Monday, March 10, 2014

We Work as a Family!

The longer I am a parent, the more I see that different family arrangements have different needs. When I speak of children doing housework, it is from the perspective of (1) a homeschooling family (2) in which the husband travels about one-third of the time and (3) which anticipates, if God allows, that we will have more children (so these early years will not be an intense but fleeting time until our children start preschool). These three factors have resulted in what seems to be a motto increasingly heard from my lips: "We work as a family!"

Margaret (almost 3) has the dexterity to fold wash cloths, Mary (5) has the dexterity to fold medium-sized towels, and John (7) has the dexterity to fold clothing, so they all get called upon to help with those loads as I do the daily laundry. There is no assigned time for those tasks: children are simply called over when I am pulling out a load of clean laundry, which I always fold right away so they don't get wrinkly--because this mama doesn't iron!

I don't have stretches of hours when the children are at school for me to make the house neat and perfect, doing the chores efficiently myself. If my children were home only for a few daylight hours, in which they had to do homework, play a little, eat dinner, and bathe, I don't think I'd want to use up their few hours with a load of chores. But my children are with me all the time, and we need to work as a family. It sends a bad message if I am continually slaving away at chores, such as cleaning up after meals, while the children run off to have leisure time yet again (aka, play). Additionally, if I'm doing house chores in one area with the children unsupervised in another part of the house (at these young ages), fighting and mischief are only minutes away!
So, "we work as a family!"

This carpet-sweeper can refresh a carpet (especially a low-pile one) or wood floors in a jiffy in between my weekly vacuuming. While my children are learning how to use the vacuum, it is large for them and they can't do an efficient job of it yet.

Recently I read a useful article called "Six Ways We Taught Our Kids to Do Chores and Learn to Work." I appreciated the author's point about how teaching to do work begins with the imitation of the 18-month-old and then starts to become a requirement at three years old. Earlier in my parenting, I fought battles to force work starting at early two years old, and I now think that was a battle not worth fighting . . . work should have been a joyful imitation at that mercurial age. But by age three, obedience needs to be a virtue fostered much more, in my experience.
I had not yet introduced dish-washing to any of the children because I don't see how they can safely reach down into the dishwasher. But Mary (5) showed such interest, begging me to learn how to wash dishes, that I've taught her and she now helps me many nights after dinner. I have her stack the rinsed dishes by the sink, then climb down the stepstool in order to load the dishes into the dishwasher.

One of the developments that has given me the most "bang for my buck" is involving the children in mealtime clean-up. This began as toddlers with having them clear their own plates at each meal. Then about a year ago (with the oldest 6 and 4), I assigned all the emptying of the dishwasher and the entire clearing of the dinner table to the children. Each day is on the chore chart that one child is in charge of emptying the dishwasher as many times as it needs that day, and the other child is in charge of clearing the entire dinner table. After a year, those chores are now totally automatic, the children never even question them anymore.

Each night, the children carry their stacks of folding clothing from downstairs to their bedrooms: I put away all of parents' and toddler's clothing, Mary (5) is in training with me to put away her own clothing, and John (7) puts away his and the baby's clothing. I recently bought the children small laundry baskets, such that even Margaret (almost 3) can carry her stack of clothing upstairs.

So, about a month ago, I added to the routine that the children are not to run off after meals and snacks. "We all stay together until the kitchen is clean!" This change is going to be so important and helpful! One child cleans the table with the restaurant-quality crumb set or a wet wash cloth (usually Mary), then the other child sweeps the kitchen using a broom and whisk small enough for children (usually John, because Mary doesn't quite have the dexterity to sweep well yet). Meanwhile, I am loading the dishwasher. Margaret (almost three) is now old enough to be told to play in the adjoining room, but if she weren't, then I'd assign one of the older children to play with her for those few minutes. Joseph I leave sitting in his high chair during clean-up.

This change is still requiring me to remind the children after every single meal every single day. It takes a long time for new habits to take root in a family! This change will be good for my morale, will teach work habits and family unity to the children, and will result in less mischief and fighting because of less time unsupervised.

John really enjoys hand stitching so has begun doing the mending of his own clothing, which is good because it takes me weeks to make time to sew on buttons.

Besides daily duties (making beds, folding laundry, emptying dishes, etc.), we have Afternoon Family Chores, with each day (six days per week) assigned rotating chores, like Ma did in the Laura Ingalls Wilder series of books. While we technically do them "together," I am training and overseeing the children, such that they can increasingly do the work independently as they grow older. For example, Thursday is the Bathroom Day, so we clean all the bathrooms. John (7) is old enough now to clean a bathroom entirely by himself, Mary (5) cleans a bathroom down the hall from me with me just checking in on her, and I clean a bathroom.

I know of families who have their children doing fewer chores than ours or doing more chores than ours. Family make-up makes such a difference in this matter, how many children, the range of ages. All I know for certain is that the ability to do work with a cheerful heart is a virtue that must be consciously fostered!

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  1. Great post! I've always admired your devotion to getting your children, even the littlest ones, to contribute to running the household. It's lovely, and beautiful!

  2. This is amazing! As a public school and part time working mama my kids are gone from the home for so long that I never seem to have time to teach them skills and start routines. You are inspiring!