My husband and I share the parenting and home responsibilities. Our life is packed, like yours I might suspect, with the busyness of professional responsibilities, children's activities and school, Church community and functions, and home projects/maintenance. Our home can go from an organized, in tact, gracious space to an absolute food, toy, and clothing disaster in less than 35 seconds (yes, I timed it).
Before the summer began, and we're clearly immersed in the outdoors and summer activities, my husband and I decided to strategise on how we could get our children more involved in keeping our home a great place to live and play. Not only did we want more of a happy, clean place to be, we wanted less of the midnight-house-cleaning-after-the-kids-are-all-fast-asleep moments. We also want our children to learn important principles of responsibility, teamwork, organization, and caring for all we've been given.
We pulled up to the kitchen table with all three kiddos (at this point 7, 5, and 2). We sat in front of our chalkboard wall, our place for conversation and idea generation. We asked each of them:
What needs to happen in order for our house to be clean?
We went through room by room to talk about washing dishes, dusting, cleaning sinks, vacuuming, etc. I wrote them up on the board so that we could all remember (even if only some of us could read the list).
I added in a few jobs that my children overlooked like cutting the grass and putting laundry back in the drawers and closets. We talked about the tasks that the kids left out. For example, no one mentioned empty the garbage. As I added it to our list, we talked about what would happen if no one emptied the trash (lots of "ewh yucks" here). Going through the complete list of all household chores was a helpful way to make everyone aware of all that has to be done to keep our house clean and functional. It was also an interesting way to find out who enjoys what tasks. My oldest daughter loves to do the dishes, and my son loves to help cook. These preferences came in handy later when trying to start off our teamwork on the right foot!
Now that we had our list of everything that needs to be cleaned in every room (wowza), we could get into the meat of the lesson. We asked the kids to shout out which jobs they could do on the list. We put stars next to every responsibility that could be handled by one of them. This was actually a lot of fun to discuss, and it brought out each of their senses of independence. Can my five-year old really wipe off the table every night after dinner? Yes, she can! And she's even very interested in doing it. Can my two-year old put away his own clean clothes? Yes, he can! And he wants to! How have I been holding these children back so much?
The key here for our kids was keeping the discussion light and fun and focusing on all of their capabilities and talents. We highlighted the theme of teamwork and down-played the notion of chores.
The interesting part of this exercise for me: we found only two chores that needed just Mommy and Daddy.
Curious? Mowing the lawn and driving to the grocery store.
This next step is really a matter of preference. How often does the sink need to be cleaned? How often do we need to vacuum?
So we went through our lovely list one more time and circled the things that needed to be done every day and underlined those that needed to be done weekly. If it was something even less often (eg: cleaning out the fridge), we left it alone.
This step was an eye-opener for my 7-year old. "There are really that many things to do every day?"
It was time to put the team to action. My children are very motivated by music. Or at least music that they love which right now includes a strange blend of Veggie Tales, Disney, Rihanna, and Sugarland (they're eclectic).
Looking at our daily tasks, we focused on how many songs it would take to accomplish each. We decided collectively that most could be accomplished in two or three songs.
This was a revelation and relief to me. We could really get each of these tasks done together - while building our family connections and learning important life skills in the process - and it might take 6-9 minutes. Suddenly the monumental mountain of house cleaning dissolved into a manageable pile of dust. The Nagging Fairy would get a break.
Helpful tidbit for getting your kids involved in this process? Purchase lightweight and easy-to-use tools. Our 7-year old can (and wants to) vacuum. The fact that our vacuum is purple and weighs under ten pounds, definitely works in my favor as well. My two-year old always runs for this broom and dustpan that look like an alligator.
Every family works differently, and schedules will dictate a lot. When is the best time of day to accomplish these jobs? What day or days of the week? Do you work in pairs, alone, or all together?
You know best. My advice is to embrace the possibility of togetherness and enjoy the fun of hard work. And keep in mind what tasks even the smallest members might be able to do with great success. My two-year old is very proud of his ability to empty our bedroom trash cans into the big trash, and he does it well.
Here's the list we created as a family. Feel welcome to download here if it's helpful for you!
Cheers to a happy home, and independent, confident children with a sense of responsibility and teamwork! What are your thoughts on giving children responsibilities around the house? Here's what we do (I'd love to hear your tips and tricks, too!)