Thursday, April 19, 2012

Mastering the Basics

One of my biggest mistakes as a parent is opting for short-term ease over long-term benefit. My mantra seems to be: "It will get done faster [better/just the way I want it] if I do it myself." While this is true, it creates a lot of work for me, and I'm not teaching my children to be responsible and take care of themselves. Heck, if I'd do it, I'm pretty sure that the eight-year-old would still have me dress him in the morning.

In my defense, I had it pretty easy when I was a kid, and I turned out okay. I had few chores, and my room was always a mess (or so my mother tells me). An expanded single with a slovenly freshman roommate was all it took to change my messy ways. By junior year, my henpecked then-roommate bought me a copy of Little Miss Neat, which still has a home on my bookshelf.

Up until recently, my kids had no regular chores at all. I did pretty much everything. I was tired of doing everything.

Fortunately, just as I was starting to get fed up, the kids began to ask for chores and an allowance. They had all sorts of schemes, and we discuss many methods of setting up a chore system. I couldn't decide if they should get paid for basic stuff, or just for extra chores. Should they have a base allowance, with charts of additional chores and the potential for additional earnings? What chores could a five-year-old do, and what could an eight-year-old handle? Overwhelmed by the complexity, I didn't do anything.

Over Easter weekend, I realized that we'd been making the whole thing way too complicated. Since Mom had been doing everything, we needed to master the basics before adding in vacuuming, taking out the trash, or feeding the fish. I sat down at the computer with the kids, and we typed up a list of their basic responsibilities. Both kids agreed to the list.

I'm very pleased with the list. I think that if all members of our household could take care of the following items, our house would be a nicer place to be and I would be a happier person.  My household version of "Everything You Need to Know You Learned in Kindergarten" is:

1. Make your bed.
2. Put your dirty clothes into the hamper right-side out.
3. Put away your clean clothes.
4. Pick up your mess when you’re done playing with something.
5. Take upstairs and put away any things at the bottom of the stairs.
6. Clear your dishes after eating.
7. Clean up any toothpaste spilled in the bathroom.
8. Hang up your coat and put away your shoes.

To get them interested, each kid chose his or her own font for the list. We printed it, cut it into fun shapes, and glued it to the colored paper of their choice, one for each of their bedrooms and a copy for the kitchen. The plan has been in place a couple weeks now, and while we are by no means at 100%, the kids have improved and are trying. Because it is a system to which we all agreed, they argue little when I remind them to do something on the list.

Boy List (note LEGO font)

Girl List (note personalized hearts over I's)

Mom's List (note lack of creativity)
By far, my favorite addition to the list is #5. The kids and I went to Target, and each chose a foldable canvas cube in a color of his/her liking. The cubes live on the first floor of the house. Whenever I find stuff lying around--books, LEGOs, hair accessories, art projects, rocks, shells, you name it--I put it in its owner's box. This way, I can pick up downstairs as I encounter things without hauling them upstairs piece-by-piece or piling them somewhere. Whenever the kids ask, "Have you seen my....?", I tell them to look in their boxes. They are starting to do this before asking. We still have a way to go before each takes up his/her box and immediately puts away the contents, but we are improving.

I have been amazed at how easily I could sum up the basic responsibilities, and I feel that things are trending well. Even if I'm not actually doing less work, I feel like I am because the kids are participating and trying to do their part. I haven't even paid anyone an allowance yet, telling them that they need to regularly do a good job on the chore list before earning it.  

I plan to stick with the core list of chores for quite a while, until no one really needs the list to remind them. What are your kids doing to earn their keep? Do they have an allowance? How much? Just how lazy have I allowed my children to become?

1 comment:

  1. Cyn, I really like the box at the bottom of the stairs. Our house is three stories, and I feel like I am constantly on a stairmaster as I run all over the house putting things away. I think this would be a great first step in getting the kids to participate in some of the cleanup.
    My girls have some chores for which they're responsible and they complete them with varying levels of consistency. I can always count on them to clear their dishes, and usually, they'll feed the dog. Bed-making is another story. I gave them each a shoe bin in the mudroom, and that has really helped with putting away the shoes. If I can get even one of them to clean up the toothpaste from their bathroom sinks, I'll explode from surprise and joy.
    We haven't started an allowance yet since I struggle a little with paying them for things that I think they should already be doing as citizens of our home. However, when they help Rick pick weeds, he gives them money since they helped with an "extra". I think, though, once Sofia turns 8, we'll give her an expanded chore list and a corresponding allowance. Another friend of mine who has older kids recommends establishing allowance amount at half the child's grade-level. Hence, a fourth grader would get $2 a week.
    Keep us posted on your progress. I look forward to being inspired by you, or comforted in a "misery loves company" kind of way. :)