I have been struggling with a family chore chart since my oldest was old enough to push a vacuum cleaner. I have never quite succeeded. I believe that it is important for kids to have chores, and possibly even regular chores, but having grown up in a lackadaisical family without chores, I have had a difficult time wrapping my brain around how to make it stick.
Add to this quandary the fact that when I was 12 years old, I got my own bedroom, and I loved that bedroom like nobody's business. No one had to tell me to keep it clean – it was my sanctuary against the storms of adolescence and my parents' looming divorce, and I needed it to be beautiful and welcoming.
I chose all the decorations myself. I had a groovy kelly green and yellow bedspread, which set the tone for the whole theme. The walls were the same kelly green, and the floor was painted yellow, with a bright green shag rug in the middle (was this the 70s or what?) I had yellow plastic furniture which housed my books and my record player, and a yellow princess phone – with my own line!
I spent every Sunday morning cleaning and dusting (dusting!) every square inch of my incredible room. I blasted Janis Ian and the Beatles on the record player and happily cleaned and cleaned until it was shiny. My space was the one place in my world at that time where I could read, cry, listen to music and generally angst out, writing maudlin poetry, mourning my lost youth and preparing for my great escape. I wanted it to be clean.
So when I think about instilling a sense of obligation around cleaning, it's hard for me to figure out how to make it stick when it was something that came so natural to me when I was young.
I have tried chore wheels, where you spin the wheel each week to see what you chore will be (whee!) I have tried chore charts, complete with Velcro and stickers. I have tried assigning each kid a night to wash dishes that I note on my own iPhone calendar, so that I remember. I have tried simply asking them to remember to clean their rooms, pick up their clothes, learn how to do laundry.
To no avail. I have not been able to stick to anything, and see it as a personal failing. The only thing I've succeeded at is having them do is to take out the garbage and recycling every Monday, and that's only after a million reminders. They did all learn how to wash the dishes and load the dishwasher earlier this fall, but my daily rotations have long slipped off the calendar.
But you know what? Somehow, magically, my children have grown up without my realizing it, and last week, they rose to the occasion.
We recently decided that we could no longer afford to have the lovely house cleaners who would come to my house and do all the cleaning that I have no time or inclination to do. These wonderful people changed our sheets, cleaned our bathrooms, dusted my shelves and vacuumed my entire house. It was heavenly, and even though things would get a little gnarly right before they arrived, I knew that once they had worked their magic, my house would once again be presentable for a period of time.
But there are to be no more house cleaners for a while. And while my husband is a fabulous cleaner and has been responsible for most of the general upkeep in our house for many years (many thanks to my mother-in-law for that gene!) I firmly believed that it was not up to the two of us to clean up all the messes anymore.
So it was announced, by fiat early in the week, that last Sunday was to be house cleaning day. No one got to do anything fun until their job(s) was completed.
No chore chart or wheel. No Velcro. I simply made a list of the cleaning duties and assigned them. Bathrooms. Sheets. Bedrooms. Kitchen. Dusting. Scrubbing. Sweeping. Vacuuming.
And you know what? No one complained. No one questioned. They accepted their assignments and carried them out with honor. Turns out my teenage son was on bathroom duty several times last summer at camp, and he knows how to don rubber gloves and get down and scrub. My tween daughter is adept with a can of Endust and a dry cloth. My baby toted that vacuum cleaner up and down our stairs and vacuumed the entire house and enjoyed it. Each kid took care of his or her bedroom and changed his or her own sheets, and by lunchtime, we had a clean and fresh smelling house.
The key, of course, is that they're old enough to do these chores without my having to re-do them. And they're old enough to understand that having the house cleaners come was a privilege, not a right, and right now, it's a privilege we can't afford.
But the most striking thing for me is how amiable they were about the whole process. I was able to assign and enforce and it worked.
I'm not sure how often we're going to have house cleaning day. We don't often have a quiet weekend day like we did last week. But I am determined to continue on this path – we may not be a routinized chore family, but we are now a family who can pick up a broom and sweep with the best of them.
Next time, as a treat, I'm blasting some Beatles to accompany our work.
Photo by wellohorld via Flickr