7 Steps to a Clean Home with the Help of Joyful Children (One Method of Teaching Responsibility While Growing Closer as a Family)

I truly feel this entire concept was inspired by the Holy Spirit, or maybe even Mother Mary whispering wisdom into my ear.  Whatever the case, one moment I was standing in the kitchen calling my children to attention (with frustration and despair bogging down my mind) and the next moment, four of my children (ages 10, 8, 7 and 6) were happily and busily cleaning the entire house without one grumble or complaint!  Follow these simple steps to get similar results in your home.

Step 1:  Breathe.  Remember that they are children and children will make messes, explore and be creative.  Remember that they are capable of amazing things and allow them the room to show you their strengths.  Don’t expect perfection.

Step 2:  Divide the main areas of your house into Zones.  Don’t include bathrooms, bedrooms, or other “private” areas in your Zones.  Try to create one Zone per person.

Step 3:  Let the kids pick their cleaning Zone.  So far, I have had not arguments over who gets which Zone.  If a disagreement should happen then come up with a fair way of choosing: have them draw straws, roll dice, go from youngest to oldest, etc.

Step 4:  Explain the scoring system to the kids and put it up on a chart or white board as you explain.  Stay with me here as this is where it can get complicated.  Maybe say something along these lines:

     Your Zone will be scored on the following points: cleanliness (how well you do in picking up toys, trash and other misplaced items and putting them in their proper place); speed (how quickly you get the job done WELL; not just hurry up, but diligently work on your task to do the job well and completely–think perseverance and diligence); and attitude (Are you joyful or grumpy?).  These will be scored on a scale from 0-5, with 5 being the best possible score.  These scores will be added together to get your subtotal.  Everyone with me? [demonstrate on the white board].

Then say, “Now, you are all different ages and have different abilities.  To account for this, I will assign a Degree of Difficulty to your Zone based on your age and ability AND the extent to which you clean the room.”  A Degree of Difficulty of “1” is the basic pickup of the floor and flat surfaces; but a “5” would be if you cleaned under the sofa, organized the book shelf, vacuumed the floor, mopped the tile, etc.  The more you do, the higher the Degree of Difficulty becomes.  The reason why this is important is because your subtotal will be MULTIPLIED by your Degree of Difficulty to get your final score. [Demonstrate on the board how 15  x 1 is 15, but 15 x 5 is 75]  Let them give you different scores to see how it affects the total. [Bonus math lesson here ;-)]

zones

Step 5.  When the children complete their zone to their satisfaction, have them come to you and let you know that they are ready for scoring.  Then, with your full attention go into the room and inspect their job.  Be sure to give lots of positive feedback on the work they did well.  Don’t be afraid to make suggestions of where it could be improved, or hints about items that were overlooked.  Be generous, but honest with your score.  If my kids worked hard and gave it their all, I rarely score less than a 5.  In the above example, Zone 4 got a “4” in cleanliness because there was still quite a bit of trash on the floor and items on flat surfaces.  The Degree of Difficulty is the clincher here.  How much were they willing to put into their efforts?  My Zone 1 in the above example was the kitchen.  The 12 year old chose it with vigor and she delved into organizing cabinets and drawers, in addition to counters, floors and hand washing that her brother overlooked that morning.  That kind of effort deserved a perfect score for sure!  The Degree of Difficulty of 3 in the above example was the oldest child who chose to do the minimum effort.  He still had a great attitude and the room was picked up and vacuumed, so I explained that he could have earned a higher Degree of Difficulty by going under the furniture and straightening the bookshelves.  He did a great job, but it wasn’t going to be enough to win the contest.

Step 6.  Reward the top score with a prize.  I give 1st place 5 cents per point, 2nd place 1 cent per point and everyone else a quarter.  My children are still young at ages 6 to 13, so the prize is minimal.  If you have older children, then you might consider a higher payout–how much is a clean house worth after all?   The prize doesn’t have to be elaborate, but just a well-deserved reward for their effort.  At the end of this contest, your entire house will be picked up, vacuumed, spot mopped, and better organized than when you started.  Allow the reward to lift EVERYONE up, but still make the winner feel special for his/her effort.  Bask in their incredible efforts and boast on how enjoyable the home is when it is tidy and everyone works together well.  Sometimes we play a game, go swimming, or the kids watch a movie following the clean up—an activity to enjoy a job well done.

Step 7.  Repeat as needed to maintain the orderliness of the home, but not more frequently than once per week.  We decided to do “Zones” on Friday afternoons so we can enjoy a movie night and focus on family projects or outings on Saturdays.  This week my kids decided to do it on Thursday because the house had become quite messy and even they wanted the order back!  Hey, I’ll take it any day.

I would love to hear your feedback on how this works in your home, what changes you made, and what rewards were given.  I pray that you have as much success with it as I have had.  Truth be told the greatest reward for me has been the feeling of connection, that we really work well as a team, the Domestic Church’s version of the Body of Christ in action.

Edit:  I am usually working on my paying job while they are cleaning.  Sometimes, I clean an area as well, but don’t get scored in the contest.  Yesterday, they actually did all of the cleaning while I was gone for an appointment.  It was especially rewarding to come home to a clean house and to know the kids had matured to this level of responsibility without my direct oversight!  My goal here is not the clean house.  That is just a side benefit.  My goal is to grow relationships with my children as they learn to be responsible and independent members of our family and community.

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A Letter of Encouragement

Dear Lindsey,

I don’t remember catching your last name, but I wanted to tell you “Thanks!”  I really enjoyed getting my baby fix at Mass on Monday.  We attended church in Mansfield (not our regular parish) when your beautiful 2/3 year old girl caught my attention right after communion.  As you passed by our pew, she was voicing her opinion and knew she had you right where she wanted you!  Your hands were full with the new baby and the three other young girls in tow, so as you tried to reign the toddler in, she knew she had the upper hand.  I remember those days well!  I quickly whispered for my children to stay together and followed you back to the cry room.  “Let me help you, Momma,” I said. And you gave the baby to me without hesitation.  Thank you!

I miss the softness of a new baby’s head.  I miss the rocking motion and holding that little life in my arms.  Your baby was so precious, but your toddler tugged my heart strings just as much!  Strong and independent, she was not afraid to rebel and state her case.  You were awesome with her.  You firmly and persistently reminded her of the rules and stood your ground (or squatted at face level) until she verbally acknowledged you.  Then, you turned to the three other girls and reminded them not to climb, not to sit on  the sill, and that Jesus was present in the church.  You may have left Mass that day wondering if it was all worth the effort.  It was!

Everyone who witnessed your attendance at Mass, witnessed evangelization in motion.  While most adults make excuses to not attend a Holy Day Mass and most children aren’t even aware they exist, you came. You prayed. You conquered 5 small children by yourself for 95% of the Mass.  And you are living the example for your children to follow, which is even more valuable than all the above.  Yes, I have lots of kids too; but, my children were spaced out until the last six.  When my younger six arrived back-to-back, I already had older ones that could help hold a baby or reign in a toddler.  I rarely had to take them anywhere alone, if I took (take) them at all.

Not only did you take the girls to church, I imagine that most of your errands have all 5 kids in tow as well.  I just want to say, Keep up the good work.  You will be rewarded in ways that you cannot even imagine.  Finally, don’t be afraid to ask for help because it may be just as much of a blessing to your helper as it is to you–maybe even more.  Because of my own family and health limitations I don’t get to offer help to young mothers like I want to, my own daughter included.  Just being able to help those last few moments of Mass was an amazing gift to me.  I hope to meet you again soon!  Until then, God’s blessings upon you and your family!

Sincerely,

Jill

Pray Always

“Pray without ceasing.” 1Thes 5:17

Our home altar

Our home altar

It was put on my heart to share with you how our family incorporates prayer into our daily life. Words cannot express how inadequate I feel to be writing on this topic. I just googled the verse above in order to know its source. I did read all of 1 Thessalonians chapter 5, however and was struck by how applicable it is to my life, our lives, today. So, grab your Bible, google the verse or search it on the Bible app on your smart phone; but, definitely read the entire verse.

I have the greatest ambitions for incorporating prayer into my daily life and into our school days. I have printed morning prayers and put them on the front of binders. I have set alarms on my phone with bells chiming to call us to prayer at noon and 3pm. I have made resolution after resolution that we would say prayers as a family every night before putting kids in bed. I have even planned on reading a chapter of the Bible with my husband every evening, envisioning deep spiritual discussions and renewed hope. Did these plans work? Sometimes. And often, when I am successful I succumb to spiritual pride. “Look how well I did,” I would tell myself. When I fail, which is often, I berate myself for how much self control I lack, how lowly my spiritual life is, or what a weakling I truly am. I compare myself to other families that—in my mind–manage to attend daily Mass, pray the rosary in the car to and from Mass, pray the Angelus three times a day, and then say another family Rosary before bedtime.

The truth of the matter is that I have been approaching prayer all wrong. It is not an item on my “to do” list, something simply to complete and check off. Prayer should be a continuous process, like breathing. It is conversing with God! Imagine this. You call your husband (or other significant person in your life) during the day to check in on how their day is going. As he shares his story with you, you only half-way pay attention and keep thinking that you just need to get through this phone conversation so that you can get back to your life’s tasks. You finish the conversation, tell him “I love you. Bye.” And then say to yourself, “What a good person I am for checking in with him today. Gosh, we have such a great relationship.” It doesn’t really jive, does it? So, I have to work on this. I need to approach my conversation with God with my full heart and mind in it. When my bells chime, I need to think of it as God calling me—that’s His special ring tone. I should answer with all the excitement and joy that I would if it were my husband, my best friend, or even the Pope on the other end. And then I need to listen. He speaks so softly that I have to listen carefully. I should also remember what a great listener and counselor He is and share my heart with Him. He is never in a rush or distracted so I can just go on-and-on –and-on until my heart’s content sharing my woes, joys, and frustrations.

My pastor recommended a book during a homily a while back. It is called Practicing the Presence of God  by Br. Lawrence. I believe it is available as a free e-book on Amazon. It is a simple read where Br. Lawrence is telling us how to be present to God in every moment of our lives. This is truly praying without ceasing. It has been a great resource and encouragement for me. Along these same lines, I have found it extremely helpful to have images and statues throughout my home. They serve as constant reminders of God’s presence in my life. I know that many Protestants think that we worship these statues, but it is truly a complete misunderstanding. Just like I have family photos hanging in every room of my home, or placed on a shelf; I have images of Jesus and His earthly family (Mary, Joseph and the Saints) throughout my home as well. A few years ago, I even made a home altar. I have a basket of prayer cards, some statues, and other sacramentals placed on it. It serves as a focal point for family prayer. It is both a logical and useful place to store all of those prayer cards that we don’t want to stuff in drawer or throw in the trash. In addition, it is my opinion that every Catholic family should have a crucifix in every. room. of their home. Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection is central to our faith. When we fix our eyes upon the cross and see Christ in His most vulnerable state, we are reminded of our own weakness. We are reminded of our own sinfulness that caused His suffering. We are reminded that we are not alone in our suffering, our persecution, or in undergoing any trials of injustice or affliction. We are reminded to forgive the sinners at our sides. We are reminded that death has no hold on us and that we were made for Heaven. The cross without Christ is still a reminder, but the crucifix tells us the whole story.

My cross above a pew from the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception (cherished gift from my parents)

My cross above a pew from the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception (cherished gift from my parents)

To be successful in practicing the presence of God, we must desire to do so, incorporate ways to remind us and call us back to God, and never grow weary of starting anew when we fail. Soldier on, my brothers and sisters! Pray without ceasing, or at least fail to cease trying. Come along with me on this journey. We will stumble along and find our way together as we continue to cry out to our Lord and Savior. I will continue to lift you in prayer. I beg your prayers for my family and myself.

Team Mach

Our chore list with color coded assignments

Our chore list with color coded assignments

I was dining with a friend recently and she posed the questions: How do you get your children to do chores?  And What do you do when they don’t follow through?  Since the same topic came up with another friend today, I thought it might be good to share our experiences with you as well.  First, we (my husband and I) have always agreed that children should have chores that fit their ability according to age and maturity.  Likewise, they have privileges that also meet their ability according to age and maturity.  Responsibility and Freedom go hand-in-hand and this is how we pass that knowledge on to our children.   We are a family and as a family we have to work together as a team.  When someone gets sick or is unable to fulfill his/her duty, the rest of us jump in to take care of that member of the family and cover their chores.  Everyone will be in a position of needing family support and every person will also be in a position to offer service to benefit the other members.  The family is the Domestic Church.  That means it is a place to experience God’s love through our parents, offer service to others, receive the support we need, as well as put into practice being virtuous, while pruning our vices.

Living out our vocation as parents is always a work in progress.  As Karen has told me, “We get to get up and make our bed again every day.”  I think that is a wise and merciful insight to the old saying, “You made your bed, now you can lie in it.”  Once we realize that we are all humans who make mistakes, we can begin to be more patient with ourselves, our spouses and our children.  Having realistic expectations is a concept that I am continuously working towards.  So, how do we get our children to do chores?  We begin when they are little. Toddlers naturally want to help us.  Capitalize on that natural desire by letting them help.  Yes, it will take longer to complete the task in the short term, but we are working towards a long term goal of raising independent adults.  A three year old can easily sort silverware into the drawer, or set napkins at each place at the table.

If, like my friend, your children are past the toddler stage, it is not too late to make them a team player!  In order to be a team player, they will need to know the rules of the game, who is on the team, and how you win the game.  Everyone wants to be on a winning team.   Every August, just before we start back to school, we have a family meeting.  This is a natural time to come together and review how we are doing as a team and what changes we can make to improve.  Our children are growing and so are their abilities to serve and their need for more independence.    Here are some guidelines for the meeting:

DO

  1. Have a husband and wife meeting to get on the same page before presenting ideas to the kids
  2. Acknowledge each person’s contributions to the family over the past year
  3. Ask what kind of family everyone would like to have (do we need to spend more time together, less fighting, more family meals, etc)
  4. Guide the discussion towards positive solutions to make your dream family a reality
  5. Allow the children to choose the service they wish to provide (this can be done in a very structured format with gentle parental guidance)

DON’T

  1. Make this a time for berating or discipline.  If there are issues they should be done in private with the particular child.
  2. Undermine the other parent in front of the children.
  3. Announce what chores each child will do without allowing their input in the discussion
  4. Be negative

After a short discussion on the kind of family you want to be, explain how each person’s contributions to the family are critical to making that dream come true.  This is where I post all the chores and allow the children to begin volunteering.  This is a guided exercise and some chores are “assigned” if there is only one child who is truly able to complete the task, or only one task a child is capable of doing.  The point of the exercise is for the children to feel empowered, to feel that he or she is a part of the team.  After this, state your expectations clearly.  For example, “I will post the new chore assignments on the board.  I will remind you one time to complete your task.  There will be no play time, video games, going out with friends, etc. until your chores are completed.”

Our August 2, 2014 meeting in progress

Our August 2, 2014 meeting in progress

In my post last year, I explained in detail how our positive incentive system works.  I stand by this system 100% and we still continue to utilize it with much success.  In fact, it has had the added bonus of teaching fiscal responsibility (ie. purchasing quality items for the long term vs. cheap toys that last less than a day).  The combination of allowing the children to be a part of the process and acknowledging their contributions and effort is the HOW in getting our children to do their chores.  Now, what do we do when that isn’t enough?  Well, I have screamed, threatened, grounded, fought, pleaded, whined, and cried.  None of that worked with much success.  Then my logical, even-keeled husband reminded me that we already established consequences.  I ask once, maybe give another gentle reminder of the consequences, but when that  fails to get the job done, I simply and calmly say, “I’m sorry.  You can’t do ________ because you didn’t do “x”.”  If the child continues to argue, I simply and calmly state, “This is not up for debate.  We agreed that you would do “x” before you could do “z”.”  Then you have to learn how to allow them to be upset with you.  In fact, they are not really upset with your, they are really upset at themselves for not holding up their end of the bargain, but it is easier to take it out on you.  The reality is that you have just earned their respect.  You set a boundary.  You set clear, realistic expectations and you followed through.  You were honest and just.  If you are consistent it won’t take long before your kids will be team players and you WILL have a winning team.  Now get out there and win, win, WIN!

If You Give a Mom a Project

Okay, Moms (and Dads), you know how you start to do one thing and it leads to something else, and then that leads to something else, and then pretty soon you realize that you are knee-deep into a project that you had no intention of starting? Kind of like the book series If You Give a Mouse a Cookie? So, today seems to be that kind of day for me; but, I’m not complaining. I enjoy the surprises that these experiences seem to afford.

Since January, we have had full-time help with the kids and household chores from 9am to 2pm on Monday through Friday. I cannot even begin to tell you what a huge blessing this has been for my family. Well, today our beloved Fidencia (Fifi) had another obligation and we are on our own. My energy has improved and I woke up mentally prepared to face the day without the extra help. By the time I was dragged out of bed by my adorable four-year old Sophia it was already 9am. The kids had made breakfast, eaten, cleared the table and were working on their school work. Patrick was back in his office preparing to leave for the day’s appointments. Daniel and Sophia wanted to do school with me, so while I ate my breakfast and enjoyed a cup of coffee we did Math and some preschool workbook pages. Benjamin joined us at the table and did his own coloring work. Since it has been months since I did school with the kids I realized how unorganized their books had become. The general reading books were mixed with the school books and coloring books. In addition some random toys, crayons and pencils had been thrown into the “school bin.” One of the books mixed in was an A,B,C Book that I had made with Joshua when he was a preschooler. I decided that I better put it in his baby box before it was completely destroyed.

A similar book made by Sophia

A similar book made by Sophia recently

After finishing up the school work, I took Sophia and Ben to the living room and gave them each an ipad to do their “school” turn, which means “educational apps only”. I turned my attention to the space above the television where the baby boxes are stored, which immediately set off the Kid Alarm. The Kid Alarm is that alarm that all children are born with which immediately alerts them to a parent who is on the phone, needing privacy, or working on a project best done alone and without the assistance of her offspring. So, before I knew it I had all seven children begging to look through their baby boxes. School came to a screeching halt and a trip down memory road commenced.

It is dangerous for me to look through their baby boxes or flip through the photo albums. A deep longing wells up within me to recapture those moments when they were younger and more innocent. The newborn pictures affect me the most. Those sweet, soft infant heads with a tuft of baby-fine hair and that new baby smell all come flooding back to me and make me wish with all my heart that I had those babies back to hold, or another one on the way.

Who couldn't love those chubby cheeks and that soft, fuzzy head?

Who couldn’t love those chubby cheeks and that soft, fuzzy head?

But, they grow so quickly and sweetness of those moments are always mixed with the exhaustion of caring for that new baby, the recovery of a body that has carried and nourished yet another life and given birth to it, and all the responsibility that come with adding another family member. It is bitter sweet indeed. The consolation is in the present. I looked around the room at my seven children present with me in the moment and then back at the photo in my hand . “Look at that sweet baby! And then they grow into sweet, little kids,” I exclaimed as I cupped my daughter’s face in my hand. “And, then,” I said with pride, “they become these awesome teenagers” and I held my soon-to-be-sixteen-already’s face in my hand. “And then,” I continued with enthusiasm as I skimmed through pictures to find our eldest child’s face, “they become awesome grownups, who get married and make more cute little babies!”  I quickly grabbed my phone and texted my daughter to invite her and the grandkids over for a visit later today. I am thankful for the quick response in the affirmative and look forward to enjoying the moments I have today because tomorrow may not afford the same opportunities.

I may never have the privilege to nourish another child within me or experience the bittersweet moments in those few weeks after its birth; but, I do have the children of the present. I have the toddler and the preschoolers with their endless energy and never-ending source of love and affection. I have the early years where the world is an open book and the mind and body are growing more capable of complex ideas and projects. I have the teenage years, where independence is on the horizon and the new wings are being tested and strengthened. I have the young adult whose wings are strong and the world is just waiting to be conquered. And I have a friend and a daughter who shares the similar struggles and joys of raising young children and building a strong marriage. Yes, the present is a wonderful place to be!

Our recent family pic taken by the talented Rachael McCoy at www.rachaelmccoyphotography.com

Our recent family pic taken by the talented Rachael McCoy at http://www.rachaelmccoyphotography.com

Now, back to organizing those books.

Life’s A Chore

The first lesson my children learn from the Catechism of the Catholic Church is the answer to the question, “Why did God make us?” The answer is simply “God made us to show forth His goodness and to share with us His everlasting happiness in Heaven.” What does this have to do with life and chores? Well, we are told that “To gain the happiness of heaven we must know, love and serve God in this world.”(St Joseph Baltimore Catechism No. 2) We have to live in this world before we can be happy with Him in the next. And living in this world requires that we have food, water and shelter. These are the basic requirements to sustain human life on earth and they are not just handed to us by the angels. If you are handed food, water or shelter it is another human being who served it to you. Living in the United States, even in our depressed economic times, it is easy to take for granted our source of life, God; but also the basic needs that are met by service of others for God. In our home August is the time of year where we call our children’s attention to those basic needs and just who is meeting them. In short, it is time for our annual family meeting where we divide out the chores and responsibilities required to sustain our family lifestyle. My kids actually look forward to it. As a matter of fact they have asked me when we are having the meeting because they look forward to the change of responsibilities it brings, new chores for the new year.

Running any household requires a lot of work. Someone has to pay the bills, wash the dishes, clean the house, make the meals, maintain the yard, maintain the house and vehicles, etc., etc. You know the drill. It is not possible for the mom and the dad to do all that work alone. And it is not practical for everyone’s budget to pay for that work to be done. In the end some human person has to do the work. I make a list in Excel of all the chores that need to be done on weekly basis that are within the children’s ability. At the meeting the children take turns picking their chores until all the chores are covered. I go back to the Excel spreadsheet and fill in their names, print it out and highlight their chores with their “color” (Yes, my children each have an assigned color. I will explain later). This makes it easy to identify who belongs to any particular chore. Simple. Now all the kids happily get up every day, look at the chart and merrily complete the task without any reminders from the parents and we all live happily ever after. The End.

If only . . . The reality is that we have to continue to teach our children self-discipline while weeding out our own selfish traits and working on knowing, loving and serving God in this world. So, I will share with you our time-tested system that has worked wonders in our home with need of very little punishment-based-discipline. I think we have used this system for five years now, maybe longer. In the main gathering place of our home, the dining room/school room we have a large magnetic dry erase board (a refrigerator would work well) with each the child’s name at the top. image My sister got us these really cute key chains that were easily converted to magnets. image Then we use simple square magnets as “marks” (these came from a Melissa & Doug Chore Chart that was too small for our family, but the markers proved useful). Every morning begins a new chart, a clean slate to start the day. Every time a child completes a chore or does an action that benefits the family he/she is rewarded with a mark. It is up to the child to place his mark on the chart and keep up with it. We don’t typically go back and recount marks as should’ve, could’ve, would’ve. You mark it as you get it or you lose it. This is just me, feel free to adapt it to your personality and style. The important thing is praising your child for doing good. Recognize the service that your child is giving and thank them for their efforts. At the end of the day the marks are converted into stars. We typically give 1 star for each 5 marks earned, but the younger children only need 2 marks for a star.

Now, we convert the “stars” into rewards. If you notice there are dots above each child’s name. These are stars. I used to draw actually stars, but for the sake of space we just put a dot to keep track. In our home 3 stars equals $1 to be used at the Dollar Store. We go about every 6 weeks to trade in our stars for toys and prizes. My kids love this trip! Each child’s stars max out at $5. I mean 8 x 5 = 40 and $40 each month adds up. (Which is another reason I take them every 6 weeks instead of monthly). In addition, we put $1 per star earned over 15 into a college account for that child. It could be a jar or piggy bank; but we have an account set up and just add it into that account. This way the child is still being rewarded, but is learning long-term goal setting as well. On occasions where money has been tight and $40 at the Dollar Store isn’t an option, I have watched for bargains or bought items that the kids will need for school and let them pick treats from the bag: things like pencils, markers or erasers and the occasional candy treat. They also use their stars to buy gifts for sibling’s birthdays or Christmas gifts for family. This is teaching them the sacrifice of using their earned rewards for the benefit of others. We have taken stars in trade for items that they have lost or broken, but we do not take stars as punishment. They cannot lose the stars they have earned.

The point of this exercise is to teach service and discipline and to help weed out selfishness and sloth; but to do it in a way that lifts up the child. After all when we do God’s will he sends down grace in abundance and we can hear in scripture his reply, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” Shouldn’t we be doing the same with our own children?