Saturday, April 30, 2011

Obligatory Easter Pictures of My Children (even though you didn't ask)

I can never get a picture of them all together. These are my children on Easter:
This is Phoebe wearing a baptism dress my mom made. I love it because it matches her eyes.
Margaret won't look at the camera and smile. This is the best I could get. She is naturally suspicious, as the youngest of brothers and a sister who like to tease.
You guys, beauty takes time and prep: curlers, sunglasses, Tweety body soap, and candy, specifically.
I know I'm not objective, but these are some good-looking kids! Owen always manages to beat himself up before picture-heavy days (Specifically: school picture day, Christmas, Easter, and Mother's Day). It's a gift.
She's the only one who will let me take her picture and doesn't try to sabotage it at the last minute, so she gets an extra photo.

This is what my kids normally look like (the above photos were only a blip in time before it all fell apart):
Hughie Dewey Luey
Miles with his "signature style piece--"the smelly striped hat.

Margot. . . looking for the Easter Bunny. She was enchanted by the whole idea of a bunny (animal) leaving her presents (candy) for fun (a game!) All her favorite things.

I Have a Teenage Son and I Still Make Him Clean

When the girls showed up for Miles' party, Topher said, "It looks like the girls are here to babysit the boys." Yes, girls at 13 look and act a lot differently than boys at 13. How funny and awkward!
A girl made this for Miles. I almost cried, for many, many conflicting reasons. But he shared some of his candy with me and it eased my pain.
Here they are playing Just Dance 2 on a projector in the backyard. So fun. My only responsibilities that night was to provide more candy, pop, chips, and popcorn. I just kept it comin'! A lot easier than organizing pin the tail on the Lego-guy or treasure hunts. SEE, having your kids grow up (sniff) IS easier (sob sob).
Miles used to make this face as a baby and I made him do it for me at Yogurtland when I was feeling sorry for myself that he's a teenager now. "Where did my baby go!?" I yelled, and he responded by making this face and saying, "Goo-goo gah gah! Get me more food!" which I appreciated because it brought me back to reality and made me remember that babies are really demanding and Miles can make his own ham and cheese sandwiches now, which is really great.
This is Miles at his party wearing his new Angrybirds t-shirt and feeling pretty awesome about it. I know, I used to think that I would never let my kids wear video gaming/cartoon t-shirts, but now I'm an older mom and I don't care about dressing my kids to fit my style (Choose your battles, new moms! Lady insisting your baby's head scrunchie bow matches her socks and shoes and dress--I'm talking to YOU! If you need more instruction, READ THIS. CARLY KNOWS) I had a friend who told me she wanted to homeschool her kids because (and this was the number one reason she listed) she didn't want her kids to go to school with kids who wear Spongebob Squarepants t-shirts. I said, "Hmmm, interesting" and have since thought of a hundred different "zingers" I should have said, but didn't. I guess we all have regrets.

Right on cue, after less than a week of being a teenager, Miles, now 13 (ahem), asked me if he still had to do his Saturday jobs because he spent the morning helping with the neighborhood clean-up with the other youth in our church ward (congregation). I held my ground and said, "Absolutely. What, you think because you are serving others you deserve a reward? That's not much of a sacrifice. And that also means that I should do more work?" He said, "Yeah, I guess you've got a point." (I love having a logical first child!) And then he did his jobs (sweetheart). But don't feel bad for him, they only took 10 minutes and now he's playing Kirby's Epic Yarn. Life is good for that boy.

I held my breath because, really, I want to give him a reward. He deserves it. He's a really good kid and I want him to want to serve others, but on the other hand, I don't want him to expect that every time he does something nice for someone that he'll get rewarded in an expected way because that's not how life is (do I sound jaded?) And I really didn't want to do his jobs for the day. I haven't watched Parks and Rec yet. I've got a lot on my to-do list.

I did teach Hugh (6--see, still a BABY) how to wipe down all the tables and chairs today and how to really sweep the kitchen floor. That took me a long time, like 15 minutes, to stand and teach, watch, let him try it the hard way, show him an easier way, get a smaller sweeper, show him again (he's really stubborn and knows how to do everything himself, wow), and then LET HIM DO IT. It wasn't perfect (the floor, especially), but I let him feel really good about being a big helper like the older boys, because now he has 2 jobs instead of 1 on Saturday cause he's a big kid. He bought it all and loved it. BECAUSE THEY ALL WANT TO GROW UP, which is my life's burden. (pause for dramatic effect)

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Teaching Kids to Clean: BY AGE

When kids are really little:

*Whenever they want to help, LET THEM. NEVER SAY, "NO, you can't help me clean/cook/put this away, etc. ALWAYS SAY YES.
*When they're little, give them a wet rag and tell them to wipe the floor or the window and praise them for it! Be specific in your praise: You are such a good cleaner! Look at how clean that wall is! Great job!
*Example: Recently, Margaret has become obsessed with setting the table when I'm cooking. She gives everyone 3 forks and 2 knives. But she's 3 and they're in the right place. So, when she's not looking, or when she's "done" and has moved onto her next project (making some sort of mess) I quickly redo it. She doesn't see me do it, I don't correct her, because she's 3 and she's associating a positive feeling with helping, which is my goal.

When they're a little older, but still little kids:

*ONE THING AT A TIME. Start giving them specific, easy instructions.
Example, if I was asking Hugh (6) to set the table, I would tell him: "Put the fork on the left and the knife and spoon on the right side of the plate." And then I would praise him when he did it. If he didn't do it right, I would say "Oops, almost--try again!" No big deal. I would focus on one thing--the silverware, and not on anything else. One thing at one teaching time.

*Make sure it's a routine and make your expectations CLEAR. Again, my big cleaning day is Saturday morning, so it's really predictable for kids. Also, if they know that "their day" to clear the table is Sunday, or that they need to make their bed everyday, that predictability helps avoid surprise and any room for negotiation. I find myself saying, "Remember, you can't go to your friends until you do your Saturday jobs. . ." But it's A LOT easier when you have older kids doing their jobs because the little ones know that's just what we do and they want to be like the older kids anyway. That's when the teaching/following-up really pays off.

When they're older kids:

*I think by the time they're 10, they should be able to do everything you can do. (It isn't brain surgery) I think sometimes we think they're too young to scrub a toilet, but they're not. And if they have to clean it, then maybe they'll be a little more careful with their aim, if you know what I mean.

*Play up the "now that you're older. . . " thing. Kids like to feel older, and sometimes that manifests itself in horrible ways like sequin tattooed looking tank tops, so use this principle to your advantage. Give them these jobs along with a privilege like a later bedtime or more computer time. Something that doesn't put you out, but that means something to your kid. When you put these two things together, they start connecting responsibility with a positive reinforcement.

*Remember that it's never too late to start.
Example: I have missed two great teaching tools for my kids which I plan on rectifying this summer, by teaching my older three (8, 11, and 13): laundry and ironing. I'm waiting so I can teach them all at the same time and let them try it on their own when we have a full day to go through all the steps from cleaning-drying-to ironing. I'm hoping this will help them see that you can wear jeans more than one day, and not to wear 3 pairs of socks a day (what?)

Teenagers and beyond:

My oldest turns 13 on Monday, so I don't have a lot of expertise in this area. But here's what I plan on doing (which I totally admit might not work and will need adjustment):

*Stay consistent. I'm just not going to give up on everyone having 2 jobs to complete each week. I'm not unreasonable, but I'm not going to let up on it. For example, I'm not going to let them off the hook when Saturday mornings become busy. They can do their jobs Friday night, Saturday afternoon if something like a practice or rehearsal comes up, but it will be their responsibility to make it up.

*Bribery. I expect that as my kids get older, they'll just want more increasingly expensive things and I plan on bribing them, which I've noticed teenagers respond to.

*Practicing being an adult. If I've learned one thing from 80's John Hughes' teen movies is the idea that teens want to be taken seriously, like adults. I plan on keeping the idea that cleaning and taking care of their stuff is part of family life and what adults do. Whether it's preparing to live on their own, on a mission with a companion, or at school, whatever, I will explain and reexplain WHY I clean (it helps me relax and saves me time in the long run) and then I will show them episodes of Hoarders: Buried Alive and let that soak in.

Other things to keep in mind when teaching kids to clean:

*Don't be afraid to change your routine or what you're doing. A lot of people think, "Well, my kids aren't used to this and they're teenagers so there's no way they'll go along with it. . . " I definitely think it's harder to start any habit the older you get, but it's not impossible. Basically, as it is for most mothering things, it will be harder FOR YOU. The older the kid, the more rechecking and accountability they need. Or incentive. But if you stick with it (give it 3 months--I'm not kidding) and reward yourself (I'm currently obsessed with Yogurtland), you can do it!

Sunday, April 10, 2011


I like to hear about other people's routines. I think it's interesting. But, then again, I also think science fiction and office supplies are interesting, so I might not be the greatest judge of "what's interesting" (also, I'm considering becoming an extreme couponing hoarder--doesn't that sound fascinating?! Could I do it?) This is what I do for my cleaning routine with kids:

I do "Saturday jobs" that I write out for the kids on a notecard in Sharpie, mostly because I love any excuse to write in Sharpie. Each kid has 2 jobs. That's it. No big deal. But they can't play with friends, play video games, etc without having done their jobs. (I let them--encourage them--to sleep in and watch cartoons because that's a Saturday kid tradition I love-until about 10 am, then I get anxious to get on with the day) My kids are really familiar with these jobs, but before they were, I wrote out notecards (in Sharpie)--one for each job and what was required of each:

I do this EVERY Saturday. They help clean the kitchen after dinner throughout the week and are familiar with picking up each day.

*Don't make kids responsible for something you haven't taught them. I learned this important truth when I was studying teaching in college. Basically it means you don't test kids on any information you haven't personally taught them. Assume nothing.

So, in the beginning, I would have a card and go through each step with them. For example, if the first step on "Clean the downstairs bathroom" says:
*Spray cleaner on sink, wipe down and rinse.
I would show them the fastest way to do this--like opening the rag and using the palm of my hand versus a corner of it to wipe it down faster, or how not to use too much spray or you have to rinse forever, or how to wait a minute for the cleaner to break down the grime, etc. These little "tips" show my kids that I want them to succeed, that I expect them to, and that I'm willing to help them do it FASTER, which is what they're most concerned with now (get it over with so I can go play).

So the card would look like this:
Clean the Downstairs Bathroom:
*Spray cleaner on sink, wipe down and rinse.
*Spray cleaner on toilet, top to bottom, wipe down-don't forget base of toilet
*Spray cleaner in toilet bowl, scrub with brush-rinse brush and put back in base.
*Spray cleaner in shower, scrub, rinse
*Wipe down floors
*Get Windex, paper towel, and wipe chrome and mirrors

After I feel they have mastered a card, the next week they would do a different job so that they're used to doing all of them. Of course they have their favorites (take out the garbages in all the rooms and replace liners) and their least favorites (wipe down kitchen table and chairs), but they're willing to do it. And sometimes some of them come to me early in the day to request jobs and get them done with faster so they can go outside faster.

(these are the jobs I'm currently enforcing with my kids' ages, family's needs, etc)

Clean Downstairs Bathroom
Clean Upstairs Bathroom
Wipe Down Kitchen Table and Chairs
Sweep and Mop Kitchen Floor
Vacuum Family Room, Living Room, and Stairs
Vacuum Bedrooms and Halls
Take Out Trash
Windex Windows and Mirrors

This is where a lot of parents drop the ball, in my opinion, because it's just so easy to drop that really heavy ball of following up. I'm embarrassed to admit that when I was a kid, sometimes when it was my job to clean the downstairs bathroom, I would just spray Lysol in the room and say that I did. I know, sorry Mom! So now I'm suspicious of my children and I check the jobs (time consuming) because I don't want them to get lazy and shortcut actually doing the job. I'll make them redo certain parts if I don't think it's good enough. I try really hard not to get mad or impatient. I try to stay calm and say, "Did you really clean out the tub because it looks like you didn't clean the jets and so just try again!" Also, if they know you're going to follow-up, they're less likely to try to shortcut, because it will take longer when you have to, inevitably, do it again. Sometimes they're done it, it just isn't done that well (Like mopping the floor--I'll ask, "Did you sweep before? No? Well, try again! There's still some gunk on the floor and it's gross.")

For general, daily picking up, I keep it simple:

Each of my kids has their own bookshelf and one toy box that goes under their bed (I don't have to look at it.) The toy boxes house their favorite, most used toys and are great because if I say "pick up your room" they know what I mean is I don't want any junk on the floor, so they can put it (usually legos) in their toy box and it's simple and fast to put it there. Then, every Season or so (every 3-4 months), I have them go through their toy boxes and throw stuff away (at their discretion) or put it away in the toy room.

In the Family Room, I have one teal bucket for toys Margaret (3) uses so I don't have to organize those everyday, because she's little and I don't want to put away each random Polly Pocket or puzzle she takes out everyday. I'll go through this bucket every month or so and organize it. (Actually, I'm in the process of getting rid of it now, because she's it's become a dumping ground for unplayedwith toys. But you need this kind of thing if you have really little kids, in my opinion.)

We have a toy room/storage room that houses our video games, puzzles, board games, Barbies, cars, superhero figures, ZuZu pets, etc in their own containers. Each category has its own container. If the kids want to play with something they take it out, then put it away when they're done. It's simple because there's ONE PLACE for Barbies. There's ONE PLACE for DS systems and games, and there's ONE PLACE for puzzles. So if the kids don't know where something is, I say, well, there's only one place for X. . . and they see why it's important (and easy) to put that one thing in its one place.

* I expect my kids to make their beds (they don't have top sheets, just a comforter, so it's easy--thanks for the tip, Kacy!),
*have their room picked up (which means everything's off the floor--no random Legos or books or pieces of paper,
*and to put away their backpacks and shoes (for the love of Zeus, this is the hardest thing for them to learn! This and random socks found all over the house. They put their shoes in front of the bin, next to the bin, but rarely IN THE BIN) These are the three things they are responsible and I know they can do, everyday.

I check up and insist on these three things. Not too many, not too hard.

Teaching Your Kids How to Clean: MY PHILOSOPHY

Teaching kids to clean is a tricky thing because you don't really know if you're doing it right until they're grown, and by then I assume I'll be really tired. I'm making the best of my investment to the future by being consistent and faking enthusiasm. Oh, and biting my tongue a lot of the time, too.

These are the things that have worked for me. Jury's still out, obviously (again, disclaimer: kids not grown. It may be mom-hope and not reality). Also, this is the first in my 3 part series on teaching kids to clean. I know, I'm a sucker for the "3 part series." (It's a good way to cut down one really, super long post)

MY OVERALL PHILOSOPHY: I tell them we clean because we all live together and work together to help each other because that's what a family does and we want to live in a clean house together because it shows a. we're grateful for what we have, b. we take care of our stuff, and c. to ultimately want LESS stuff because we know what we have and how to take care of it, and d. this is part of growing up and being responsible. They see how little Margaret can do, and they feel proud that they can do a lot.

Deemphasize It’s Importance: I find myself saying, "Let's just do it really quick so we can go play!" a lot, or "This doesn't have to take very long--Let's just get it done fast!" My mom used to time us, to see how fast we could get a job done. Some kids love that (younger), some hate it and it brings them to tears (Hugh) because they want to win. Whatever. Don't make it a big production. On Saturday morning (more on that later) I have them do their cleaning assignments before they play video games, play outside, etc. We've been doing it for so long that they get up, watch some cartoons, and when they're ready to play, they ask me what their jobs are or they quickly request which jobs they want. They don't fight me on if they have to do a couple of cleaning jobs, they fight me on which ones they get to do because they're in the routine. I have great ideals about how the house will never be messy, but that's still a way off. My advice is to just do it quickly at first. Habitual becomes the goal.

Respect: Give them some perspective. Is it my job to do all the work? Who should do it? Why? Let them express how they feel when they come home and the house looks and smells clean. How do they feel when they can find whatever they're looking for?

Acting: I'm a big believer of fake it 'till you make it. I pretend I love to clean and I'm obnoxious and silly about it, and somehow it gets them to do it. I sing and turn up the music really loud and tell them to time themselves doing it and whatever else I can think of that's obnoxious in the moment.

Spend your creativity on teaching, not planning: Don't spend too much time on colorful charts and laminated pictures of cleaning steps and elaborate reward systems. Make it simple. Spend the time showing them how to do it, letting them try it, and then correcting when necessary, or as I like to call it "offering some helpful tips to make it easier next time!"

Don't pass on your bad beliefs: If you hate it, see it as a punishment, pretend you don't. Keep it to yourself. Affect the next generation positively by breaking any bad habits. When they're old enough to know you're not in love with cleaning, they'll appreciate the tools and habits they've learned and share in "the big joke" with you.

KEEP IT SHORT: One of the reasons I can get my kids to clean is because they know it won't last forever. I tell them--see you guys can do each of these jobs in 5 minutes--5 really good minutes. Just do it. Don't make a big deal of it. And then (this is the non-negotable) go have some fun. Model a balanced life. Work hard, play hard. I let them play video games after cleaning, or play with a friend. Something fun.

This is a funny one, but I'm totally serious. I tell my kids, "See? That wasn't so bad! Look at how clean those chairs and tables are and YOU did that! Awesome!" Show them they can do grown-up things like cleaning and expect it from them. Then remind them that you do it all the time, and all you're asking is for them to do it right now. Really quickly. No big deal. I also praise myself out loud in front of my kids. I say stuff like "Look at how clean that hall closet is! I am amazing! I am an incredibly amazing individual--Look what I did!" (This is also part of the obnoxious part mentioned above.)

COMPENSATION: I don't pay my kids for cleaning. I don't pay them for grades, either. It's not my thing. I'm not morally opposed to it, it just doesn't work for me. I want them to want to do things as habits like brushing your teeth and putting on deodorant. I want it to seem like not that big of a deal. I don't draw lines about men/women, class, rich/poor, I just make it seem like something that is important for every adult to know how to do. Because it is. (I have a hard time taking anyone seriously who has never cleaned a toilet--can you imagine?) Living in a clean, organized house is a great thing and they should all take part in the joy of that.