A friend posted an article a while back of a beautiful laundry room that a mother of six had designed for herself. It was beautiful, efficient, and far more organized than I ever could even dream of being! But the first thing I thought when I saw it was that the Mom was doing all the work. And it got me reflecting on the systems we have around here, and how I (a less-than-organized mother of many) enlist the help of the kids to keep it all running smoothly.
Life really changed for me when the kids started helping. And it happened more out of anger and sheer frustration rather than a well-thought out plan (much that I wish the latter was true). When my fifth child was a baby and my oldest was six, I reached the point where I was just so frustrated with the constant work of keeping our house clean - and laundry was the biggest culprit. My three oldest boys share a room, and it never failed that just when I thought all the laundry was caught up (no small feat in a family of seven) I would go into their room, and discover piles of dirty clothes - piles of clean clothes mixed with dirty clothes, clothes that had been under their beds or in their toy boxes for who knows how long, clothes they were supposed to have brought to the laundry room earlier that day. This became a regular occurrence and laundry was taking over, and I finally decided it was enough. I purged their wardrobes and got rid of the excess clothes that they really didn't wear (which I still somehow seemed to be washing on a regular basis) and I bought each of them their own small laundry basket. And from that day, every load of laundry that comes out of my dryer gets separated into a basket either for me or each of the school-aged kids, who are now responsible for folding and putting away their own laundry. In the beginning I had hoped that the connection between the amount of work and the clothes they dirty would make them more careful about their clothes, but in reality I don't think that happened. But it did shift a whole lot of work off my plate, and helped laundry to become a much more manageable task for me.
Not long after that when my husband and I started talking about adding to our family, we included the kids in our conversations. They were all eager to have a new brother or sister, but I told them we could only do that if they really stepped up their game to help with housework. A new baby of course brings not only the work that comes with caring for a newborn, but also decreased energy and ability from Mom (particularly as the pregnancy progresses). We wanted the kids to be involved and aware long before another baby was even on the way, so that we could be in the habit as a family of keeping things going when Mom can't give 100%. And so came the introduction of regular family jobs.
We made a list of jobs that need to be done every day that the kids are able to do (vacuuming, emptying the dishwasher, tidying the family room and the entrance) and made a rotating chart for each day of the week. These became the "Noon Jobs" (an idea I came across by Catholic blogger Danielle Bean), and it became a habit for us to send the kids off to do their job as soon as lunch was over. Not long after that as little annoyances would pop up (the fact that with so many boys our bathroom smells like pee all.the.time!) came the introduction of morning jobs. Instead of getting mad at the boys (who never seem to know how that pee got there or who did it) I made them responsible for spraying the toilet once a day and keeping it clean. They also clean under their beds and feed the pets every morning (again, on a rotating basis). We fold laundry after our afternoon snack, which gives me plenty of time to have everything washed, sorted and ready for them if I happen to have more than one load. I also had evening jobs originally, but they quickly fell off the list as I found by that point in the day I wasn't really on the ball about enforcing them. Now we aim to have the big jobs done so that when Dad gets home and we have supper, we can all rest and enjoy each other's company as a family.
Sometime last year I also started thinking about my week, and organizing my days so I could distribute the big jobs evenly, and make sure that I got them done on a regular basis. Because we have the kids involved in activities throughout the week, the starting point was to be aware of the days we were not going to be home, and to keep those days free from any extra housekeeping duties. Wednesday and Friday are our out days, so I don't plan to do anything extra (school and outings keep me plenty busy!) For the rest of the week I just picked one big job and slotted it into one of the other days (and also made a conscious effort not to be out on those days). Here's how it looks for me:
- Monday: Mopping
- Tuesday: Baking
- Wednesday: Outing day
- Thursday: Bed/Bath day (change beds, clean bathrooms, bathe kids)
- Friday: Outing day
Now when I wake up in the morning I know right away which job needs to be done, and I also know that all of these things will be getting done at least once a week - which is huge in a family our size! It's so easy for life to get away from you, and I spent so many years feeling like I could barely stay on top of the daily work of keeping our household functioning that all of these things seemed like extras that fell off the back burner. Now with the help of the kids pitching in with the smaller jobs, it allows me to concentrate on the bigger things so that at the end of the week, even if we've had other things on the go (as so often happens, things come up unexpectedly) we don't lose our bearings as much as before. And since I am only seven weeks or so away from welcoming our seventh child, that is quite a load off my mind. It feels so great to not be the only person in charge of the running of the household, and I couldn't be more grateful for the contributions that my kids make to the running of our household.
When I think about it, that's one of the things I'm most grateful for about life in a big family. It pushes us to live life as a team, because that's really the only way it works. Don't get me wrong, I spent many years completely maxed out and floundering beneath the mountain of housework. And like I said I wish this had come from a carefully crafted plan to teach responsibility and accountability, but it didn't. It was all about survival. I really do think that for those of us not naturally inclined to organization, a life of crazy disorder can be just what the doctor ordered. Because it forces us to do things we wouldn't otherwise do. And in so doing, we experience family life the way it was meant to be - not with Mom doing everything for everyone and feeling burnt out, but with everyone doing their fair share. Not with a drill-seargent Mother handing down unlawful commands, but a mother reaching her breaking point, and kids stepping up to help (willingly or otherwise, haha!) I am so grateful for my kids, and the ways they help me keep things on track. And I'm grateful for this life, that pushes me outside of myself to discover that I don't need to do it all on my own, and that the greatest relief can come in the smallest of packages.