Saturday, May 23, 2009

Help in the Mommy Department

(This is REALLY long- beware!!)
Just thought I would jot down a few ideas that have worked in our home for other mothers with young children out there. Let me begin with a disclaimer, however. Many of these things work in our home because Brandon began implementing them, not me. I now have the easy part of just carrying on what he started, but he was the one that got them going. So please don’t mark these down under my list of things I do right, these points definitely belong to him or others that I have stolen ideas from. Second, these ideas work, but it doesn’t mean that I’m consistent with them always. Please don’t think that just because I mention something that we do it every day like this. I should be- it’s much more calm and orderly and happy around here, but much like eating junk food when you know you’re on a diet- it seems better sometimes to cheat or take the easy road in the short term and in reality it’s more work, more trouble, and more sanity starving. I wish I would quit that!
So now that I have a disclaimer almost the length of any legitimate legal document, I’ll proceed with ideas and helpful tips. This is just as much for a mind jogger for myself in this new phase of 6 kids as I hope it will be helpful for others.

1. The kids CAN work. I just have to break it down into small enough portions and make it regular so they remember what to do. Other children might can do more or less, but these are things my children help out with and it makes a big difference. One awesome friend of mine, a mom of 11 children said, “The youngest child that can do the job gets that job for a chore.” It’s been helpful on many occasions. I find myself depending on the older ones so much and it’s good to always be in mind of spread the work out to the most people that can do it. Ok, so here’s a list:
Jonathon (8)- hauls wood in the winter, helps put food away from meals, can empty the dishwasher completely (including breakable things and things stored high up, can clean out the sinks and toilets, takes out the trash, sweeps the floor, changes the laundry over and vacuums pretty well. He can cook simple things like spaghetti and canned sauce while I direct him from the couch and he can also do the things the younger kids can do as well.
James (6)- also hauls wood- though not as much, puts riding toys away, can put toys away in a sorted fashion, can sort and put his own clean laundry away in the right drawers, can empty trash cans, wipes off the table, can unload almost everything in the dishwasher, can rinse dishes off and load them into the dishwasher, retrieve the laundry from the dryer and put it where it can be folded, help Joseph get in his high chair, can put the school supplies away and get them out when needed, can babysit for a short period of time
Jeff (5) helps peel vegetables, mix things, stir gravy, makes his bed and can clean up his room when told to, can brush his own teeth, can swish the toilet out (with no cleanser), can clean up sections of toys in other rooms, can take the dirty dishes from the table to the sink, can dustbust the stairs, can put his clothes away in the right drawers if I sort them for him
Rachel (4) can retrieve all sorts of things for me if I give her specific enough instructions, can take things to the right room, can put a small, sorted pile of clothes away in the right drawers, or do it in sections if it’s a large pile, can pair socks and match other things like shoes and gloves and such when cleaning up, can fold up rags and dishcloths, wipes off light switches and doorknobs, flushes toilets (we have boys that NEVER do), and can put single items away.
Joseph (2) can throw trash away for me, can get his own water from the outside of the fridge, can take his (nonbreakable) plate from the table to the dishwasher, can pick up toys and put them away while I supervise, can carry in groceries from the car in small amounts, can carry his clean clothes to his room.

It’s good to remember how much they can do and make the effort to let them do it. In the long run they will get better at it and be more and more helpful.

2. Think in 30 minutes at a time. Many times when I feel overwhelmed it’s because I’m not only trying to get something done and the kids are “in the way”, but also the place is usually a disaster. So, we started having clean up times. When I first started this, we would only do 5 minutes or 10, but once they were familiar with the idea, we moved to 30 minutes. I pretty much have stayed at 30 minutes because that’s about all the time it takes. On Fridays afternoons, when we are cleaning up for the Sabbath and trying to get every place in the house at least somewhat tidy, sometimes it takes an hour, but that’s about it. During this 30 minutes, I DON’T CLEAN UP ANYTHING MYSELF! I spend the entire time telling them what to do. And it works. I tell them it’s “30 minute clean up time” and set a timer. Then we start in the living room and I very particularly tell them jobs to do- Jonathon vacuum the room, James put the books away, Jeff pick up all the cars, Rachel put the pillows back on the couch, Joseph, pick up that little toy man and put him in the toy box. Each child gets jobs according to their level to carry them out, and usually a little under their level. This is a time to get it done rather than trying to teach them lots of new things. I want them to be successful with it, not exasperated AND usually during 30 min. times I’m already flustered, so it’s not a good time to set the kid up to fail cause if they do, they’re REALLY gonna get it- and mainly because I’m stressed out and that’s not fair. As far as not cleaning up myself, my Project Manager Dad always says, “If you have 4 or more people working for you, there must be a non working foreman.” That means the person in charge only tells the others what to do. If I try to work while I’m directing the children, I usually end up irritated that I can’t get my job done and frustrated that they aren’t doing theirs too. So, it’s much better if I lower my expectations about what will get done, tell them what to do and stay on top of it, and then be happy with the results they get. Later, if there are jobs that are too difficult for them that I really want done I can do them while they are playing or have one child “help” me. Last on this point, one place this has worked great is the counter next to the phone where everything piles up and there are 50 things that all go in a different spot. I stand at the counter and the kids line up and I give them each one or two things to put away in the right spot or at least in the right room. They run put it there and come back for the next item. Sometimes things end up not quite where I wanted them, but it’s usually close and generally close enough it takes very little time for me then to put it away.
3. Make the kitchen kid friendly. Some people can’t do this, but if you can it’s a life saver! Put the dishes that regularly go through the dishwasher in the bottom cabinets and in drawers. Put the things you hand wash in the upper cabinets. This way the kids can unload the dishes and put them away for you easily. Even Joseph (2) can put plates and cups away in our house because they are on his level- and he’s still young enough to think it’s cool and fun to do it! If you need more specific ideas, put any plastic stackable cups in a drawer instead of an upper cabinet, put plates and bowls in a bottom cabinet and move the pots to an upper cabinet. Put pantry items in an upper cupboard so the lower one can be used for dishwasher safe mixing bowls, casserole dishes, or whatever. And let the kids sort and put away the silverware- just teach them they can’t lick each one before putting it in the drawer 
4. If the kids are going crazy or getting into things that they shouldn’t- they usually need more structure or more supervision, are bored, or all of the above. Many times it’s because I’m distracted- on the phone, on the computer, wanting to sleep, wanting to do a project that doesn’t involve them, etc. I have to remember that they come first and plan for them. Either plan for them to help, or plan for them to be doing something else, or plan to do my thing another time, or plan to spend less time on my “thing” so they don’t get bored.

When the children are chaotic, Brandon always stops them and makes them clean up the living room- almost everytime. The atmosphere does a lot to hype them up or calm them down. The more toys that are out, the less they play with them constructively. The messier it is, the louder and more wild it gets. I try to remember to do this also, but I forget. It does help though.

If I have to make a phone call or do something when they are crazy, I try to settle them down to something interesting first- coloring, a toy they haven’t seen in a while, sit on the couch and read books, or for a lengthy thing, I pull out the movie. If I need a nap, I use the movie and try to sleep on the couch in the same room. (If I’m really tired enough I can rest this way) If they are up earlier than I can stand in the morning, I get up, do the movie, and then try to go back to sleep on the couch. If they have seen a movie and I still need a nap, or if I am just so exhausted I’m having a hard time coping and I’ve maxed out my ideas- I pray for help, resist the devil, drink coffee, and sit down and read them a book until I can’t keep my eyelids open or we all get up and do something like take a walk together, blow bubbles, or lay in the grass outside. Bath time works well for an escape time too sometimes. They bath and I sit on the toilet and read a book or something.

If they are being destructive, they get disciplined, but I also try to figure out why they are resorting to destruction rather than normal play. Many times it’s because I’m being selfish in how I spend my time rather than making sure I’m actively involving them in my day or at least adequately keeping them busy.

5. Sometimes the kids are just plain full of energy without a good outlet to burn it off. Here’s what works for those times:
#1. Daddy rough housing and wrestling on the floor with them. Pillow fights, tickling, playful punches, throwing them on the couch. This can get intense, but it wears them out and they love it. Lots of smiling and laughing is heard and it’s one of their favorite times. Usually when the rough housing ends he calms them down by reading them a book. When I’m not in “just had a baby” mode, I can wrestle on the floor with the little ones. The bigger boys will beat me up, so I don’t get into it with them.
#2. One of those sessions of cleaning off the counter helps. They put things away, run as fast as they can back and forth, and that helps them and me and the same time. It works even better if you don’t group things up, but instead only give them one thing at time.
#3. We also incorporate running around the house. If they like this, then it can work great. If it’s hard for them, sometimes I get out there and run with them. I don’t love it, but it’s good exercise for me too and then we all come in a little better off than we started. Last summer we got to where the younger kids could do about 5 laps and the older ones did about 10. I was somewhere in the middle. That was enough to settle them down inside for a while. BTW, I don’t make this a punishment usually- it’s generally only for displays of excessive energy.
#4. Everybody does a workout video together. This is another one that I haven’t done in a while just because of being pregnant and then postpartum, but it works great. Get some workout in and let those little ones burn off some energy at the same time. They are super cute attempting jumping jacks, or just watch them try power yoga stances or something- it’s great. I don’t always get as good a workout when they are “participating”, but I figure the long term benefits are better: they are happy, they are entertained, they are learning about good exercise, I know where they are and what they are doing, we are all doing something together- which always scores points with them, and I might actually be getting some good exercise in the process. When we lift weights I give them cans from the pantry- even the little ones can use something like tomato paste cans for weights. They feel strong and big.
#5. For school times, things always go better when they all have something to do. As many subjects as can be combined for everyone I do that way. During Bible times they can color a picture of what we are reading, If Jonathon and James are doing history, I give the younger ones a history page to write on too. When we do a science experiment, I try to have enough stuff for the younger ones to be involved too. When the older ones are doing math, I pull out things for the younger ones that are their “school things”. Jeff and Rachel each have their own workbook of things to do, they’ve done mazes, they have coloring books, and then I have a host of hands on activities for them to work at (one thing at a time) like lacing cubes or lacing cards, playdough, puzzles, little boxes of things to sort like buttons or beads. We also have this cool thing called School in a Box with a variety of little items in it like different color square tiles, various pieces of money, things that are magnetic and a magnet, beads for patterning, and a pile of little animals, shapes, different texture strings, and objects for making up stories- like a snowflake, flipflop, fish, rocket, heart, etc. All of it is in a little craft box about 5” x 8” and one child can play with it very easily. I got the box from a homeschool convention, but it would be fairly easy to make a box from little things in your home probably.
#6. When the kids are out somewhere and going crazy or about to or you think they might…keep a bag in the car of little toys. It sounds silly, but I carry pigs in my purse. One time I bought these little plastic rubber pigs for 10 cents each and got 10 of them. I keep them in a little container in my purse and when we go somewhere and a child needs something to distract them I pull out the pigs. Times that they have worked great are- at a restaurant waiting for food, waiting in the car somewhere, the ER!- a LIFE SAVER!, and various other times when the kids just has to wait for a while. I also have a bag of little things (I got this idea from my mom) that I keep in the car. It has a mini etch-a-sketch, some little tops, a bag of plastic miscellaneous animals and snakes and bugs, army men, and a few other things in it. One day I went through the toys and just pulled out a bunch of things that either the kids didn’t really play with or groups of things that tend to get lost and then they don’t use. I put them in a bag and now when I need something to entertain them, I have it. Whether it’s waiting for food at a restaurant, or discovering that I am at a party with toddlers and there is NOTHING for them to do- for hours!!! I pull out the bag and it usually keeps them happy as well as any other poor child there in the same circumstance. Plus, that’s the only time those toys come out, so they are always interesting and keep the children happy. Sometimes they ask to play with those toys at home, but I say “NO” just so the toys won’t loose their interest when I need them. So, the pigs work for short times- 5-10 min. or for one kid. The bag works for when it’s long periods of time- like ½ and hour or more and multiple children need something fun. What I do have to be careful to avoid is getting out too many items. It’s better to just stick with the pigs- each child with 2 each, than to pull out 5 bags of toys, and have them dumped all over a room.
#7. Lower my expectations. I have 6 children. There is no way I can keep them all safe, clean, fed, in a tidy house, school them, dress them, wash their clothes, wash their dishes, doctored, dentisted, vaccinated, dermatologisted, churched, well disciplined, and happy all by myself. It’s not physically possible. So, I have to continually remember to lower my standards of what I get done at home, the awesome meals I want to cook, just how clean the bathroom gets, whether they have ironed clothes or not, etc. I focus on safe, tolerable hygiene, well disciplined, and happy. Everything else comes second or third or fourth in matters of priority. Some things don’t get on the list at all sometimes- and I have to be ok with that or I’ll go insane! I have to communicate my needs to Brandon- before I’m ready to blow up. I have to let others know when they can help if they’ve offered and how they can. I have to be willing to humble myself and ask for help when I need it. It’s nothing but pride that makes me think I can and should be able to do it myself and avoid asking for help from others. And try not to wait until I’m ready to fall apart before I look for a solution. And if I am ready to fall apart, first pray, then do a 30 min. clean up, then look and see if I still need to recruit help. Most of the time I’m ok then.
#8. Remember the vision- my goal is to raise Godly men and women who will have good character, people will enjoy being around and will raise Godly children themselves. They will get older. They won’t need to be potty trained in high school- even if I’m lazy about teaching them when they are 3 or 4. And the older they get, the more they can contribute to the family. Focus on the vision, believe that it will get easier, rely on Jesus daily- hourly…well by the second really sometimes, and don’t try to do it all yourself!

Ok, there’s my spouting for the day. Hope it was helpful to someone besides me.


Brenda Jo said...

What a blessing you are. 7 & 8 are good reminders for me.

Mary W. said...

Excellent ideas. Thanks for sharing. Congratulations on Renna's birth!! Fantastic cakes -- so glad I got to see pictures. Ruth told me about them, but words don't do them justice.