Several months ago I instituted “Family Saturday Chores” into our house. As a single mom of two upper-elementary aged children, it had always been easier to simply do all the chores myself. However, after several years of this I found I was bitter, angry and frustrated.
A family in our neighborhood, who has become very dear to my children and I, has been doing “Family Saturday Chores” for quite some time now and I decided to follow their example.
The first attempt proved to be rather painful. You would have thought I had asked my children to sacrifice their entire lives to cleaning up the Trash Vortex of the Pacific Ocean. My first plan was to clean together. We all tackled the clutter in the living room, and I split the chores in each room between each of us. This proved to be disastrous. Son and Daughter bickered and fought and cried and screamed. And then they rather ganged up on me and declared me the worst mother in the universe. But I persevered.
I decided to change my tactic and assigned each of them to a room. I became the new director for cleaning, showing them how to do each task, and making them take over mid-way. At first, I was still doing the bulk of the cleaning, and it was difficult to not just give up and say, “FINE, I’LL DO IT!” I endured several screaming tantrums as Daughter threw herself on the ground because she ‘didn’t know how to sweep and couldn’t do it’ herself. I bit my tongue several times. Some parents may have screamed back, the old me would have screamed back, but I was intent on changing my bad habits. Watching your 10 year old throw herself on the ground brings up powerful emotions. I just knew I was a failure as a mom. All the scornful looks of my better-knowing relatives flashed through my mind. The ever-persistent need to prove oneself as the “good mom” is severely challenged when your gangly, long-legged 10 year old has such a tantrum. I told all those voices in my head to go away. I let her scream it out, and patiently held the dust pan for her, (tear stained face, sniffles and all) once she realized I wasn’t following the prescribed plan of “go to your room” anymore.
I decided to give my children allowance on that first painful day. I did it at bed time, house begrudgingly clean, when they were both calm, but still mad at me (and I not happy with them). They were completely thrown by this gesture. They knew they didn’t really “deserve” payment for their performance of the day. I hadn’t told them I would pay them when we started. I hadn’t even decided for sure myself, until I handed over the cash. They took it hesitantly, but I noticed a little look of resignation in their faces that told me I had done the right thing. I’ve continued to give them spending money after the chores are done. There are benefits to children having their own spending money. But, I want to return to the chores.
I realized quickly that spray bottles and “dangerous” chemicals were a novelty and I clung to this. I bought fancy throw away dusters, handy swiffer mops. I devised a list of tasks and began to be consistent each Saturday with each room that was to be cleaned. Bathroom: sink, toilet, mirrors, floor, trash. Living room: clutter, dust, vacuum, trash. Kitchen: dishes, oven, microwave, floors.
But, I was still telling them over and over what to do. They still kept going back to their leisure activities, trying to derail the plan. Still complaining, “Why, oh why, do we have to clean on OUR DAYS OFF?!” There was also an awful disagreement about who did which room last week, and whose turn it was to mop, and who was on (eek!) toilet duty.
Then I turned to my chalk board and wrote my list. I got the list out of my head and onto a visual. Next to each room I put an initial for each of us. Each of us got a room, each week we rotate. Each week we get to switch novelty cleaning products.
Some Saturdays we have a bit more time, and we have to dig a little deeper to clean. Such as, lifting up the couch to get behind and underneath it. Other days I help tackle the shower with bleach. I show them how I do it safely so that lungs, clothes and towels aren’t ruined.
Today, after breakfast, I realized that a transformation has taken place. My children only mildly protested about having to get started. Their, “Why do we have to clean?!” was easily dispelled with my reply of, “Sometimes we all have to do things we don’t want to do.” There was no further argument. They each got up from breakfast, got their tools for their room and began. I didn’t have to remind them about steps. They knew what to do. Suddenly Daughter had mastered the broom, the mop and the Comet. Son had taken all the magazines off the end table and found the dust spray and dust rag (we ran out of novelty disposable dusters several weeks ago). He was dusting more thoroughly than he ever had before. I didn’t have to remind him to put the vacuum away after he was done.
It’s been about 5 months since that first horrendous beginning of this adventure. It wasn’t easy to get started, but our Family Saturday Cleaning took about 45 minutes working together. I am sure we will have hiccups as we continue. I had to make a couple adjustments here and there to the expectations. For example, when we are out of town for a weekend, the following Saturday the house is a bit tougher to tackle, but we are now a team.
Being a team with my kids pays off in several ways. I model the expectations I want. If my bedroom (bedroom expectations were not mentioned in this post) is a disorganized mess, how can I expect my children’s rooms to be any different?
We ended today’s cleaning with an impromptu family hug and a “hardest-high-five” contest (which they know takes a great amount of will power for me to engage in, my 12 year old has a powerful swing). It was one of those culminating beautiful moment experiences that make all the parenting trials worth seeing through.