Wednesday, 15 July 2015

A key to surviving large family life {training children to help in the home}

I must start this post with a caveat. I am not finished my parenting journey, and I am not perfect. I don't have all the answers. I only ever share what MY experience is, which may help someone else.

There. I've said it. Glad to get that off my chest first.

As I type, my 12 year old is making dinner. I didn't force her. She's not doing it under coercion, but willingly. She's dong it to be a help to me.

I love her.

One of the most common questions I have about having a large family is "Isn't it a lot of work? How do you cope?"

My answer is simple.

They all pull together to help.

In the immortal words of Bob the Builder "Working together, we get the job done"!

Now, the very important key to all of this is simple.

My children didn't just naturally incline themselves to doing jobs.  No siree. I can unequivocally tell you that it doesn't come naturally. Admittedly, some children have a natural bent towards being more helpful, but it's certainly not consistent, and generally only if THEY feel like it. And, let's face it, most of the time jobs need to be done when we DON'T feel like it. Right?

That said, the key is TRAINING.

My role, as a mother, is train up my children. If they aren't going to do something naturally, then I need to teach them HOW to do it.

I have chatted to people, in times past, about the children doing jobs.

"My children don't help like that! How DO you do it?"

Well, folks, if you don't expect them to do it, and you don't train them to do it, it ain't likely they WILL do it. Simple.

I'm not some super-mother who has magical powers like a modern day Mary Poppins. (I wish)  I am a tired out, often impatient, yet persistent mother, who tries very hard to TRAIN her children how to do jobs around the house. I don't always succeed as I would like, but I try.  It's not easy, let me tell you. It requires effort from ME, first and foremost, but it's totally worth it.

So, two things I will quickly deal with.




Why do we train our children to help in the home?

1) God is a God of order.

I know that family life can be messy, and it comes with the territory of having lots of people around. As I tell the children, if each of them leaves just FIVE things lying around, that's FORTY things lying around. It quickly multiplies into chaos! Having things around which show you are living in the house, doesn't mean we never try to do anything about it. God didn't create this earth in chaos. He designed it with order, with everything in its place. One process follows on from another in order for life to continue. If one part is knocked out of place, by an external factor, chaos ensues. Isn't that the same in our homes?? If we want to follow God's design for His creation, we should try and have order in our homes, for them to function well.

2) We need to be good stewards

In the Bible we read about the parable of the faithful steward.  We need to be those who care for the things that God has given to us. I don't want my children growing up thinking they can leave things lying about all over the house, to be stood on, squished and destroyed. If things are put away, and tidied up, they will be looked after far more carefully.  Children need to learn that things have a value, and have to be earned. It's one of the reason why we don't shower our children with "things" for no reason. They either receive them for a special occasion, or they EARN them. If they don't learn as children, they will become adults who don't care for their things. God generously gives us all we have, we need to train them to be thankful and look after those things.

3) Learning not to be lazy

Training children to tidy up, from a young age, is teaching them a good work ethic.  The book of Proverbs tells us to look to the ant, and learn no to be lazy. In all labour, there is profit. We gain, in some way, shape, or form, from anything we work hard at. Not being lazy, with tidying and chores, teaches them that a tidier house is easy to maintain.  It teaches them that they can have free time once a job is done. It teaches them that it's satisfying and rewarding to see a job done to completion. It teaches them that working hard is a blessing to others. Being lazy only brings trouble. And lazy children become lazy adults, all too often, and then they bring that into the workplace. That results in unreliable employment, once others find out you are lazy.  We are training our children to be reliable adults, by teaching and training them to help in the home.

4) It makes our home a welcoming environment

I once visited a home, a long while ago, and it was SOOOOO messy. I knew the people, and they just didn't care for their appearance or their home. I couldn't relax in there. It was dirty, messy and disorderly. (Admittedly, I also find houses that are ULTRA tidy not to be relaxing! It doesn't feel like a home to me, but that's just a personal thing. At least they are working hard to keep it tidy.)

The thing is, we should be folks who desire to create a welcoming environment to others. If our homes are a royal mess, people won't feel welcomed. It gives the message that you don't care enough about others to even ATTEMPT to tidy for them. And I am talking people who you arrange to come and visit - not the "drop ins". They have to just take you as they find you!!! As I already said, a house with lots of people can get crazy and messy by just LIVING there! But, if you know people are coming, you show you care by creating a welcoming place for them. If you have lots of children, you are training them to be welcoming hosts, and to consider others, by training them to help in the home.

One of the incidents that made a HUGE impact upon me, as a young mother, was when we visited a home of a large family. Their daughter was one of the eldest children. We were eating breakfast with them before heading on an onward journey. The daughter and the mother stood to the side of the room and SERVED us at breakfast. I assume they either ate before us, in the kitchen, or after we left, but they put the effort in to do everything they could for us. It was BLISS!!! It really made an impact and taught me the importance of training our children to have the desire to serve others, and make them feel welcome. Order, not chaos. Helpful, not a hindrance.

5) As a testimony.

We are being watched.  As God's people, others look on to see how we are behaving, and how we live. When we have a life filled with disorder, people see, and whether we like it or not, may judge us. Now, if they happen to drop in one day and we have been clearing our toy cupboards, and it's a mess, then that's understandable mess. If they judge us for that, it's their own problem. Or, if we genuinely are struggling with ill health or the struggles of having lots of little children who can't help so much, that's a situation where people should extend grace.  But, if we never seem to care about the chaos that is around us, it's not a good testimony. We tell the world that other things are more important than caring for our belongings, and the home we live in. Good stewards should care for their homes, and all that God has given them, and be a testimony as faithful servants of Christ.

So, HOW do we train our children?

1) All of our children have a DOMINION. I remember watch the Duggars, and I think they had a "jurisdiction". That made a lot of sense to me! It teaches the children to take responsibility for an area in the home, and they are then solely accountable for its care and tidiness. I don't give the little ones a dominion, because it's quite a big job, but all of my oldest 3 have one, and the fourth has an area she is mostly responsible for. So, 7 and up, I've done it. I taught them what needed to be done in that area. That's a key thing. I TAUGHT THEM. They needed direction to know what TIDY meant!  Then, I have to CHECK on them! I look to see if they have done all they should, and get them to sort out anything they have missed. They do it on a Saturday, and in the week, everyone helps sorts out those areas that are theirs, as spot tidying. The deep cleaning and tidying is their dominion, though. It works for us, and could be done, on a smaller scale, with younger children. Their dominion could be one area of a room, or one element of a bigger job. But, the two key factors in that are teaching them and watching them!

2)  Tidying up generally

I know some people have chore charts for different times of the day, but we work it slightly differently. After breakfast, the oldest 4 have a job to do. Emptying the dishwasher, clearing up after breakfast, sweeping up the kitchen, and taking out the recycling. (Does everyone else have so MUCH recycling??? It's CRAYYYY-ZEEEEE) It means that the kitchen area gets a good tidy up in the morning, to start off the day. After the other meals they all just pull together to get the tidying up done. Lunch time clear up is still a bit rusty, so I need to work at that. Dinner time, Daddy is usually here and he allocates jobs when we are done. Usually one of them has set the table, so they get lighter duties after dinner, to keep it fair. One clears, one stacks the dishwasher, one clears up anything to go in the fridge or the bin, and someone else wipes up. Many hands make light work!

3) End of the day

I try very hard to get a few areas tidy before Daddy gets home. Depending on the season of life, it's not always as I would like it, but we TRY! The hall and the lounge are the places we try and get tidied up, because we know he feels more relaxed if those areas are tidy. Some days it's not quite done, but he quickly sets to giving them jobs to get it finished up. We end up with a scurrying hoard of children, putting things back where they belong.

4) Trying to make tidying fun

There are a few things we throw into the mix, every now and again, to try and make tidying fun! Yes, FUN! It works better with the little ones, who are more green behind the ears. Aherm.

First, we do speed tidying. We will stop what we are doing and do as much as we can in 5 minutes. I find it's important to set them achievable tasks, then they feel like they have accomplished great things. Then, we do the "tidy ten things". They have to go and pick up ten things and put them back where they belong. We also do paring, when I get jobs and pair the children up to do them as a team. I will often give a reward for the pair who do the best job. I will pair a younger with an older, which works best. Sometimes we do it with their names on lollipop sticks, and sometimes I will just write it on a piece of paper. I have done it when our friends visit, too, and they enjoy the novelty of tidying with someone "new"!

I also find that the little ones like to tidy groups  of things. So, I will get a child to find all the cars, or all the play animals, or things that are blue. They enjoy the challenge of that!

Of course, they also have to learn that tidying can't ALWAYS be fun! Sometimes we have to do things in life, just because they need to be done. It's as simple as that.

And, I don't know about you, but i often have children saying "But, Mum, *I* didn't make the mess".

To which I reply....

"Welcome to my world, dear"

Many jobs in the world are to do with sorting out other people's "messes"! I was a physio, and a lot of the time people were suffering from a "mess" they got THEMSELVES into!

This, however, is one of the most important lessons I teach the children about working in the home.....

We do it because we are all part of the same family - the same team.  Whatever way you want to look at it, we pull together to make family life work. There are times when, as the leader, I can't do things as I would like. It's not child cruelty to enlist the help of the children more than normal. It's LIFE! It's FAMILY! If I can raise children to be willing to help others, where they see a need, I think that will be a job well done. It's all about learning to be selfless and pro-active. Seeing a need and meeting it in any way we can. Right now, I often have to tell them how to do that. However, more and more, they are starting to see for themselves, and offer to be helpful. Years ago, life like that was NORMAL.  Nowadays, children have a life of ease, with everything handed to them on a plate, and I really think the parents don't do them ANY favours, to train them to be takers, and not givers.

One last thing.  How would I like to IMPROVE things?!? There's ALWAYS room for improvement, right??

Firstly, I want to DECLUTTER!!! WE have wayyyyyy too much stuff. Having a lot of children can lead to a major issue. People want to buy them something for each Christmas and birthday, when you already have all the things bought for the previous children. They don't NEED anything else!!! I am starting to get inventive about gifts, and last Christmas most family members willingly clubbed together so I could buy each child one significant gift that we couldn't afford otherwise. Something really special and higher quality. That worked really well, and the children appreciated their special gifts. But, we still have loads! I figured that adding to things we already had would help. It did, and it didn't. We now have a LOT of Playmobil, Duplo and Lego, but it makes such a mess when they play with it, and tends to "migrate". I don't want to get rid of it all, but I think I will cut back.

Secondly, I want to be more consistent. A lot of the time when the tidying doesn't happen, it's MY fault for not implementing it more diligently. Children are little sinners. I am a big sinner. Our hearts are all inclined to self, and sometimes self has to be sacrificed in order for jobs to get done - PROPERLY! I also don't check properly after they say they have done, to make sure it's MY kind of done. Subsequently they end up off doing their own things, saying the job is done, then I have the HARDER task of getting them to come BACK to the job, to do it properly. Argh.

Thirdly, I need to train them better about being thorough. One of my children was asked to tidy up after making dinner today. The child very kindly and willingly made pizza for the children, from scratch. When it was cooking I asked that everything be put away, as that is what I do whilst dinner is cooking. I use the cooking time to clear up. The said child THOUGHT they put everything away. The next thing we knew, there was passata ALL over the counter, splattered everywhere, like some kind of tomato blood bath! Thankfully, the child realised their error, saw the humour in it, and cleared it up brilliantly. But, he was reminded that if you do a job properly in the first place, you won't have extra work to do later!

I must also clarify that these things don't always happen in our home without blips. It gets in a mess, regularly. I have to go around, like a sergeant major, getting them to do it. I sometimes despair. I sometimes feel like doing it all myself. If I do THAT, they will never learn. It would be majorly counter-productive! I'm also telling you what works for ME! It's not set in stone. It's not the law of the Medes and Persians which cannot be altered. I'm just trying to do my best, in an imperfect world, and hoping that something that we do, or why we do it, may help someone else on their way.

Above all else, we try and remember that we do "all to the glory of God". Not for our own self satisfaction, but because we want to bring honour and glory to HIM! Yes, that includes tidying the house.

So, on that note, I'm off to finish off tidying the bits that the children missed, so we don't start the day behind tomorrow.

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