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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Off to School we Go!

God always, ALWAYS, is with us.  He provided me an opportunity to go on a private retreat the first weekend of August.  At this point, only Benjamin was accepted into school.  The others were on the waitlist in positions ranging from 10-27, which didn’t look too hopeful.  I struggled with grabbing back the familiar and the control.  It’s my default move to just take it all back and not trust in the bigger plan.  But, God patiently and lovingly spoke to me: to my heart in adoration and through the books I read.  I called Patrick and was so confident in God’s will for us that I was able to speak my need clearly and succinctly.  We had to enroll the kids in school and UME was the right school for us.  If they didn’t get in at first, then Patrick agreed to oversee the daily checklist and grading the Math and I would oversee the school during the day.  Our intermediate plan was to homeschool until they were accepted.  The next week a friend alerted me that the kids may not be listed as Benjamin’s siblings, which would affect the waitlist status.  Sure enough, when I called the school we discovered that a change in the computer system had left them detached from Benjamin.  When this error was corrected all the kids were moved up to positions ranging from 1 to 10.  It was a little sliver of hope and encouragement.

Benjamin started school on August 17.  I took all six kids with me to the Open House, so that in the event they were admitted they would be familiar with the school and some of the teachers.  Patrick was supposed to go with us, but his dentist appointment ran long and he could no longer meet up with us.  This event alone would have put me into a full panic attack just a mere 6 months ago.  But, God equips us to do His will.  There was no anxiety within me.  We saw a few families that we knew, but mostly it felt as if we just floated from room to room in a bubble, met the teachers we needed to meet and I left feeling excited and at peace about the new possibilities.  This is God’s grace in action.

By Friday, Daniel, Samuel and Sophia were enrolled.  One week later Joshua began his first day of 7th grade.  It only took 10 days for five of the six kids to be fully enrolled!  While I was on retreat, it looked like it could be the next semester or not at all; but, God was just giving me the opportunity to put my trust in Him.  He is such a loving, gentle and patient teacher.

So, we happily pack our lunches and backpacks, the kids cheerily skip off to school each morning and I sit drinking my coffee and lay by the pool soaking in the quiet.  Not a all.  The early mornings are a definite struggle.  Patrick oversees breakfast, getting the kids awake and dressed, and takes them to Shelly’s. (We carpool with a friend, but our car is the only one big enough to carry everyone, so it’s quite the system of exchanging vehicles in order to get the kids from point A to point B; but, it is also quite a blessing).  I haven’t slept well since school started, so my rising and my movement is very slow and limited.  I manage to get a few tasks accomplished and then I go to pick the kids up.  It is a 25 minute drive one direction.  We arrive home and dig into homework, which leads directly into dinner preparation and clean up, family reading time, prayers and bedtime.  This six-hour period of constant activity leaves me feeling like a wrung out washrag.  At the same time, Patrick is finishing a fourteen-hour work day and isn’t in much better shape.  After a week, the kids excitement and fascination with going to school has worn off and it takes a little more effort to get everyone motivated and moving.  Homeschooling was actually much easier and more efficient.  I won’t lie, I’ve already thought about throwing in the towel.

I was actually contemplating if we had made a huge mistake by putting them in school when I saw a video that my doctor posted on Facebook.  He spoke about walking through the fire.  He said things like “we always have something to learn” and “maybe it’s not about us, but about what other people see in our journey.” BAM!  God lead us to this path.  We are here at this moment, in this place for a reason.  It is hard, brutally difficult and challenging.  It is especially a struggle because I know that the hardships we are facing to make this school thing happen can be relieved by just going back to homeschooling.  But, I can not–must not–look back.  No, comparison and “what ifs” are the handy  work of the enemy.  God is calling us to go forward, to trust in Him completely.  He has a plan for us and the lesson in it is not only for me.  God wants to use our family and our story to show His goodness.  I will not stand in His way.

I beg your prayers for us during this time of transition.  We really are feeling the physical effects of this effort.  Pray for strength for us, for perseverance for all, and for all to learn the lesson that God is teaching us through the experience.  Thank you for journeying with me.

UPDATE:  In the midst of this transition, we have a new granddaughter!  Savannah Grace made her appearance at 5 am this morning.  And this Saturday we will gain a son when our daughter, Lauren celebrates the Sacrament of Matrimony with Matthew Perrier.  Such blessings in our lives!!  All Praise and Glory to God be given.

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!

Day 1 Omaha or Bust

Yesterday we drove from Texas to Omaha, Nebraska (or New Braska if you ask Daniel).     We wanted to beat traffic, so we all got up at 6:30 and started to pile in the car.  It started pouring down rain as we were loading, so I shifted gears and dug out breakfast while we had garage shelter.  Neither Allison nor I had the desire to dig through the cooler while getting soaked to the bone.  This delayed our departure by 15 minutes but the trade off seemed well worth it.  Kisses to Patrick and waves good-bye and we were off!  Thirty minutes later my texting secretary (aka Allison) sent Patrick an update.

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It normally takes 8 minutes from our driveway to the 820/I20 split.  And things weren’t looking any better up ahead.  The radio warned us of an overturned truck further north on I35 and the rain was just getting started.  We could have slept in and left at 9:00am and been in just as good of shape.  Hindsight is 20/20 though and the past cannot be changed, so as all good mothers would do I had the kids put on a movie.  At 7:45 am, a voice came from the back, “Are we in New Braska?”  Nope.  Not even out of Ft. Worth.  It was looking like a long day ahead, but the movie brought calm and made time move more quickly for those who were entranced by it.

 

i tried to get video of our theme song, but it appears that the younger three have no memory of the song and the middle three were too busy with electronic distractions to care, so it was a most pitiful rendition of “Me and My Gang.”   Here is a selfie that Allison took.  Joshua looks like he is on a roller coaster.  I was not going that fast!  No, really.

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Oklahoma blessed us with sunshine not soon after crossing the Red River.  We stopped at quaint park in Guthrie for lunch and then it was nap time!  No tv’s, no iPads, just books and a quiet rest.  Not.  My overtired children fought the idea entirely until I bribed them with ice cream two hours later.  Just when the last head started bobbing, I was the one ready for a break.  We pushed through for another 40 minutes and stopped on the Kansas turnpike for ice cream at Hardee’s.  Then I let Allison have the wheel.  It took a few minutes to adjust as she is not used to driving the suburban at 75 mph with no rear view, but she did great and so did I once my Stresszyme took effect.

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It took 13 hours and 6 minutes to reach our destination, but it was a good trip and we are happy to be in Omaha enjoying green grass, cooler temperatures and spending time with good friends–the kind where you just pick up where you left off the last time and wish that you never had to leave.  Here are some pics for your enjoyment.

We weren't playing the song he wanted to hear

We weren’t playing the song he wanted to hear

Ben loves the green grass without stickers or fire ants

Ben loves the green grass without stickers or fire ants

Me and My Gang

It’s good to be back!  On my blog, that is.  I took a short hiatus to wrap up the school year, rest and get the kids through Vacation Bible School.  Since my last post, daughter number three has acquired her driver’s license and is the phase of I-will-drive-anyone-anywhere-just-to-get-behind-the-wheel-and-outta-the-house.  Praise be Jesus! It has been a blessing to everyone to have another driver and runner of errands, and a blessing to her to have more freedom.

Even though she got the kids dressed and fed and drove them to VBS all week it still took me by surprise how exhausting the week turned out to be for me. I guess I overestimated the break of a few hours each day and underestimated how tired the kids would be from waking early and being active.  I overbooked my week with appointments and activities trying to get it all in before we leave for our trip on Monday.

Our trip!  That was what I was originally going to share with you.  Me and My Gang of seven are heading north for a family reunion.  We are breaking the trip into three legs to space out the driving time.  The first leg will take us to Omaha, Nebraska to stay with a college friend and her family.  Google Maps tells me it is a 9hr 20min drive, so I’m planning on 12 hours.  Heck, it takes us 20 minutes for a short bathroom break by the time we all unload, use the bathroom, wash hands and reload.  I have also found that 2 hours is the maximum travel time between breaks.  If we hit lunch right and the kids nap, we can make it three hours, but that is the exception to the rule.  I try not to stress about the time and focus on enjoying the journey.  On one of our first road trips Patrick and I stopped at a park for lunch and the tradition has stuck. We always pack a picnic lunch and find a local park to stretch our legs and fill our bellies.  It makes for a great break in the trip and for excellent memories.  I must admit that GPS has made the task easier, but hunting down a park is part of the adventure.

The second leg is to Green Bay, Wisconsin to celebrate my Aunt and Uncle’s 50th wedding anniversary, attend the Allen reunion, visit St. Lawrence Seminary and show the kids their family heritage: visits to the grave sites of my grandparents,  my grandparents former homes, and various sites around town.  Both my mother and father’s families are from Green Bay and our history goes back four generations since immigrating to the U.S.A. in the late 1800’s.

Lastly, we will head back to Omaha to stay with my nephew and his beautiful family.  As an added bonus we will stay through July 5 to meet up with daughter number two who will make an appearance in Omaha that weekend.  Lauren is walking across the U.S. with Crossroads to raise awareness for the rights and dignity of people from conception through natural death.  She started in San Francisco and will end in Washington D.C. and is taking her entire summer vacation for this wonderful cause.  We will only get to see her for a few hours before she heads back to college in the fall, so this gift of time mid-summer is a precious one.  I have really enjoyed following Lauren via photos she has posted on Facebook.  I was not independent enough to venture out at her age, so it is fun to live vicariously through my children now.

I plan on blogging a short update each day of our trip so that you can follow along on our adventures.  We are still neck-deep in packing and planning.

Clothes for six kids for eight days!

Clothes for six kids for eight days!

I have learned that if you prepare well enough in advance it makes for a much smoother trip.  I adore long car trips and I have passed on the love to my children.  We have our moments, but for the most part we have a heck of a good time.  Our signature song is “Me and My Gang” by Rascal Flatts if you want to sing along.  I’ll see if I can get some video for your enjoyment.  “It’s a brother and a sister kinda thing, raise your hand if you all wanna hang with me and my gang . . .”