Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Kids Can (and Should!) Help around the House

We had some people over for dinner the other night who are expecting their first child next month. NJ was mugging for attention, so I finally gave him a job to do. I sent him upstairs to get a clean tablecloth, and he took it upon himself to put the tablecloth on the table. He then wanted to help set the table. It's so nice when he willingly helps and even takes some initiative! Our guest mentioned that one of the things she's looking forward to with having a kid is when he can do stuff for her around the house, like wash dishes. Our response was a tongue-in-cheek, "Do you like having dishes?" We know how many dishes we've lost because NJ or SB have wanted to "help" wash them.

That's not really fair, though, because they're still young. I do try to give them jobs to do, commensurate with their age and level of understanding. For example, I've started making them help with their laundry. NJ likes putting laundry in the washer and then transferring it to the dryer. Fine by me, because I find this to be a task that, though it takes me just a minute or two, is kind of annoying. So if he wants to do that, great! He doesn't, however, enjoy helping to fold and put away his clothes, which is where I really want help. It occurred to me this summer, though, that both NJ and SB are old enough to help with their laundry in some way, and if I make them do it every time, it will simply become the norm. I hope. I taught NJ to fold shirts and pants (took quite a few weeks for him to get the hang of it without a demonstration each time). He and I fold, and SB's job is to put his own clothes away and match socks. Knowing how to wash, dry, fold, and put away clothes is very important. I know there are kids who go off to college having never done their own laundry, which I think is sad. It's something that can be taught in stages over many years, and it's not difficult. By the time NJ and SB are teenagers, my expectation is that I won't have to have anything to do with their dirty clothes beyond supplying the detergent to wash them. I hope.

Then there's the dishes. NJ likes to help, and I guess SB does, too, but the last time I had NJ help me with dishes, he broke a mug. I think they're just too young and too short to be actively helpful with dishes. (We don't have a dishwasher.) My husband and I keep meaning to make them clear the table after meals, which I think they could handle, but we've been kind of lazy about it. They can wash the plastic stuff, but I find it easier to just do the dishes myself in the evening. It's hard for me to allow something to take longer because they're "helping" when I would really just rather do it myself.

My housekeeper has gone AWOL and I haven't found another one yet. I usually had her come about once a month to do a really good cleaning of the kitchen, bathrooms, floors. She picks up after us and does whatever needs doing. Such an angel to have around when she comes, and I know just how spoiled I am to have paid help at all. But she disappeared, and my house is in dire need of a good cleaning, so I bit the bullet. "Guys, today we're cleaning up your room!" I told them. And we did. We cleared out too-small clothes from NJ's drawers (some of which went straight into SB's drawers!), picked up books and clothes from the floor and put them away, got stuff out from under the beds. Their room looks 100% better. I cleaned the downstairs bathroom over the weekend, and my husband and I worked together on the living and dining rooms and the kitchen. It doesn't look nearly as good as if my housekeeper had done it, but it made us remember that we are capable of cleaning if we have to.

Then the kids and I tackled the upstairs bathrooms. I sent them into their bathroom in the morning to pick up trash and consolidate the bath toys. Then I went in with them and sprayed cleaner in the bathtub, on the counter, and on the toilet and did the toilet-bowl cleaner. NJ got in the bathtub with a sponge and scrubbed. I cleaned the toilet (lucky me!) and the sink and counter. Then I helped NJ rinse the tub and sprayed the floor and showed him how to wipe the floor, especially around the toilet. Then we migrated to Mommy and Daddy's bathroom, where it was SB's turn to de-pants and get in the tub to scrub (they actually fought over who got to do this in which tub. Go figure.). I helped NJ with my toilet, and I cleaned the counter and sink. Then NJ and I did the floor together. I'd say the whole project took less than half an hour, and we were all happy when we finished. Except for trying to keep GI out of the bleach and out of the way, it was a relatively painless experience for all of us. (I do recommend cleaning bathrooms when either someone else can occupy the baby or when the baby is asleep, for future reference. GI loves baths, and whenever anyone is in the bathroom, he assumes he's going to be taking a bath and gets...kind of in the way.)

Having the boys help me with the chores related to their areas gives them ownership over it, too. If they've worked alongside me to pick up, I hope they would be more reluctant to make it messy again. Maybe. In any case, at least I don't have to do all the work to clean up after them. Just some of it.

I have learned that I have to be actively involved, though. If I say, "Go clean up your room," they'll whine and protest and eventually go up to their room and just sit there. If I go with them and give them very specific instructions - "NJ, pick up all of those shirts from the floor and put them in this bag;" "SB, put those books on the bookshelf" - then stuff gets done, and they understand what "clean up your room" actually means. At their age, they do well with concrete, specific instructions, while a vague demand gets me nowhere. I still have to supervise, though, which tends to be my own downfall.

I would really rather have my housekeeper back, as she would do a much better job, but at least the bathrooms are relatively clean and usable in the meantime. We'll tackle one or two rooms of the house at a time and rotate through so that it doesn't get too out of control around here, and when I can find a new housekeeper (or my old one finally returns), her work will be that much more appreciated! This hiatus has given me the opportunity to teach the kids a little something about good, honest housework. Having the kids help us clean is also teaching them to clean, which is a valuable and necessary skill for them to have when they finally go out into the big, bad world one day.

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