keep straight, and six clutter bugs leaving their "droppings" in every room of the house. She's either a Saint or she was crazy -- or both.
But, she had a way to get a little help around the house. It's a little something we like to call chores.
My mom's chore system was a complex affair. It was well-designed for maximum efficiency and completely even distribution of work. She labeled the kitchen chairs with numbers, 1 through 6. Each chair was assigned a household chore, like vacuuming or dusting or cleaning the bathroom, and a kitchen chore, like setting the table or loading the dishwasher. We rotated chairs each week. That way, there could never be the argument that one child "got off easy" or that a "favorite" chore was always assigned to the same child. It worked like clockwork.
But I know myself. A system like hers is completely beyond me. Now that I have my own children, my mom's chore system may as well be advanced particle physics or nuclear engineering. It would be nice to have a fully functioning team of professional cleaners, masquerading as elementary school students. But I don't have the discipline to make it happen. I just parent differently.
This year, I thought, "I have a 7, 5, and almost 3 year old. I need something simple." So, I came up with a more basic system that fits our family's needs (and gives me a little bit of a break!)
As part of our daily routine, we spend a little time at the beginning and end of each day tidying up the house. In the morning, there are chores like vacuuming or sweeping the floor. There are the morning dishes to load in the dishwasher, bathrooms to tidy, laundry to sort. The jobs are different each day, and there are some that lend themselves easily to helping hands. Those are the chores I share with the kids.
When they moan in that sing-songy voice, with a tinge of desperation (you know you've heard it), "WHY do we ALways HAVE to HELP??" I explain that they are members of this family, and I am not the only one who has to work around here -- maybe a little more wicked stepmother than Cinderella in my voice. On their best days, they fall in line and give a little effort.
Once in a while, though, they present me with a golden opportunity that cannot be passed up.
At those times, their response to my chore request will be, "Mom, can I earn some money today?" I make it a practice always to reward initiative. "Yes!" I say, with a smile. "I have four chores that need to be done. Each one will earn you a quarter." How many chores my children take on is up to them. We make a verbal contract for the work, I show them how to do it, and once it is complete, they submit it for inspection. If their work passes muster, I pay them. If they've done an exceptional job, I may give them a bonus. All money they earn goes into their piggy banks.
My oldest son loves to earn money for his bank. He likes the jingle of the coins, so I usually pay him in change. After he has completed his chores, he will count all the money in his bank before putting it away. As a result of his enthusiasm, my 5-year-old is catching on. Often, he will ask to clean, too. I give him chores that are difficult for me, but easy for him -- like crawling under the beds and making sure they are clear of toys and books and whatever else. He likes to use the swiffer, so I will attach a dust cloth to it and send him out after the dust bunnies. We use a lot of Clorox wipes or Pledge wipes. My kids can dust with the best of 'em. Often, they will catch things that I miss -- like the dusty bottom rungs of the dining room chairs. Even my little girl has asked for jobs. I give her basic clean-up jobs like putting all the books on the bookshelf (worth a nickel) or lining up all the shoes in pairs (a dime).
Not every clean-up session is a chance to earn money. The children are responsible for putting their dirty clothes in the laundry and making their beds each morning. When we get up from the table, each child cleans off their own place. Clean clothes must be put into a child's bureau before bedtime. And the children try each day to clean up their toys before Daddy gets home. ... not that that always happens.
When we're cleaning the house, I help where I can and try to keep my youngest focused on the task at hand. From time to time, though, I am busy with one of the other thousands of jobs assigned to me (not earning a dime, I might add.) So, I just give the children a task and set a time-limit. "Clean the playroom, please. I will be back in ten minutes to check your work." I check in on them as the time goes by to help them focus and divide up tasks, but they do the work themselves. It is fun to see how proud they are of having accomplished something without my help.
It's also fun for me to spend less time tidying up after them.
I tell my kids, "we work together so we can play together." As a reward, we'll go to the park or go play in the sprinkler or go on a bike ride.
Does the system work perfectly every time? Of course it doesn't. My house gets messy, just like anyone's. But having the kids help with chores does make me feel a little bit less like Cinderella all the time. I hope it is teaching my children about teamwork, responsibility, and taking pride in their work. I think it is.
Maybe I'll ask them when I'm done cleaning the bathtub.