Well, we have survived the "Epic Blizzard of 2013" and we came through it with a clean house. On Friday morning, as the news stations were predicting a historic amount of snowfall and widespread power outages, I decided to have my kids do their Saturday chores a day early (school had been cancelled anyway, so they had the time) just in case we lost power and couldn't clean on Saturday. They did, and the clean house made me feel much better about the impending doom of the storm.
After telling some friends about the success of my worker minions in cleaning the house, several of them asked how I get my kids to do chores. I thought I would therefore share my story, in the hopes that you, my friends, might be able to breed some little minions of your own too, as they are quite handy to have around.
One of the benefits of having too many children is that it's physically impossible to keep up with all the work they create. It therefore becomes a necessity to call in reinforcements. And while it's hard to admit that you need help, and takes a great amount of effort to illicit anything resembling it from your children at first, it is well worth the effort in the long run.
For our family, the journey began after Plucky was born. Dishes and laundry (which I had always prided myself on staying on top of) quickly piled up, in addition to the toys and even garbage that my older three kids left scattered around the house. I don't remember if it was me or my husband that began putting Energy's excessive energy to use but I have to say it was one of the best things we ever did.
Energy has always been a morning person, bounding out of bed at the first hint of sunlight (okay, oftentimes before), ready to greet the new day with a song and a somersault. So rather than let him bounce around the house before school each morning, waking all his siblings in the process, we put him to work emptying the dishwasher. He was only in second grade when we started, so quite a lot of counter-climbing was necessary for him to complete the task, but he quickly learned where things went and managed to put them away accurately, leaving anything he was unsure of out on the counter for me to put away later. The new system helped so much more than you would think.
With the dishwasher already empty at the beginning of each day, it became so much easier to throw the dishes in one-handed (necessary since I had a clingy baby who refused to be set down for any reason) as we used them. The simple act of having a semi-clean kitchen, helped me feel like I was no longer drowning in work. Energy's dishwasher efforts are what saved me that year.
Of course, having tasted a tiny bit of freedom from the endless work generated by my family, I couldn't stop there. We gave our two oldest children, Energy and Mellow, a couple of chores to be completed each Saturday and told them they would be paid a small amount for doing them. Mellow was five so he had easy jobs like dusting and picking up the toys in his room. Energy got harder ones and I taught him how to clean the bathroom and vacuum the floor with a cordless sweeper.
I have to confess that relinquishing the cleaning of the bathroom to my seven-year old boy was hard. Much of the mess was his, of course, due to a boys' unique ability to pee in, shall we say, hard-to-reach places. But hand it over I did, and I resisted the urge to come in behind him and re-clean it every week. I felt that it was important for him to learn to do this, and I didn't want him to think his efforts were not good enough. I did check it with him each time he finished and pointed out spots he had missed, but I let him do it on his own.
Now, almost five years later, my kids dust, clean their rooms, pick up random stuff left laying around, vacuum the house (with a real vacuum) and clean both bathrooms every Saturday. Additionally, the three school-age children still empty the dishwasher before they go to school every morning. It has been absolutely life-saving for me to have them do these jobs, and I believe it has taught them about the reality of work.
So, now that we've established how awesome it is to have your kids help out around the house, it's on to that all-important question: Just how do I get them to do it?
I think it helps that they began doing chores when they were young, but I know an early start isn't essential in teaching your kids to work. I clearly remember the day when my own mother's best friend convinced her that my siblings and I should be helping out around the house and I began my 8-year shift as official hands-and-knees scrubber of the kitchen floor. I also cleaned bathrooms, vacuumed, dusted, etc. No, I wasn't happy about it, but I did it and I learned what I needed to despite my sour attitude.
It also helps that my oldest child, and therefore the leader of the pack, has the get-up-and-go gene (which, for the life of us, we can't figure out where he got). I certainly don't have this gene, but somehow my mother still taught me to work so I know it's possible. Since I don't especially like getting up early Saturday morning just to crack the chore whip and prove a point, my kids get up on their own and are allowed to watch TV or play video games until 10-ish (or as soon as I'm ready to assume the role of enforcer). At that point, the screens go off, they have a small snack, and then they get to work.
Their stomachs encourage them to get their jobs done quickly because the rule in our house is that they don't get lunch until their work is complete. Plucky is typically the only one who has trouble with this rule, as she is the queen of procrastination and is prone to letting her mind wander, especially when she's supposed to be working. But for the most part, it has proven to be an effective incentive for buckling down and getting to work.
Despite the factors we have had working in our favor, my kids, like any, have fought back about doing their chores from time to time. The most notable rebellion came from Energy a year or so ago when he entered the wonderfully defiant world of Pre-teen. It's great when your kids grow up and become more independent, but they also get stronger, and Energy had reached the point where he was big enough that the thought of what he could do in a fit of rage scared me even though I was still technically bigger than him.
One day he put his foot down and refused to do his chores, ranting and raving and throwing a tantrum that would make any three-year old stop and stare in wonder. He barreled downstairs to his room and I was left fuming in the kitchen, racking my brain to figure out how to fix this one. I certainly couldn't let him get away with not doing his work after that display, but neither could I physically force him through the motions as I could when he was a toddler.
After a few moments of thought, inspiration struck and words began flooding my brain. I grabbed a paper and pencil and began making a list of all the privileges our children enjoy by living in our house, complete with a price tag for each. The list looked something like this:
Room and Board: $150 per week
Food: $100 per week
Laundry Service: $50 per week
Taxi Service: $100 per week
Gymnastics Class (which he loved): $300 per session
Clothes: $50 per week
Heat and Electricity: $50 per week
And the list went on, but you get the idea. I listed every little thing I could think of that we provided for him that would cost money if he was living on his own. I then calmed myself and took the list downstairs. I read through it with him and asked if he really thought that, given all the things we provided for him, it was too much to ask of him to do three little chores once a week. He was calm enough by now that he could see the logic in what I was saying and agreed that it wasn't too much to ask. Since then he hasn't put up a fight.
Just in case that hadn't been enough, I was considering making him move out to to the cold garage or asking him to start paying for his food if he wanted to eat anything other than shredded wheat. I think one of those options would have done the trick as well.
A great idea I heard a few years ago that I've kept filed away in my brain is to have a number of papers (one for each of your kids) lined up on the kitchen counter when you go to bed Friday night. The papers will each list a different chore or group of chores and whichever child gets up and gets to work first gets first pick of the chores. I haven't employed it yet because I can clearly see that Energy would always get the easiest jobs and Plucky would get the hardest ones and then our house wouldn't end up clean. But I think this idea might work when they are teenagers and on more of a level playing field as far as ambition and abilities go.
The bottom line is that you have to do what works for your family, and it will be different for each child. But teaching our children to work is so very important, both for the sanity of us as their mothers and for their futures as functional human beings. I am so very grateful for my little worker minions!