Thursday, January 27, 2011

Q&A Thursday: Getting Things Done with Children Around

I had a few questions I answered via email this week and I thought I'd post the answers here as well:
1. How do you manage to mop your floor every Tuesday - do you do it right after breakfast or anytime during the day?
I do it after I get the kitchen clean first thing in the morning. I hate it so much that I have to do it first or it doesn’t happen. I figured out once that I didn't really dislike mopping itself; what I hated was all the stuff that had to happen beforehand. I have to do the dishes, clean out the sink, wash all the chairs and move the table out of the way, sweep the floors and then, finally, I do the actual work of mopping.
2. Do your children let you get your work done? Mine seem to love to follow me around the house, which I really love, but they leave more of a mess wherever I go that takes more time and effort to clean up. Or they want me to play with them or entertain them or watch them dance. I want to give them my time, but I feel so torn between getting housework done and being a mother. When I read you can sit and work on your inbox or email, or do anything, I was wondering if you have a strict "this is mommy's chore time" or what you do to manage that.
My parents had an unfinished section of their house they used as a playroom for many years. It was upstairs at the end of a long hall. My mom told me that she thought at first it would be so helpful to have a place for the kids to play, but she realized over the years that no one ever played there. We’d get our toys out of there, drag them downstairs and play where ever she was. I find that’s true of my kids. If I’m downstairs folding laundry, that’s where they play. If I’m on my computer, they’re often dragging toys into the office or playing PBSkids on the kids’ computer. If I’m mopping the kitchen floors, well, they’re often watching a video or playing games in the great room nearby because I can’t have them walking through the room until the floor is dry.

So no, I don’t have any strict, “leave me alone” rules. The only time I do that is if I’m on the treadmill because when I’m trying to run, I need all the energy I have for it and I can’t be interrupted by kids who are fighting, tattling, or complaining. As often as I can, I run when my husband or older kids are home to run interference for me, but if that’s not possible, that’s another time I put on a video for the little girls.

I’ve learned over the years to expect to be interrupted. I’ll start on a project, but I know I’ll have to leave it several times to help the little girls get involved in something else, to break up fights, or to give a child some attention. It doesn’t usually bother me and I find that usually, all that’s needed is a few minutes of my time. And I think it’s good for kids to wait sometimes, so if I’m in the middle of something, I tell the kids exactly what to expect, “Let me move these two loads of laundry and then I can come look at your pony house,” or “As soon as I’m done filling up the dishwasher I can get out your puzzles.”

It helps me to remember that for eons of time, mothers have had lots of work to do in addition to caring for their little ones, from churning the butter to washing clothes to caring for a garden to sewing, mending and more. While the main reason I stay home is to take care of my children, I feel that many times I am just a safe base for them, a place to come when they need assurance, love, attention, or help. Much of the time, they can play independently, coming to me when they need help, and that’s good for their creativity.

They also have siblings to play with, and navigating those relationships is a wonderful training ground for the future. I heard a presentation once by a world-renowned family expert who worked with several international NGOs. He said something I find profound in its simplicity, “A family is important to society because it is the family where little boys learn to get along with little girls.” If we can learn to love and forgive and get along with those we know best, we are better prepared to get along with those we meet in the world.

How much my children need me changes often. Sometimes they play independently for a long time and sometimes they need me often. Eliza and Harmony are in a rough spot right now so I’m often playing referee and helping them find the words to negotiate their arguments and troubles. Or I’m working to re-direct them to activities that don’t involve fighting over the toys. I try hard to notice them and give them attention when they ARE getting along too. When they play well together, I compliment them and tell them how nice it is they are being kind sisters, for example, or I tell one of them, "Thank you for sharing that toy. That was so nice!"

It helps me also to have routines in place where my kids get my undivided attention as well as times I spontaneously play with them. I read to Harmony (and sometimes Eliza when she wants to participate) every day before her nap. They like to help me on our weekly grocery shopping outings. I take them to storytime at the library every week and I try to take them on other outings where the only point is to spend time together, such as going to the park or a local museum. If I sense my kids are fighting more than usual or are in need of more mommy time, I'll interrupt what I'm doing and play with them or take them on an outing.

As for the messes my children create while I'm trying to establish order in one corner of our lives, it is an issue, especially when your kids are all too young to be much help in cleaning up their messes. When my kids were younger, it was harder to keep up with everything because even though I required them to help, it was always more work on my part. We had a family room in our old house where we kept all the toys. We cleaned it thoroughly once a week and when we were expecting company. Otherwise, there were a lot of toys out and I simply learned to live with the mess.

At this stage in my life, it's not as big of an issue for two reasons. First, we rotate our toys. There's two or three toy bins in our downstairs family area, two bins in our great room, and one in our playhouse above our slide (the kitchen and play food set). So even if all the toys are out, it's not a huge problem to clean them up. Second, I have older kids big enough to help and regular routines that keep the house picked up. Joey cleans the great room for his zone in the afternoon and we all clean the downstairs together for five minutes after scriptures in the morning. It's easy to be patient with the toy mess when I know that it will get clean every day.

The playroom above the slide

One last thought on the subject of balance. I don't want anyone to think I'm somehow super-mom and I find time to get everything done. I don't. There are always more things on my to-do list than time to do them in, more housework to do, more books to read, more emails to respond to, more blog posts than I have time to write, more work I could do for my calling,my mother's group and other responsibilities, more I could be teaching my kids, more to learn about photography, more I could learn about cooking, more I could involve my kids in -- more, more, MORE!

At some point, I have to make peace with "doing enough for now." Finding that balance is an on-going process. As one of my friends, a mom of nine put it, "I have tried to make rules and formulas but can't. I've decided this problem is like laundry--it's never going to go away and must just be dealt with as it comes.”

How do you negotiate the balance between getting things done and being with your kids? What has worked for you?


Anonymous said...

Really enjoy reading your posts! I only have 3 and don't know how you do it! Thanks for sharing that info!

Kacy said...

Hahaha. Ellen is on PBSKids while I read this.

Mostly Diane said...

I left this up for about 5 hours and read it inbetween tasks. I find that letting the kids have their toys where I am at works well, as well as having a predictable schedule. If the kids know I am going to clean for an hour every morning they are fine with that. But if I get behind and clean for 3 hours it doesn't work. I have to stay on task to keep harmony between me and the toddlers.

Amber said...

yeah, I think it takes me about 2 hours to make dinner because of all the interruptions and I have a mountainload of laundry. I wouldn't trade it though, I love having babies and children around, they are so much fun.

Claire said...

I just went through and took half our toys to the Goodwill...the kids didn't notice.

I put my kids to bed at 7pm and then clean for an hour or so while my husband studies. It's not ideal, but it works for us right now.

swedemom said...

This was such a great post. I had forgotten about your little playhouse area. Which reminds me, I really do need to visit Utah sometime soon.

When my kids were very small and at home, I spent a lot of time chasing after them, doing damage control and generally just trying to get through the day. Three of my five children are in school. My daughter is in preschool and my baby naps when she is at school. Those 2 1/2 hours are precious ones where I scramble to do my work that is challenging to do with little ones in my way.

That said, I still have little followers all the time. I spent the day cleaning and had to keep my baby out of the bathroom while I finished cleaning it, but for the rest of the time, he just followed along as I dusted, mopped, vacuumed, etc.

I need to be better about stopping and playing with my kids along the way, but I'm always there if they need something.

Amber said...

Thanks for your nice comment on my blog Christina, it means a lot coming from you- a mother of 8 including twins. Twins is a whole different thing-- one is a piece of cake compared to twins and we are glad to have survived the 1st year!! Take care!


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