In this series, we are seeking the elusive goal of finding satisfaction in housework. I’ve written already about motivation, attitude, and purpose, and now we start moving toward the practical, the point where we have to actually do it.
So, let’s talk about other people doing it, shall we?
There are times when hiring housecleaning help is a good option. In this series, I’m focusing on finding joy and satisfaction in doing it ourselves, but that doesn’t make it wrong or worse to hire the work out. Rather, what I’d like to point out is that in considering it work that anyone who can afford it would hire out, we rob ourselves of the natural rhythms of life, favoring productivity that the world would recognize rather than remaining in touch with daily life and bodily needs. Also, when we count housework as work best done by low-wage workers, we inadvertently rank ourselves as such and also end up setting ourselves up for pride: This work isn’t worth my time, but it is worth your time.
Nonetheless, when so much work is going on in one house – as it does in a busy large homeschooling family – and when the mother finds herself overextended or over-exhausted or over-scheduled, then delegating the housework is a better option than delegating the education, and it’s a responsibility possible to delegate unlike parenting. So, choose first being a parent, then an educator, and if there really isn’t time or energy left, housework is a natural lower priority to delegate.
Of course, another option is to delegate it to others within the household instead of to an outside employee. Of course everyone in the house should be responsible to pick up their own stuff, to make their own beds, to help with the dishes after meals they ate. But those cleaning jobs that might be hired out to a housekeeper? Why not hire them out to the children?
Because it’s still a lot of work for mom, that’s why.
But, if it’s done cheerfully (and I know how hard that is!), what a blessing and opportunity on so many levels for the children! They learn how to keep house. They learn that money comes from work and not from mere existence (as in an allowance). They learn responsibility (eventually…I hope). They learn work is necessary even when they don’t feel like it or want to do it (better to learn that with bathroom cleaning than with math – the necessity of one is much more in-your-face – or nose – than the other). They become contributing and productive members of the family rather than simply leeches.
How to hire our children
There are several ways hiring our children can work out in the day-to-day or week-to-week of normal life.
- Daily Chores – Each child can have a daily job that they must do every single day as part of their morning routine. In addition to the unpaid morning tidying and hygiene tasks, each child has one job they are responsible to do for which they earn money. Currently, my 10-year-old clears, washes, and sweeps the dining room after breakfast for 50c. If the job is partially done when he says it’s done, he gets partial or no pay for the job. My 6-year-old daughter empties the dishwasher and receives 25c. After an initial training period, this method requires the least energy and maintenance on mom’s part because it’s so routine and it doesn’t change from day to day. It’s easy for everyone to keep track of.
- Weekly Chores – If you have a day reserved for some extra cleaning, get the kids to help, too. If you were to have a cleaning lady come, what would you have her do? What, of those tasks, could your children do? Or what could they do that would help free you up to do them? We are just starting to implement this on Saturday mornings. After breakfast, I put up an extra (paid) job on the board for each child (and my daily index card has my extra tasks) and they have to complete it before they go play. For example, my 8-year-old vacuums the stairs and my 10-year-old vacuums the bedrooms and my 4-year-old empties all the small bathroom and office garbages into the big kitchen garbage.
- On Offer Chores – I have a list in Evernote of extra jobs the kids can do at varying ages. If a child either tells me he is bored or tells me he wants more money, I have suggestions! These aren’t required, but they are ways to occupy a child, give consequences, and to help the child earn extra spending money. I am working on redoing our chore board, and I have a space to actually put one or two of the jobs from my list on there as suggestions. It might be yard work things like “move 1 bucket of rocks” or “fill one leaf bag with leaves,” or it might be indoor tasks like “scrub kitchen floor” or “wash all windows and mirrors.”
Preparing our children for their work
Unfortunately, you can’t just give a child a job and have him go do it. I’ve tried. We’re working with unskilled labor and it’s our job to gradually turn them out as skilled labor. That takes on-the-job training and apprenticeship. There are three stages of our responsibility when we give a child a job.
- Training – The first step in training a child to do a housework task is simply to have them watch you do it, while you talk through what you’re doing. Doing this several times would probably be good, but my kids don’t have the patience for it. They want the spray bottle in their hands. Then, you give them that spray bottle and rag and you talk through it while they do it. Make sure they understand what “complete” means for their job; in my experience, this appears to be a difficult concept for them to grasp. :/ A mistake I have made many times in the past is to do this step only once. Better would be to walk them through the steps and advise them at least 3 times or for a full week. Probably a good final step would be to have them talk through the job as they do it; if they can repeat it, then at least you know they were listening and have the knowledge in their heads somewhere (which might be good evidence to bring up later).
- Supervising – For at least one week and probably more like a month, you’ll need to check on them while they are working and keep an eye on the process. This is difficult when you have multiple workers working at once, but I have found that if I am doing things that keep me moving, I can cast an eye on each child a few times and make sure they’re on track. Plus, if they know Mom is likely to pop in at any moment, they are less tempted to shirk their duties. Asking them to repeat the steps of the job is a good tactic, too.
- Checking – Unfortunately, you never do graduate out of this phase. As soon as you try, you’ll find things begin to slip. This is true with chores, with math homework, with writing, with anything challenging you have assigned. Everyone defaults to easy – which means without proper motivation (such as having your work checked and having to redo it if it’s not done well), corners are cut, effort is not applied, and self-justifications are multiplied.
One difficulty is that we often remake our chore system all at once, which means three or more new trainees at once. This makes the training stage particularly difficult because, turns out, we can only be in one place at a time. My best strategy for this is to not implement the new plan all at once, but to implement one child’s changes per week. Pick one child to begin with and spend the week in intensive training with them only. Then move them to the supervising stage and bring in the next for training. It feels like a long stretch and slow going, but festina lente (make haste slowly) is always a good strategy in the long run.