Well folks, we made it to Day 5. Throughout the experiment, I admit to having a few ‘why did I do this?’ moments, mostly when I was explaining how to empty the dishwasher or load the dryer or sweep the floor (you’d think this would be self-explanitary) instead of just doing it myself in half the time, but I’m glad I didn’t cave. I think the rewards of sticking this out will be long-lasting.
Because of our ‘sink or swim’ approach to household maintenance, the kids can now competently do dishes, wash, dry, and fold clothes, cook basic meals, and pack lunches. They can wipe down bathrooms and take out trash, and believe it or not, their physiology is such that they are capable (and always have been!) of reaching down to pick up clothes they see lying on the floor. More importantly, they get what a time-suck these chores are. They understand why I’m so crabby when they leave the slider door open and allow the dogs to track mud through the house. They get why I’m always asking ‘are those jeans really dirty?’ when I see them tossed into the hamper after no more than a tour around the house on a human boy body.
Will it wear off? Sure. But as a reminder of this week, the boys will be retaining a few of these chores. They’ll be splitting dish duty in the evenings for sure, and will probably stay acquainted with the washing machine. And between you and me, I was so busy teaching them a lesson, I didn’t realize until today how much I’ve learned through this experiment as well. First of all, am I really so grumpy? As the week wore on and Nate and Cal got more and more tired of their duties, they started to bicker.
“Don’t leave that sandwich just sitting there on the counter, Nate!”
“Honestly, am I the only one able to throw away a wrapper?”
And both of them gleaned particular satisfaction from criticizing Toby:
“Toby! Put your shoes away!”
“Toby! Wipe the milk off the table!”
“Toby! Pick up your PJs!”
Is he really that big a slob? Or am I that harsh? Secondly, guess what? The house won’t fall down if the floors aren’t swept perfectly. Nor will it if dishes remain in the sink longer than ten minutes. Maybe you’re not as Type A as me, but if you are, trust me, this is a perfect remedy for your control issues.
Here’s a little sampling from our week, along with some words of wisdom from the little rats in our maze (bear with me…vlogging is not our thing):
Now onto the nitty-gritty. Some of you have asked how we’ve actually gotten our kids to do all they did this week short of following them around with a whip, so I thought I’d conclude with a few tips, should you try this at home:
1. Define the duties. And then make sure the kids know them. Our list included any general housekeeping I would do in a given day…ALL cooking and meal preparation, light (day-to-day) cleaning such as floors, kitchen counters, etc, laundry, and dishes. It also included as-needed chores that I might have asked them to do in the past: feed the dogs, take out the trash, pack their lunches, pick up their rooms.
2. Put consequences in place, then stop nagging. To get the kids to follow through, we decided that if they didn’t perform any of the above duties to our standard, they’d retain that duty for an additional week. I made a practice of reminding them of neglected duties once, the let the natural consequences fall into place: if they forgot to prep dinner, it wouldn’t be ready in time for practice. If they didn’t complete the laundry, they wouldn’t have that favorite shirt to wear to school. One night, they left dirty dishes out, and woke up to ants all over the kitchen…not fun to clean up, but I didn’t lift so much as a finger to help.
3. If you’re including food duty (which I highly recommend), buy all the basics ahead of time. This cuts down on excuses and saves you multiple trips to the store. I bought simple foods like hot dogs, boxes of mac and cheese, tortillas and shredded cheese, cans of beans, and bagged salad and stocked the kitchen. Beyond that, they were on their own. (Older kids could plan and shop for food, too.)
4. Pick a ‘normal’ week for your experiment. Summer just won’t cut it…way too easy! Pick a week that best represents the normal level of crazy in your household, and then go for it. Don’t reschedule anything, and don’t make excuses: the boys had to wake up early more than once this week to finish homework they hadn’t had time for the evening before. They also missed out on their usual computer time because laundry took so long.
5. Create an ‘us vs. them’ mentality. Go ahead, unite the kids against the grown-ups. My kids seem to do this naturally (I don’t know what this says about us), but if yours don’t, create rules that foster teamwork. That said, ignore the bickering. Just like adults will argue over who’s taking out the trash, so did my boys. Just go into your bedroom, turn up the TV, and let them work it out.
6. Get them one ‘out’. At the beginning of the week, the boys’ grandma told them she would provide them with one ‘lifeline’. They could call her…once…and she’d do the chore of their choice. They picked Wednesday evening to cash in: she brought them dinner from Wendy’s. A pretty good use of their lifeline, if you ask me.
Sidebar: if you can afford a personal chef, good God, what are you waiting for? I can’t believe how much free time I had this week simply by not planning and preparing meals. (I’m totally caught up on Bones.)
In conclusion, some honesty: this whole thing started with Nate and a birthday party. In a very pleasing moment of symmetry, it has ended much the same: this weekend, Calvin is the one with two birthday parties to attend. I’d like to say he sought me out early this week to ask politely whether we could make time for gift buying, but alas, no. Due to all the extra chaos at our house this week, we both forgot…and will have to spend Friday evening running around…again.
Hello, irony. Make yourself at home. Mind the laundry on the couch.