The Daily Grind And How To Change It

Do you know what you call those who use towels and never wash them, eat meals and never do the dishes, sit in rooms they never clean, and are entertained till they drop? If you have just answered, ‘A house guest,’ you’re wrong because I have just described my kids.” Erma Bombeck

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Brewing beneath the surface of most households is the inevitable and quiet resentment of parenthood. Knowing that you are required to take on task after task, giving away your time and space because “that’s your job” is a really, really hard thing to do.  You know you need to teach your kids life skills, but honestly, after a long day of work and negotiations about well, everything, that last thing you want to do is manage and argue about household chores. So, good intentions and important lessons on responsibility go by the wayside.

But what then happens to the parent(s)?  Burn out and then, burn out turns to anger and in the end, we find ourselves in a crazed state shouting at the sky wondering why no one will help us. Well let’s be frank, a lot of the time it’s because we didn’t ask for it in the first place.

We’ve all been there. We want to provide a safe and organized home for our children. We unselfishly want to make it easier for them and encourage them to do the things we did not always get a chance to do. We want school to be a priority and for them to reach their full potential. We want them in bed at a decent time. (‘Cause you know it’s wine-o’clock!) But in reality, the cost can be too high.  At least for me it has been. I was tired. Very tired.

So, I regrouped. Took a nice, long break and started asking some hard questions. What could I do differently moving forward to make long-lasting significant changes? Consistency. Instead of letting the wind decide what chores or responsibilities my children have, I wanted a regular schedule. I wanted more help around the house. Plain and simple. My molly maid days were over, and I told them so, again. But this time I meant it.

The most important thing to make this a success was letting go and then, choosing the things that mattered the least to me. Dishes. Laundry. I don’t care how or when they get done as long as they get done by the end of the day. These chores are low stake tasks that will teach my whole family life skills, responsibilities and give me a break to go and read that People magazine. (Or write this blog!)

So we started this new reality a few weeks ago, but at a snail’s pace. First, I stopped micromanaging their homework. Of course I help them when asked and still ask everyday, “What homework is there tonight?” But I took a step back, a huge step.

When you have three or more kids, you can’t be a homework coach to all of them at the same level. I have to decide who needs me most in what way and let the rest go. My 5th grade student is going to have to start figuring some stuff out on her own and managing her own time so I can focus on a fundamental skill like reading with my 1st grader. And thank goodness my 3rd grade student seems to have a teacher who does not give homework, at least that’s what she tells me.

Next on the list, dishes. Some people like doing dishes. I do not so the kids can do them. After all, I have six little hands that can put a dish away, load the dishes, wipe sinks and vacuum floors.

Next? Laundry. For the last year they each have to put their clothes away. I leave a basket of freshly laundered and folded clothes each weekend and don’t look back, at least until I need the basket back. It is time to up the stakes and teach them how to use the washing machine and dryer. Maybe they will learn to really consider if something is dirty or not once they start seeing the huge piles of clothes.

And last for this crazy new world, dinner preparation. One night a week if I have to eat hot dogs and nacho chips with melted cheese and sour cream that they made – then so be it. At least they are learning to prepare something, use the appliances and set up dinner at the table. Although I will be encouraging them to think about nutrition moving forward and include a vegetable with every meal.

The research backs this philosophy up, time and time again the benefit of children doing chores outweighs anything else. After all, are we not supposed to be raising competent, capable adults? Chores and sharing the household responsibilities can be the stepping stones for other things. Doing chores as a family increases time spent together and provides children a sense of pride that they helped out, at any age.

Now, my children have had their certain “chores” over the years. Once a week room tidy up. Putting laundry away. Bring garbage bins in. Feed the pets. Other chores too as asked. But as of yet, we have not set a serious schedule that will really help me out. It’s been a kind of ad-hoc system where I still end up doing the majority of things around the house.

The first week was a bit rough. Remember, my children are older so resistance was expected, especially with the older two. I tried to carve out time for me to “take breaks,” and keep myself together because (and let’s be honest here) it’s hard to be the bad guy.

The second week has been a bit easier. I pinned a rough outline of the chores expected on the fridge, let them know that chores may shift as things come up (as in life it does) but the plan was to be followed the best we could.

Now, I had to let stuff go. A load of laundry sat unfolded for a couple of days,  we ate hot dogs for dinner and I bit my tongue as I wiped up the puddles of water on the cupboards.  I also had to endure whining, eye-rolling and complaining. But I did it. You know what, this may actually work if I stick with it. This past weekend as we all did chores Saturday morning, well it went a bit quicker and I was met with a bit less resistance. Progress. It’s all a parent can ask for some days.

How long does it take to break a habit? 66 days seems to be the most recent consensus. So I figure with a family of five, breaking bad habits and replacing them with new ones will take 3 months. So I’m setting a goal date of August 22, 2017. A little longer than the norm but with summer, change of schedule and let’s face it, a large family to re-train, I think it is realistic.

Wish me luck and I will post results the week of August 21, 2017.

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Feeling rattled and finding calm

It was one of those weeks. The after-glow of vacation, cherished family memories and yes, help from Mr. L and others was over and it was little old me once again, the go-to person in charge of most things kid and home-related. The purge I went through getting ready for our guests for our weekend away only scratched a tiny surface of the disorganized chaos that is my house. One pile is put away and another pops up. It is a constant battle. Late nights had caught up with me and I was tired, beyond tired but exhausted. Early mornings, dragging kids out of bed in the still dark morning corralling them to their buses or driving them to school provided little relief as I looked around wondering where to start. Do I organize? Do I write? Do I go grocery shopping? Do I pay the bills? Do I sleep? It was one of those weeks where everything seems overwhelming and you are feeling underwhelmed to start anywhere. But I got the kids to school. Fed and managed to hold onto my self until mid-week. The kids, either dealing with their own tiredness from trying to get back onto a schedule, a mom whose temper was a little shorter than usual, pressure to ramp up at school as report card time nears or all of the above seemed to break down one by one.

The first morning is was Audrey. Now the last year I have seen a huge improvement in how she deals with her emotions and my message of “talk rather than yell” when feeling frustrated seemed to finally be getting through, until Wednesday. Full-on meltdown because she didn’t like the pants she had picked out and wanted her point back for getting ready in the morning although she had already lost it due to her dithering upstairs. It continued through a forced breakfast and resulted in my having to haul her off the floor, our voices raising in unison, her screaming about her pants and me yelling that the bus was driving down the road. With a deep breath I got her out the door, onto the bus and went to deal with round two of kids.

Jacob was next. Having been to his preschool rather erratically over the holidays because of days off for vacation it was his first full week back. We started walking into the coat room when the tears started. “I want to say with Mommy!!!!” Kissing him goodbye, I handed him over to his teacher for hugs and bolted out the door trying not to let the mom guilt settle in too long. After all, I had a full day of writing planned to catch-up on editing some scenes.

Back home, messages were flying, texts beeping as I tried to first answer my ignored emails. The snack program I am coordinating needed attention, no one had the schedule. Had I made the schedule? Yes, thankfully one late night I had popped names into the calendar and emailed it off. After all of that, I had three hours left to write, prep dinner and take the dog for a walk. I could feel the frustration building.

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A few uneventful days provided relief until Friday. Friday, the day Jacob decided to have a full-on hitting tantrum like no three-year old because I would not let him watch television when he wanted. Thinking he was tired, I decided to forgo lunch and get him into bed. Tantrum continued until I was roaring like a she-lion and he was roaring right back as I tried to restrain him from biting, kicking and hitting me. Being on the petite side, a little boy’s kicks and slaps hurt!

I hovered above watching myself wondering what was going on? How did a generally sweet three-year old and his mom get to this point?  After I pulled out scary mom voice to shock him into stopping, I knew it was enough. Taking a breath, he was gulping back sobs and I was on the verge of tears, I managed to pull myself together and talk in a softer but firm voice about how he needed to stop. He blubbered, “No, you stop!” followed by a weaker attempt to hit me. My soft voice turned to a soft growl in warning, “Do not hit Mommy.” I had visions of Jacob entering kindergarten September 2014 unable to control his actions, flailing when he didn’t get his way and my stomach twisted. This was new territory, the preschool boy tantrum. My middle child certainly had her share of breakdowns between 2.5 yrs and nearly 4 yrs old (and still does at almost 6 yrs old) but I always knew the worst of them were saved for us at home. I wasn’t as confident with Jacob.

I tried again, firmly grabbing his little arms, looking him in the eyes in a firm voice, “Do NOT hit. It hurts.” His little body tensed up but then just as quickly and violently it came, the fight went out of him and he threw his arms around my neck. “Okay.” We held each other for a few minutes as I regained my composure and tried to turn this into a positive parenting moment. Then, the talk where he apologized, I apologized for using scary mommy voice and he looked contrite as I went over, again, why we use our words and do not hit, kick, bite or scream and also when mommy says no, it is no. I had him repeat it to me back and then put the tired guy into bed so we both could have a bit of “calm down time.” Kissing his tear-stained face, I gently closed the door and promptly went down to the kitchen to cry. Tears of frustration, shame and guilt flew into my eyes as I took deep breaths. Another mommy fail-moment.

Mr. L happened to be home listening to this whole encounter, asking me just once if I wanted him to take over to which I had waved him away. He came over and placed his hand on my arm, “You okay?”

Shaking my head no, I looked out the window at the cold winter day. “Another bad Mom moment…”

He shook his head at me, “I heard the whole thing, you are not a bad mom.”

Although his words helped a little, the feeling deep down when you know you stepped a little over the line between the mom you want to be and the bad mom you are scared you really are did not diminish but was buried with the other notches of guilt parents pull around inside of them. It was covered with warm feelings as my kids tackled me one night all wanting a hug at once and the little guy in his three-year old way tried to smooth over the bumps not leaving my side all night but showering me with hugs and kisses. As I read stories to my girls and patiently watched yet another “show” from my natural comedian guy before kissing him goodnight, I tried to hold firm those memories and let the not so great ones fade a little.

After all, each day brings a whole new set of parenting challenges, and as a mom of three or more, that typically means parenting challenges times three.