Monday, September 13, 2010

Many Hands

For many years, the fact that I had many children meant more work for me. It still does in many ways, but I'm at an interesting place with my family. This summer, the twins turned six and with their growing maturity has also come greater ability and reliability. For many years, I have taught them to clean their room every morning. For most of last year, that meant either working alongside them or sitting in their room, helping them know what needs to be done and encouraging them to do it. This summer, they finally got it and most of the time now, they clean their room by themselves with less need for supervision. That is a huge lift.

I often tell younger moms that it gets easier, and in many ways it does. I still have the time-intensive and sleep-deprived work of younger children, but I can also see the light at the end of the tunnel. I can see how tantrum-throwing, irrational two-year-olds turn into six-year-olds who are delightful to be with. I can see how the child who fought me for years about things as simple as picking up a bin of toys turns into a young man who eagerly volunteers to mow the lawn. I can see the child whose room is still constantly in shambles beginning to develop some personal responsibility, as he sits down each day and tackles his homework and his chores without being reminded. And best of all? I have a wonderful, amazing 11-year-old who is the best babysitter ever. When she was five and doing her activities, I had to buckle in three carseats and two booster seats anytime we went anywhere. Now, if I don't want to bring little ones with me to the store or gymnastics, I simply leave them with her. She's wonderfully patient and responsible.

Bedtime when the kids were younger was often the hardest time of the day. I was exhausted but still had kids to change and bathe and nurse and read to and settle in for the night. Now, bedtime is (usually) just another part of the day. My husband and I like to read to the little ones and we often do, but if we're tired or busy with something else, we've got three older kids who can read to the little girls, supervise the brushing of teeth, and help "guard the henhouse" (a.k.a. sit in the little girls' room until they go to sleep. We've found we have to do this or they play and talk and look at books for hours).

And I'm starting to see how all these "many hands" around here can really make for light work.

Case in point? Our family room.

When I designed our house, one of the things I wanted was a large gathering room in the center of all the bedrooms, a place we could read to our kids at night and gather for scriptures in the mornings. At first, that seemed impossible when the original plans for a second floor bedroom and gathering area turned out too expensive. But it didn't take long for me to realize that if we utilized a walk-out basement instead, it would be affordable.

I love this room. It's wonderfully convenient and helpful. I fold clothes here and it's also our playroom.

But for many years, keeping this room clean has been really hard. It is a place of toys and puzzles and books and chaos. It's wonderful, but also messy. I tried assigning it as a zone for one of the older kids to clean in the afternoon, but often it was such a big job, it seemed unfair and I'd inevitably give that child another job instead. At one point, I assigned it to the twins (since it was usually largely their mess) with my help, but the afternoon often demanded so much of me that I didn't have the time to help them clean it. Usually, it got clean a couple of times a week, once during our Saturday family work day and once or twice when I took the time to do it myself, sometimes with and sometimes without the help of some of the kids.

At the beginning of the summer, however, I finally hit on an idea that works. After scriptures every morning, we set the buzzer for five minutes and everyone works (well, sometimes some of them sit around hoping we won't notice they aren't helping, but they're SUPPOSED to be working!). We call it "Five Minute Madness" and it's amazing that no matter how messy and disorganized the room can be, it really only takes us five minutes to bring it back in order. With three good workers, three so-so workers and two parents, plus five minutes, it adds up to a clean and beautiful room. I love walking downstairs to switch the laundry or put a child down for a nap into a clean room. It's such a lift.

(and yes, that IS a slide. That's another cool feature we designed into our home.)

Another place we've implemented Five Minute Madness is in our kitchen. After dinner, each school-age child helps clean up the dishes for five minutes. Sometimes that time is all at once, and sometimes it is staggered, as some kids finish eating sooner than others, but everyone gives five minutes of help. Then whatever is still left is done by the child whose dish night it is. We've had dish nights for the older kids for several years, but now it's so much easier for them. Last year Lillian and Joey had two nights a week, Michael one and the twins one (though theirs was mostly a training night) and they were in charge of cleaning the entire kitchen. Now, they just finish up what's left. Joey has been especially grateful for the new "five minute madness" program, as he's been able to see the workload diminish on his dish nights. He's told me several times what a genius I am to have started that.

There is still more work than time to do it in and I often feel torn between the many competing demands on my time, but I can also see that as my children get older, thing will continue to get easier as we each pitch in to help with the work of our family. One nice thing about having lots of kids close in age is that I don't feel as if I'm putting too much on any one of them. If I feel like I've asked Lillian to do a lot one day, I can call on Joey to hold Katie or read to Harmony or take out the trash instead. If Michael's extra stressed with math homework, I can ask Allison to fetch me something.

The kids have zones every day and that has helped lighten the load for years. Right now, Michael cleans the mudroom, Joey the great room, Lillian helps with dinner on weekdays (and makes it on Thursday nights), and Allison, Sarah, and Eliza together empty the dishwashers. While I'm revisiting what they are assigned and seeing if I can delegate a bit more, what the kids are doing is done fairly quickly (fifteen minutes or so) and makes a huge difference in the order in our home.

These many hands are starting to learn how to work and it is wonderful to watch.

What have you done in your family to teach your children to work? What routines and ideas work for you?

8 comments:

Ambrosia said...

Thanks for the reminder and perspective, Christina. I needed it.

Dina said...

We do similar things and all pitch in at certain times. It works great! We now can clean our entire home in 1 1/2 hours (it's on the larger side) with all of us working different jobs at the same time. We do it every other week whenever it fits in and turn on fun music on the speakers throughout our home and have fun! (Well, one of us doesn't do much working...so 5 of us work! The boys who shall not be named will start in one of these weeks, I'm sure.)

One thing I've noticed, having a girls first and then the boys is that I expect a lot more from her and at an earlier age. She cooked earlier, babysat earlier, is my best cleaner and general "go to" girl. Although I expect a lot from Jack and the twins as well, it's not the same. Do you find that with Lillian as well?

Handsfullmom said...

Dina, it is easy for me to rely on Lillian because she is so absolutely responsible and helpful. I try really hard not to overburden her, however, so I'll often ask Joey or Michael to do things that I know she'd do ten times better. Joey is just 18 months younger than Lillian and I find that we rely on him only slightly less than Lillian and often in different ways.

What I do find is that I expect lots less of my younger ones than I did of my older ones at similar ages. Some of that is just experience -- I've learned that it doesn't really hurt anyone to wait until age 3 to potty-train for example. Some of it is different personalities and some of it is my own maturity (and maybe a little bit of laziness on my part, too!).

Tisha, things will get easier for you too -- you've got lots of little ones right now and that means everything depends on you; there is very little or very noneffective help available from those little kids and they have no idea how much they demand of your time, energy, and patience. When they get older, things will be better, especially since you're doing such a good job with them right now!

Christensen Kids said...

Although things still get hectic and I feel like I'm non stop running, I don't feel the overwhelmness (not really a word but you get the idea) of only having 3 little ones. With my kids each 2 years apart, 3 kids was the hardest because no one was big enough to help. At least with #5 the oldest was big enough to help with a younger one. It's been nice, but life is still crazy at times, just like you know.
We also set the timer and just spend 5-10 min with everyone helping and then it's done. Can't say it lasts more than 5-10 min, but at least it was done :-)

alligood said...

I LOVE working together with my big family! It's amazing how much 12 hands can do, even if 8 of those hands are pretty small (the other 4 hands I don't count as very helpful - yet!) Seriously, if you can get my 4 big boys all working together doing the same thing, we can get a LOT done VERY quickly. It's awesome! I like your different strategies and I think I'm going to implement them at our house - especially the 5 minute madness in the places that seem to get the messiest. I actually like cleaning - it's the picking up all the toys, stray socks, and other random STUFF that I find overwhelming. If the room is tidy, I'm happy to vacuum and dust!
-Allison

Mostly Diane said...

I'll put a little kid with a big kid and one big kid with a parent for the evening chores. That works fairly well, if not fair. I'll also assign specific things for the little kids to pick up and no one else can do that so I know the little one's are actually learning to work. I suppose, I have also just lowered my expectations a lot too. I just remind myself that someday, my house will be the clean little haven I want it to be.

Lisa6Kids said...

We call the 5 minute pick up time "Room Rescue." If I notice it's out of hand I will yell out, "ROOM RESCUE" and they all know they've got 5 minutes to tidy up.

For the kitchen I have 2 kids on table/floors and 2 on dishes/counters. They do a week and the next week they trade off. I like having 2 on dishes or 2 on table because it's way more fun to work with a buddy.

All the kids like to cook so since they are home schooled I often have one of them fix lunch. I usually have too much help at dinner. LOL

I also love that I always can count on someone to read to a little one who wants a story.

I also love having 11 year olds! They love babysitting and it's so nice to hop in the van for an errand and not have to take anyone if I choose. They are excellent babysitters and it's such a bonus having two of them.

Dana said...

Ours is called the bumble bee buzz (same idea, different name). Sometimes it happens several times a day. ;) I am sure we create less of a mess though with only 4.

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