Sunday, December 23, 2012

Thoughts on Cleaning House

For the last 8 weeks or so, I've been reading Cleaning House by Kay Wills Wyma, about a Mom's 12 month experiment to rid her home of Youth Entitlement. It ties in with so much of my philosophy about how to raise kids and about doing chores around the house, yet adds so much more structure and depth to it. In her book, she lays out a strategic 12 month plan for teaching kids basic life skills so they will be contributors to their families while they are at home, and self-sufficient when they leave out on their own.

So many of her ideas I wish my own parents had done for me.  I came to marriage and motherhood highly educated as a lawyer, but I had no clue about how to run a house or a family. Even as a single woman, there were cracks starting to show: my inability to keep up with one person's laundry, set up a budget, plan meals for a week, hem a pair of pants. Things that cost me extra money because I had to hire people to help me do it while I worked long hours and then came home to a disaster in my apartment every night. At age 26, I had my first housekeeper and first personal chef. It did not seem to be an indulgence, it seemed like a necessity, because I would get home from work at 7/7:30pm and see no other way than to have someone help me do these most basic things.

Now as a wife and mother, I still have a housekeeper, and occasionally use a personal chef or prepped food services like Dream Dinners, but I am learning to be much more self-sufficient. My dependence on help with dinner has sharply dropped since I got serious about meal planning last year. My last hold out is still my need for at least a part-time nanny. Now some of that is out of necessity, for when I have bouts of Crohn's or am working part-time, or I'm recovering from another c-section and still trying to homeschool. But much of the time it's just because I don't know how to keep my kids entertained and busy for hours at a time. My mother's solution was to park us in front of the TV for hours every afternoon. Since we've decided that's not what we wanted for our children, I've had to hire someone to help me fill the time when they're not doing school. I look for activities and crafts on line which keep them busy for a season, but then fall back into old habits and see them slipping back into afternoon video games and TV watching.

Wyma's book cuts to the basic core of my problem, which is not as I had always thought, how do I keep the kids entertained and busy, but rather, why do I think it is my responsibility to entertain them and why are they NOT already busy helping me run our large household. I am able to see this in small glimpses, like when a public school friend complains that she is so busy getting dinner ready, cleaning up, and preparing her son's bath, pajamas, and school for the next day while he sits idly by, playing games on his Ipad. When I point out to her that at age 8 he is more than capable of doing those things alone and helping her with dinner chores, thereby pulling him off the games, she is incredulous that I would even suggest that he should be working. And so I notice the entitlement in other family structures.

It's harder to see how deep it runs in my own family. I decided that I would do her Cleaning House experiment  over a 24 month period since my children are so much younger and it will take a while for them to get to some of her activities. But already I am starting to see the benefits. Their rooms and shared bathroom are picked up every morning. The dishwasher is emptied and filled on a regular basis. The laundry is moving through the system much faster than it used to. Mail is brought in. Pets are fed and watered. The baby is minded and played with. The Christmas tree was decorated by them alone (a joyful task that has increasingly felt like drudgery over the years). They were beyond excited to get to do it all themselves - from filling the base with water, to plugging in and stringing the lights. Putting all the glass ornaments out of reach of the baby and dog, making sure it was colorful and balanced. Once I stepped back, and let go my desire to micromanage the project, they did a most competent job. It didn't look quite as Martha Stewartish as I would have liked, but their pride outweighed my need to see the ribbon hung just so.

Her book is split into 12 Chapters, each chapter addressing a task/skill she wanted her kids to work on during the month. Her categories are as follows:

1) Bed and bathroom clutter - making them responsible for cleaning it
2) Menu planning, planning, shopping, preparing one meal weekly, and washing dishes.
3) Planting, weeding, and tending the garden.
4) Looking for a job (for her teenagers)
5) How to Clean a Bathroom
6) Doing Laundry
7) Basic Home Repairs
8) Party planning and Hospitality
9) Working together as a Sibling Team
10) Running errands
11) Service to others
12) Manners - going beyond the dinner table to how to meet & greet adults

So what are the Top 12 Things we want the Jennings kids to know before they fly the Coop?
For now, at this age, it includes:

1) How to make a Bed and deal with bathroom clutter
2) Menu planning, shopping, preparing, and cleaning up after a meal
3) Doing Laundry
4) How to Clean a Bathroom
5) Manners at the table and in the world
6) Working Together as a Sibling Team
7) Running Errands efficiently and confidently
8) Service and commitment to parish community
9) Planning, weeding, and tending the garden
10) Pet and animal care (dog, rabbit, future chickens)
11) How to sew/repair basic things
12) Taking care of their bodies with habits of exercise and good hygiene

In the future, I would like to add:
1) Basic car care and driving skills, how to drive a stick, parallel park, change a tire, use a real map
2) Basic banking principals - checking, savings, investments, credit management
3) Household handyman projects
4) How to regulate your energy & mood through proper sleeping and eating habits.
5) Conversational skills. Learning small talk for business and social needs.
6) Making sure they know how to play at least one "social" sport like softball or basketball


It's nice to have a plan. Her book shows how she was able to create and implement one in her own family. We'll see how it goes for mine....

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