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Teaching Kids to Clean, aka The Death of Me

Having a clean house with little kids is like running up a down escalator. Wearing roller skates.

But it's a problem, because when my house is a mess I feel crazy. I know of plenty of amazing women who don't feel that way. They are able to happily function in the kicked pathway through the living room. I long to be like that, but stuff everywhere kills my soul. Waking up to a destroyed kitchen tops my list of Things to Put Mom in a Bad Mood.

If any of my college roommates are reading this, they are probably instantly forwarding it to each other in angered disbelief as this became reality for me a bit later in life. My deepest apologies to you for that (among other things).

I'm going to miss this amazing flooring when we move...

This is not to mean that my house is always clean. Ha! That's a good one. As I'm writing this there is laundry to fold, floors to vacuum, and random child paraphernalia scattered about. Kids live here, for heaven's sake.

The war of Clean House vs. Children came to a head for me a few years back. Matt had a horrid commute every day meaning he wasn't home until bedtime and I was pretty sure that I was going to lose my mind, drowning in my sweet sea of children. Things just weren't getting done.

My super experienced and brilliant older sister sent me an article around then written by a woman who had life figured out. I wish I could find it now, but the gist was that cleaning the house isn't Mom's job, nor is doing a chore "helping Mom."

We all live in this house. We should all be responsible for keeping it clean.

Now, I do stay at home so I have more opportunity to keep things moving, and don't get me wrong, I still spend plenty of my life choring it up. But I'm staying home to take care of my children. That should be my focus, not scrubbing grout or whatever.

Everyone who lives in the home should be contributing. There is something about saying that that brings joy into my heart. Really, truly, knowing that keeping the house running is a group effort not only helps my mindset but it also allows my little ones to be better about not making the mess in the first place. Ok,maybe just a little bit.

A clean house is so peaceful. Ours only looked this good when we took the picture.

Mom's the Maid

I've really thought about this and dang it if we do our kids any favors by being their maid.

1) I get worn out and angry and then they have to deal with me.

2) They need to learn how to work.

There are no mythical elves that work here, people, nor will there be any in my childrens' apartments when they move out.

making his bed, which is not easy with a bunk bed

Kid Truth #1

So in theory, this all sounds great to have my kids do their part, but what it translated into for me was something I wasn't prepared for. It was a lot of work: a lot of work to start up and a lot of work to consistently maintain. I'm very fortunate to have a jackpot hubby who is beyond supportive but even with us as a unified front, teaching our children to work is hard. Notice that is in the present tense.

So here's the rub: it is WAY more work to teach kids to clean than to actually do it yourself. WAY more. W.A.Y.

At first.

But then the magic starts to happen so slowly that you don't really realize that you're witnessing a miracle. Toilets are cleaned. Floors are vacuumed. Windows are windexed. And you didn't do any of it.

It is miraculous.

Don't get me wrong. It's still work, but now we're all playing the same game and everyone has learned the rules.

Granted, if you want to see our spotless house then you should probably come just as we're finishing Saturday morningish. It's pretty much destroyed 5 minutes later but underneath the rubble, it's clean.


But really, the house being clean isn't really about the house being clean, right? I mean, yes it's faster and easier right now to just do it yourself. Plus, it will actually be done correctly.

But my job as a parent is to do my best to shape my child into a useful member of society. One who doesn't pick his nose in public. One who stands up to that punk kid being mean to a friend. And yes, one who doesn't expect someone else to throw away his garbage, thankyouverymuch.

if only this child had any personality...

Nuts and Bolts

Here's what we have settled on that currently works for our family with our personalities and our schedules.

* Every morning, along with getting ready/cleaning their room, each child has a small house chore to accomplish. The 3 yr old feeds the dog, and the 3 boys each unload a piece of the dishwasher- the top, the bottom, and the silverware, all of which are filled to capacity with our big family. That way I start the day with an empty dishwasher. Hooray!

* Any mess has to be cleaned up before any screen time for anyone. Growing up my dad had a saying we like to repeat around here: If you get it out, you put it away!

* After dinner each night everyone clears their spots and then the 3 boys rotate through after dinner chores of clearing the rest of the table, wiping the table, or sweeping while Matt loads the dishwasher. Since I made dinner I feel like a rockstar when I help put food in the fridge.

* Every Saturday we do chores to get the weekly cleaning done. I've divided the house into 3 areas for my 10, 8, and 5 years olds and then spent a few Saturdays writing down in great detail what exactly needed to be cleaned in each space before Iaminating the list, because we all know that...

Kid Truth #2

...if the job is not on the paper it doesn't have to be done. sigh

After we move in a few weeks I'll need to redo this based on our new space. Also, the 3 year old is getting big enough to do more than just be an assistant, so I'll need to think through that too.

In this house, our areas are:

  • Bathrooms

  • Kitchen/Dining Room, and

  • Living Room/Family Room/Laundry/Mud Room.

Saturday Chore Tips

  1. Our Saturday chores and after dinner assignments rotate on a monthly basis. We've found for us that gives the kids enough time to figure it out and get in the groove and it's also pretty easy for everyone to remember what job they have.

  2. Kids don't automatically know how to do each job. They need to be trained as to what is required for a toilet to be actually clean.

  3. Check up on them! Oh man, it's amazing what doesn't get done when Mom or Dad doesn't go through each and every item on their card with them when they "finish." Every single week. When we don't check, we end up with wet rags left in the microwave and entire rooms unvacuumed (those were from this week).

  4. While I'm taking out garbage and vacuuming the upstairs, brilliant Matt came up with the idea to help kids that are working. What a motivator! If you get right to work you get a parent to do part of your job with you! He just flits between the kids for a while and helps them out. The 5 year old struggles with vacuuming and mopping so he'll do those jobs with him.

  5. If the kids' rooms are cleaned I'll vacuum them for them. If not, they have to do that themselves.

Our old laundry room. Everyone had a basket to put away.

NOTE: I'm in the process of rethinking our laundry situation. It is currently that Mom washes everything and sorts it then the kids fold/ball up and put their own away. With our front loaders, the kids can all reach. I'm thinking about having dirty baskets in each bedroom and having the roommates be responsible for washing their own room. Any suggestions?

Man, that is a lot of words about kids and cleaning. If you're still with me, wow. Gold stars all around.

You have any cleaning wins to share? I'd love to hear them.

Good luck to all of us. We're going to need it.

Want more on Teaching Cleaning?

#family #work #improvement #parenthacks


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