I recently received an email about chores, and it’s a question I’ve gotten a LOT. I’ve written about the topic on my blog before, most recently here, but I wanted to answer the question publicly again. Sometimes hearing something on a different day, in a different way, makes all the difference.
How did you handle chores? Or keeping the house clean? Until the children decided that they would help, did you do all of cleaning yourself? What about their rooms? Cleaning off the table at dinner?
The most useful thing I ever did when it came to chores and housekeeping was to shift my own perspective. Yes, we all live and work together as a family, and yes, it’s completely appropriate to ask for help when you need it. But the fact is, my children don’t owe me anything. They didn’t ask to be here. It was the other way around! We chose to bring them into the world, and we chose to bring them into our family. I think part of my job as a mother is to show them what it means to give unconditionally … of my time and my attention of course … but also to give them a nice, safe home, and a clean space.
We all go through phases when it comes to chores, kids and adults alike. Some things just need to be done though, no matter how we feel about it. So we just do them, and try to do them as cheerfully as possible. :) I do do most of the cleaning myself, but it’s not because people won’t help me (they almost always help when I ask.) I do it because it needs to be done, because I can do it quickly, and because it’s a way to bless my family. If I feel myself being grumpy about it, or feel like I’m becoming a martyr, then that’s a sign that something is “off” – usually within myself! – and that I need to address it.
As for their own rooms, that’s their space, to keep however they’d like. There have been discussions about things like food for sure (apple cores = ants), and I’ll put out a general call for dirty clothes when I’m doing laundry. And if I literally can’t walk to their beds to say goodnight, that’s a safety issue, and they’ll gladly clear a path. :) Other than those caveats, their rooms are theirs, to keep as messy or neat as they see fit. Every so often, I’ll ask if they want help cleaning/sorting/decluttering, and if they say yes, we crank up some music and work on it together.
Simple things like clearing off the dinner table? We’ve always brought our own plates up to the sink. It’s just become a habit. Sometimes I’ll do the rest. Sometimes my husband will do it. Sometimes I’ll ask for help. And with 6 people in the family, a simple request of “Can you guys help get this stuff put away?” gets it all done quickly. :)
In our house, there was never really a “until the children decided to help.” They’ve always helped, save for a time or two when they’ve opted out (just as I’ve opted out. Just as my husband has opted out.) But yes, if people weren’t wanting/able/willing to help, I would absolutely do it myself, and wouldn’t even begin to expect others to help me until I could make peace with doing it cheerfully myself.