Monday, July 06, 2009

"Look at all your helpers!"

You hear it every time you check out at the grocery, don't you? "Wow, you have three helpers!" "Are y'all helping Mom today?" Wouldn't it be great if it were really true? What if the children really were helpers? Some kids are. I am blessed to have more help than many, but I still long for the days when my children will be even more capable and reliable.

I've had this conversation a lot lately with moms in all different stages of parenting. I have some mom friends who have teenagers and babies and their teenagers are given a lot of responsibility with their younger siblings. They rise very well to the challenge- even enjoy it, from what I can tell. I have a lot of friends whose oldests are only three or four, but still they crave responsibility. Is this a characteristic of the oldest? Do they have a natural inclination to want to be in charge? It seems true to my experience. Not that they are necessarily bossy, just that they want to make things happen. On the other hand, Elspeth appears to want the same things. I know it's not a girl thing, maybe it's just a how-some-people-are thing. It's definitely not a how-Abby-is thing.

Amabel and I actually went through sort of a rough patch where I felt like we were butting heads a lot. It seemed like a constant power struggle, which is really rough when the one who is supposed to be in charge really doesn't want to be in charge and is painfully insecure (who could she be talking about?). I struggle with that, with having to be in charge. And when I know I need to be and I do all the work (for me it is a lot of work) to make a decision and a plan and then someone (perhaps a five-year-old?) comes along and tries to usurp that responsibility, to change the plan, to tell me what to do, I get really really upset. There are other people who can do this (sisters, mothers, friends), and that's tough too because I know that the person is much better than me at being in charge, but when it's my home and my children (the only places I assume the position of CEO), it's not for them to try to take over. It's the sort of thing that makes me crazy, but I really don't know what to do about it. Not what the post is about though, sorry. My children trying to take charge is another thing, because I can look in Scripture and see that I have a God-given authority. For some reason, God saw it fit to make me the mother of Amabel, August, and Elspeth, and put me in charge of them. George backs this up. He sees fit to leave me at home with them all day and go out into the world. Two pretty weighty votes of confidence back me up every day telling me I can do this, that I must do this. It was really hard for that season that my oldest did not seem to appreciate that God-given authority (quite frankly, I did not appreciate it either, but I knew I couldn't leave everything up to a five or six-year-old), but over time, she has learned to be humble and respectful. I think much of the problem was remedied when she started homeschooling. I have several possible theories as to why this was the case, but I really don't know for sure. Age? Environment? Consistency?

Whatever the reason, things go pretty smoothly around here these days. (Well, in this regard, at least.) I have been told a lot by other mothers that I really have a blessing in this daughter who is so willing and able to help. Yet, I remember when her desire to have something to do was there, and there seemed to be no way to really channel it properly. When I talk to moms with younger kids, they indicate this same trouble in their own family. How do we let these eager children help out without creating more work for ourselves, whether the work be with trying to deflate their ego or redo the tasks they want so badly to do but are not capable of yet?
I had a friend who let her girls help sort laundry. My feeling about this was that the laundry would likely need to be resorted, and if something was missed, could ruin the clothes- so basically, that this was no help at all. I let my children carry their plates to and from the table, but some children would spill food all over the floor, creating more work for mom. I have some friends who put their oldest in charge and rebuke their youngest ones if they do not respond to their older sibling. I am still in the phase where I have to remind the oldest that the younger ones are not required to respond to her and not to tell them what to do! So basically, things that work for one family won't necessarily work for all families, but perhaps y'all might like to weigh in about the ways you let your kids help out. It doesn't matter if they are two or twelve or twenty, someone would probably like to hear your ideas. That someone is me, for one. And I will go first.

I like Windex wipes. And damp paper towels. And Swiffers. Arm my girls with any of these, and they are busy and happy for at least thirty minutes. Even a two-year-old can wipe a window clean- or cleaner than it was, and that's something. I used to ("used to" only because we don't have them since we moved) let them color all over our sliding glass doors with those Crayola window markers, and the clean-up was as much fun as the art. When our friends were in town this winter, we ended up with four children arguing over damp rags- everyone wanted to wipe down the tables! In the end, everyone got a rag, and it was like Annie's orphanage around here- only the singing was happy. And as long as you don't have lots of porcelain knickknacks (please tell me you don't have porcelain knickknacks), almost any child can be trusted with a Swiffer. And how much of a pain is cleaning the baseboards? It's good fun if you're a kid in my house!

Amabel is just now vacuuming. This could be old or young to begin this task, I don't know. But August very much envies that she is "allowed" to vacuum. She's not very good with sweeping and he's not really able to make his bed, so we have a long way to go, but every little bit helps. Away from home, Amabel is also an excellent help with pushing strollers or grocery buggies or even running to another end of the store to grab something off a shelf. August amazes me with his chivalry. I rarely have to ask him to hold doors or let others go first.

Well, those are just a couple of examples of how I employ my children to help out. They really want to be doing something helpful and grown up, and I can always use a hand around here! We have never had "chores" or "allowances" because none of that really suits the personality of our family. I pretty much just ask my children to do something when it needs to be done and they do it (though sometimes after complaining and/or discipline). There are a few exceptions, I expect them to regularly put their dirty clothes in the laundry, put their dirty dishes in the sink, and make their beds (August daily wrestles with his down comforter, so this, as anything, requires recognition of how much they can actually do and patience to meet them where they are and encourage them for their efforts). However, I have to remind them of these tasks more times than not. But I know lots of people have more orderly and consistent ways of doing things. I hope they will share and get us thinking.


Fittsy said...

I'll be interested to hear what other's ideas are. I love your damp rags idea. Mine might work on that tomorrow!

The main chore that Libby (3yo) helps with is putting up the dishes. She unloads the silverware and for the most part, correctly. She prefers to unload the bottom rack, which she unloads onto the counter and I put up. Noble (20 mo) has taken to helping her, which is a great comedy! He slams the silverware in the drawer, higgledy-piggledy. And I'm asking for broken plates when he's carrying them. (Thankfully our kitchen flooring is very soft!) But he's a very joyful help.

We always helped with chores growing up. In the next year Libby will fold the wash clothes, the first laundry chore in my parents' house. She already helps to put the laundry away, delivering the stacks to the right rooms and putting the some things where they belong.

I have wondered about the re-doing part. A dear friend was the 5th of 6, and she's said it infuriated her when her perfectionist Mother and older sister would redo her chores. But you do have to have some things done right!

And as for the older siblings disciplining the younger, if any of your blog readers subscribe to this parenting philosophy, could they please discuss how this works practically, and what the biblical basis is?

Abby said...

rebekah, i was unclear. they are not *disciplining* the younger, they are just telling them what to do. i think there was an example of the oldest one (teenager) telling the younger ones to get in the car and trying to buckle them in. when they didn't do what the oldest one said, and wrestled away, they were in trouble. but their mom did the disciplining. their mom would say "you need to obey your brother." i don't know if that is clearer. i still have meant to ask questions about it, so i too would appreciate more information, but just to be clear, they aren't actually administrating discipline. i guess maybe it's a little like when you tell the kids to obey the babysitter when you leave. if a mom has 6 children, maybe her oldest sort of functions as an onsite babysitter sometimes. so mom is making dinner and oldest is giving toddler a bath, toddler needs to do what oldest says just as if mom said it because mom has delegated that task. what do you think? does that at least make better sense?

the skocelai said...

Emory is only 2, so regular chores don't work yet. But, I am that Type A who can't wait for the stickers and chart idea to work! However, we do give her a lot of responsibility, I think, for her small age. I sort the laundry, but she puts it all in the washer for me. This involves a lot of climbing up and down a step ladder and is terribly cute! Or, I've dumped the dirty laundry on the floor and turned over the basket before so she could actually reach the washer. I can't wait until she can carry the basket and be trusted to start the washer! She is easily teachable if the threat of removing a responsibility looms over her, so she has been trained to put her dishes, and ours, gently in the sink.

I have hardwoods and I use a Shark to keep them swept in between real cleanings. Emory is a pro at using it and she loves to think she is doing grown-up work. And, of course, she's expected to clean her room and pick up her toys when they are scattered all over the house, which she actually likes to do. Guess I'm not the only Type A in the house, huh?

And, I've never had a dishwasher, but one was delivered today and gets installed on Thursday! So, it is already my plan to hand over utensil responsibility to her. I think she can handle getting the dirty spoons and forks into the washer. And, because she likes to sort, she will probably get to unload the utensils, too. With the help of a stepstool, of course.

Great post Abby! We should be dilligent to teach our children normal household chores so no one has a child who leaves home and is lost around the house, frustrating roommates or a spouse! However and whenever this starts is purely a preference, but it has to get done somehow. Besides, I don't mind letting a little bit of my load get lightened, do you? :)

RHB said...

I'm all for load lightening- great ideas- I need to give mine some more responsibility instead of getting overwhelmed with it all myself- although I do feel that giving them only what they are capable of handling well is wise.

Renee said...

Here's what my kids are doing (and I've been told they need to be doing more):
Jackson (8)- feeds and waters the cat, puts up his clean clothes, puts dirty clothes in laundry room, puts dirty sheets in laundry room, takes out the trash, clears the table, unloads and loads the dishwasher (not at every meal), makes his bed, makes his snacks, sets the table for meals, answers the phone, uses the blower on the sidewalk and driveway, cleans up after himself, helps wash the cars, occasionally vacuums and cleans the toilet and dusts (with gloves on :) ).
Joshua (6)- same as Jackson except he does not take out the trash but replaces the trash bag while Jack takes the trash outside
Lydie (2)- helps unload the dishwasher, helps load the washing machine, takes the trash cans from the bathrooms and bedrooms and empties them in the main trash, puts her dirty laundry in the hamper, picks up her toys, and tries to help with everything else that I am doing
**Basically, the only things I don't ask the boys to do are to sweep (they stink at it), clean the cat's litter box (they stink at that, too) and mow the grass. I am thinking those things will come along in a year or two. It takes sometimes an entire month to train them to do a chore well. But that time has always been a good investment, long term (when I choose to take the time). I think especially when you are home schooling and they are in the house all day, it is so overwhelming because there is always a mess being made and there is so much more housework involved. For us, just the work in the kitchen would be too much for just me because we eat 3 meals and 2 snacks in there almost every day! But I agree with you and Rach, that we need to mind their age and capability. Sometimes though, they are able to do so much more than we think when we take the time to "set the tracks". I need to remember that more often around here.

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