Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Brown Sugar

Today I want to get real about being a mom. Let's be honest, unless you have just one child, or two children and a helpful spouse, you are going to be outnumbered by the little darlings. Mothers of bigger broods know exactly what I'm talking about. From very tender ages, those herds of offspring will work as a perfectly choreographed tag team to pull you in different directions, throw you off guard while they get their way, and then leave you behind in the Katrina-level devastation while they go off to play. 

My two oldest started working these scams on me when my third-born was just a few days old. One morning while I was busy upstairs with the newborn, they sweetly offered to make their tiny little baby selves breakfast. By the time I caught up with them again, there were Rice Krispies all over the kitchen floor, and two adorable toddlers sitting under the desk in the office, eating big bowls full of brown sugar. They were shocked that I was shocked, and gladly laid down their 'breakfast' to scamper out of my way.

The only way for a mom of a tribe to survive is to put her children to work. Yep, you heard me. Chores must happen.

It sounds so simple, but any mother who has actually tried to get her own darlings to do the jobs that she wants done, when she wants them to be done, knows it is not.

Disclaimer #1: Before the age of six, many children - especially girls - think it's fun to play at cleaning house. This is not the same thing as doing chores. Trust me, this phase will pass and you will be right in the soup with the rest of us.

Disclaimer #2: Some kids will obediently, even gladly, do chores for aunts, grandmas and family friends. But again, this is not the same thing as doing chores for your very own mom.

Okay, so how the heck is a mom supposed to whip her little chore army into place? Arm-twisting, dire threats, and solitary confinement do not work. Trust me, I've tried all that.

I've also tried chore charts, allowances, incentive plans and screaming fits in order to induce my daughters to clean what I want cleaned, when I want it cleaned. 

Sadly, none of those strategies work. 

But fear not. I have found the secret to getting my kids to do chores, and keep the house clean and tidy according to my standards. It's alarmingly cheap, simple and to-the-point.

I make a list.

I walk around the house with a scrap of paper and a pen, surveying the wreckage, and I simply write down everything that needs to be done. I claim a few of the tasks for myself. Gotta be a team player to pull this off. Then I leave the rest of the list for them and get out of the way.

Disclaimer #3: Do not - repeat NOT - assign specific chores to each individual worker. This creates a powerful lever for arguments, bargaining chips and exhaustive debate. Just write down the jobs and let them work out the rest.

Disclaimer #4: Make sure your kids have a basic idea of how to successfully perform each chore. But on the other hand, don't sweat the details. Any kid who can navigate a smart phone can probably punch a few buttons to operate a dishwasher. Most household tasks are not that hard.

Disclaimer #5: For this strategy to be effective, you need an enforceable deadline for your army to complete the tasks. Simple. No one eats till the work is done. Boom. 

Oh I'm sure you're skeptical. It sounds too good to be true, right? But see those photos up there - the neatly folded laundry, the clean dishes properly put away, the sink area neat as a whistle? 

I didn't do any of it. My little darlings did it all by themselves. 

I was sitting under my desk, eating a big bowl of brown sugar. 

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