I head to the treadmill for my early morning “Netflix and run.” As I pass through the basement’s main room (aka teen cave), my gaze lands on the dirty cups, crusty snack bowls, smelly socks, and miscellaneous garbage strewn across the table and floor. When I step on a minefield of LEGOs, my shoulders sag. Had our lives gotten so hectic that I’d neglected to teach my children to pick up their own trash?
How did I get here?
I swoop in and pick up after them. Hell’s bells! Whyyyy?
Because at the end of the day, I’m exhausted. Done. Stick a fork in me. Our calendar is stacked. If I drank a glass of wine for every time I created elaborate chore charts for my children only to abandon them shortly after, I’d be wasted! Either the kids failed to comply with them, or I failed to enforce them.
As I began to question my life choices, the Covid-19 pandemic knocked us off our feet. Schedules went out the door. Extracurricular activities had been postponed. The children and I would be sheltered at home indefinitely.
I noticed a new trend on social media: color-coded quarantine schedules and distance learning goals. Chill, Karens, I thought. The posts annoyed me. How come? I’ve never cared much about how other people parented their children.
Then it hit me. The posts triggered my own feelings of guilt and inadequacy over how I ran my own home. Cue more anxiety and gray hairs (during a damn pandemic, no less!)…
If I wanted to make things work more efficiently at home, I needed to change. The kids, too. I wasn’t just frustrated. I was angry. Finally, we had an abundance of time to restructure our home life.
So, where to start?
I’m a total slob. Same goes for my husband. My expectations are low, but even a slacker like me has standards. I created a master list of all the weekly chores that needed to be done in our home, leaving nothing out, even the chores I planned to do on my own. Then I jotted down a shorter list of monthly and seasonal chores. Once I saw the sheer volume of chores I had been doing (or not doing), I laughed. No wonder I felt like a failure. It was too much.
According to experts, it takes approximately two months to make a new behavior become automatic. In two months, I would run a tight ship (or shipwreck, depending on your POV).
When I led the family discussion on our new chore plans, the tweens and teens reacted with the typical grunts, eye rolls, and sighs. I had anticipated that. As a mom of teens, your skin gets rhino-thick.
By involving my tweens and teens in domestic chores, I’m promoting personal responsibility, fostering self-reliance and competency, and encouraging them to contribute to our family. Besides, kids truly want to be helpful. Yes, even snarky teens. A family that cleans together, stays together (or something totally cheesy like that).
I purchased some chore charts online but found they didn’t work for us. So I turned to ruled index cards for my daily lists. In addition to distance learning work for school, I asked the kids to read for 20 minutes, exercise for 30 minutes, and practice instruments/music. Then I gave them 2-3 household chores to do for the day.
We spend half the week on the upper level of the house and the other half on the lower level. I assigned each child a laundry day (M-TH). My youngest (10) launders towels and sheets. In the beginning, I had to show them how to do chores multiple times, but I remained patient and optimistic.
My kids have learned to do their own laundry, prepare food, clean bathrooms, mop floors, dust, strip their beds, replace linens, etc.
I’ve encountered my fair share of resistance…from snarky words to flat out disobedience. Every time one of the kids riots, I remind myself that it’s human nature to resist change and cling to habit, and I stick with it. Talk is cheap; action is clutch.
The schedules have worked well because I have been firm and consistent. My kids learn new skills daily. Practical, useful skills! Things will look a little different when the kids go back to school, but I’ll never go back to that feeling of failure.
I’m still tired, but it’s a good kind of tired.
Last week, one of my boys was tasked with cleaning the workout room. I had asked him to straighten up. Easy peasy. When he called me to the basement to see what he had done, I took in his work. Not only had he straightened up the room, he had dusted, organized, and swept. He looked at me expectantly, hoping he had done a good job. He needed praise. I wrapped him up in my arms and gave him a fierce mama bear squeeze.
As I looked him in the eyes, I grinned and thanked him.
“You done good, kid.”