Note: this post begins a series of posts on President Beck’s recent conference talk. If you feel the need to vent your dislike of the talk, I imagine that you might possibly be able to find a thread somewhere in the Bloggernacle where you can do just that. But you can’t do it here. The point of this series is to discuss the specific counsel that she gave and how best to apply it. All other comments will be deleted.
President Beck said, “Mothers who know are nurturers. This is their special assignment and role under the plan of happiness. To nurture means to cultivate, care for, and make grow. Therefore, mothers who know create a climate for spiritual and temporal growth in their homes. Another word for nurturing is homemaking. Homemaking includes cooking, washing clothes and dishes, and keeping an orderly home.”
Here are my thoughts:
(1) Note that nothing in President Beck’s talk implied that homes need to be immaculate. I think that striving for an immaculate home is more likely to decrease the quality of family life than improve it. Immaculate-ness is unlikely to be reached in a home with children and the desire for it will only cause stress and resentment. Our home has three kids’ rooms and a playroom upstairs. We clean the upstairs top to bottom on Wednesdays. The rest of the week, no one cleans anything up there. By Tuesday, it kinda looks like a cyclone blew through. And (channelling Stewart Smalley here) that’s . . . OK. As President Beck said, “Mothers who know do less. They permit less of what will not bear good fruit eternally. . . These mothers choose carefully and do not try to choose it all.” It would take too much time, for too little reward, to pick up every toy and book every day of the week. So my first bit of advice is: set realistic standards for housekeeping. Corollary: if you have small children, immaculate is not a reasonable standard.
(2) President Beck did give two purposes for housekeeping: one was to create “a climate for spiritual and temporal growth in their homes.” I think this is a really important idea in that it can help us to determine what needs to be prioritized (or done at all) in terms of housekeeping. For example, I’ve yet to see dust interfere with spiritual growth. But crazed last-minute hunts for missing scout shirts or play scripts or overdue library books can interfere with spiritual growth (ask me how I know this). Hence, I prioritize organization over cleaning. I am a tad uptight about organization, but I do think that in a house with several children, lack of organization is likely to interfere with the peaceful development of family life. Let me give you a few specifics of organization that I’ve found most helpful:
(a) storage of kids’ papers: maybe it is just my kids, but they are packrats of the first kind. It is virtually impossible to convince them to throw out any piece of paper that they have ever touched, let alone written on. Our solution to this is to get each boy a plastic crate and tell him that he can only save what fits in his box.
(b) bags for different events: there was a time in my life when Sunday afternoon meant I had to unpack the church stuff from the bag and Monday meant I had to pack the playgroup stuff and then unpack it and then Wednesday meant I had to pack the swimming stuff and then unpack it. I finally decided to bag that. (groan) Tote bags are cheap and I now have one for every outing we do: scouts, pool, library, church (actually, I have several for church so I can rotate them), etc. Much less work.
(c) general stuff: 18-gallon Rubbermaid totes are your friends. Buy them, label them, and put stuff in them. I also always buy the same brand of diapers because I end up with a huge collection of sturdy, same-sized boxes that are great for storing things.
(d) planner: I would be completely stressed out if I tried to run a family based on a stack of papers on the counter where one has the school schedule, another soccer, another scouts, another charity pick-ups, etc. You need one place to store it. And don’t just write down events: write down what has to happen to be prepared for them. I don’t write “T’s birthday party” without writing on the grocery day previous “buy T’s party stuff” and the day before “bake cake” and three weeks before “buy T’s presents.” Write down “Teach RS” and two weeks before it, write “work on RS lesson” and one before write “finish RS lesson.” I find it extremely stressful to try to remember things so I write everything down. I also find it easier to go on autopilot and work off of a list when I’m tired or unmotivated.
(e) kids’ schedule on fridge and in planner: I have a basic schedule of our activities and chores. I have a tiny copy in my planner and a larger copy on the fridge. I’ve found that my 6yo in particular really likes to check the schedule and see what’s going to happen that day.
(f) Pack up 2/3 of your kids’ toys and put them in the garage. Tell them that whenever they want, they can trade out what they have for what is being stored. When the old stuff comes back out, it is like Christmas. Kids love it.
(3) President Beck gave a second purpose for homemaking: to teach children. I think that encompasses the actual skills of the work as well as attitudes toward work in general. My all time favorite sentence ever printed in The Ensign is â€œA lazy mother picks up after her children,â€ Here are my thoughts on chores:
(a) Good conversations happen when you work alongside children. I think a family where the mother drives the child to soccer, watches practice, and comes home to clean the kitchen into the wee hours is making a much poorer choice than the family where the mother and child clean the kitchen together. Don’t get me started on what a fetish enrichment activities for children have become to the middle class. I object to the over-scheduling of children on many grounds, not the least of which is that it creates so much work for mother (not just the schlepping of the kids all over town but the housework that the kids don’t have time to do). Scale back your outside activities and do housework together.
(b) Some specifics about chores:
(i) I have excellent parents but I think one of their weak points was that they didn’t give sufficient direction for tasks. I still remember feeling guilty that I couldn’t do what they wanted done because I didn’t know how. Take the time to teach your children exactly how to do things. They need an incredible level of detail and repetition.
(ii) I think some chores systems fall apart because they are just too complicated. Give each child a small number of tasks and don’t rotate every day or month. My kids keep chores for three years (that’s the spacing between their ages) before they trade off. Here’s what they currently do:
Nine year old: empty and reload dishwasher every day, do own laundry, clean own room once per week, clean playroom every other week
Six year old: straighten up everything (books, toys, trash, etc.) downstairs once per day, do own laundry, clean own room once per week, clean playroom every other week
Three year old: clean room with mom
(iii) It is my experience that kids seven and younger want to do chores (of their choosing, on their time frame); take advantage of this. Mine love the stick vac and anything that involves spraying cleaners and then wiping up.
(iv) I think paying for chores is a bad idea. I say this because the day came when, as the proud owner of a new job, my teenage self told my mother that I’d no longer be doing her dishes and she was more than welcome not to pay me for it. (Yes, I was a royal pain.) So the problem with paying for chores is the risk that the child might decide not to do them. I do always have extra chores available for extra money.
(v) What’s the motive then, if there is no payment? In our house, screen time (i.e., TV or computer) happens only if your daily chores are done. I know many parents view screen time as the enemy, but I think we’ve successfully harnessed it to do our bidding for us.
(vi) In some cases of footdragging (usually related to the cleaning of bedrooms), we’ve done this: “You’ve got until 4pm to clean your room. Anything out of place at 4pm becomes my property and I’ll put it in the garage until you’ve shown that you can care for your things.”
(4) As for my own housework:
(a) the number one key is lowering standards to something that is reasonably attained with small children in the house (see above)
(b) I’ve also had to train myself to consider a mess not to be in need of attention if it isn’t the day to do it. We have wood floors downstairs; I sweep them on Mondays. It doesn’t matter how dusty they are; they don’t need or get attention the rest of the week. I think a homemaker could make herself positively insane by seeing everything that isn’t perfect as a job that needs doing. If it isn’t Monday, the floors have no claim on my time or attention and are not allowed to inflict guilt. Pretend they are a rogue nation that your government doesn’t recognize. No diplomatic relations with dusty floors on Friday!
(c) Another key: manageable chunks of work: when we were a smaller family in a smaller house, I did all the laundry on one day and all the cleaning on another. Now I do 1-2 loads (usually) per day and a chunk of cleaning per day.
(d) I do schedule everything, doing certain loads of laundry and certain cleaning tasks on specific days of the week. Make a list of everything that needs to be done (remember: this is the time to be realistic, not uptight) over the course of a week to keep the house in working order and then divide those tasks up to be done on different days.
(e) I’m also big on rewarding myself: I’m sorry if this sounds terribly juvenile, but I usually allow myself a small, frequently chocolate- or blog- oriented reward for doing something I don’t particularly feel like doing.
(f) I think another element here is that I don’t let it define me: cleaning is never my main accomplishment or main joy (as if) of the day. Cleaning is what I get out of the way so I can homeschool, read, or whatever.
(g) The less stuff you have, the less you have to clean and organize. If you don’t need it, get rid of it or at least store it where it won’t need to be dusted or put back after your kids mess with it.
(h) Final bit of advice: if you have a baby, do your housework with the baby in a sling or carrier. It usually keeps the baby happy and allows you to work when the baby is up instead of burning through precious naptime.
Well, gruesome details were requested of me at FMH and here they are in abundance. I don’t present any of this as the One True Way to Be a Homemaker but rather as just what is working for me right now. I’ve changed things over the years and expect to change them again as our family changes; I doubt what works for me works for everyone. (I also don’t wish to give the impression that I am a really good homemaker. My standards are really low and I still don’t always meet them.)
I welcome your thoughts on what works for you.