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.
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?