Kids can clean

Once they are mobile, kids can help clean your home. When my kids were young, they didn’t view “cleaning” as a chore. They viewed it as an exciting way to be like mommy or daddy. It was part of how they explored their world.  So why can’t I get them to now?

This is Watty.  He is about 18 months old and he is VACUUMING MY BASEBOARDS!  I had the cleanest baseboards in Houston, because it was my son’s favorite activity.  He cried when we put the vacuum away.

I could bore you with photos of my kids washing the car, watering the garden, sweeping the floor, washing the windows, taken out the trash, or even cleaning the (bottom of the) shower.  In each one of those photos, my kids have looks of joy on their face.  They are playing, but they are also wrapped in the assurance that they are being helpful.  But in every case, the photos are from a few years back.

Once they turned five, something happened.   We moved from “Kids can clean” to “Kids can clean but…” only if I make them (or reward them generously).

My kids still clean, but the look of joy has left their face.  And frankly, I’m so busy nagging supervising them that I haven’t taken photos.  I’m trying to figure out what happened.  How did they lose their joy?   Did they go to kindergarden and learn from their peers that cleaning the baseboards wasn’t fun?  Did I stop rewarding them lavishly with praise?  Did I ask too much?

I wish I could blame the remodel.  It would be nice to think that five months of daily maid service was to blame (that’s how long we spent in an extended stay hotel).  It would be acceptable to think that five months of RV living was at fault (all I asked of them was to not jump up and down and to keep their stuff out of my way).  (oh, and it was supposed to be a three month remodel)  I know differently.  My kids were headed down this dark path before the remodel started.

Since we’ve been home (three months ago) I have done daily battle with my kids to get them to do the basic stuff (pick up their own dirty clothes and shoes, throw their own trash away, put their own dirty dishes in the sink).  I continue to push them to take responsibility for their own messes and to learn basic life skills.  I have a whole set of blog entries about it (the points project).  But seriously, I feel like a huge failure as a mom. When it comes to getting my kids to willingly pitch in around the house, I stink.

I’m overwhelmed with all of what it takes to put my home back together from the remodel.  Everything we own is covered in sheetrock dust.  Half of what we own needs to be purged out (we stored if for a year and didn’t use it, pretty obvious it needs to go).  Yet I lack some basic stuff every woman needs to keep her house organized.  We have yet to install shelving or closet rods anywhere (no pantry shelves,  nowhere to hang clothes).  I hadn’t exactly mastered keeping a clean / spotless / organized home before the remodel.  Now, it’s too much.  My to-do list is about 20 pages long.

Being that I’m overwhelmed, I desperately need my kids to be helpful.  But is that reasonable?  Is it fair for me to expect them to help dig out from this monumental mess?  Is it reasonable to expect them to find joy in housework when I so clearly don’t?  Or is it just possible that my kids are modeling what they have learned so well from me?  (yeah, that was painful to type. i promised to be an authentic blogger, and this is as real as it gets.) Realistically, I need to pull the plank out of my own eye before I can work with the kids.  That’s a painful conviction.

(excuse me while i finish having a “momma ain’t happy moment”)

Ultimately, I still believe that kids can clean.  I believe with all my heart that a day will come when my kids not only clean up their own messes, but they will willingly and joyfully help around the house without being asked.  (quit laughing)  I don’t think they’ll be perfect.  I understand that they will sometimes forget or get distracted.  But I honestly believe my kids are capable. I see hope when my GoGo makes my bed as well as his own.  I see a promise when Watty sweeps the porch without prompting.  I see a glimmer of joy when my kids race to get the package off the front porch or the mail from the mailbox.

Kids can clean but… only if momma cleans too.  My kids won’t follow where I’m not leading.  If I want them to put their shoes away everyday, then mine need to be put up too.  If I want them to find joy in a well made bed, then I should make mine first.   I I want them to do everything without grumbling or complaining, then I need to stop my own grumbling and complaining (even if it was just in my head).

If you were hoping to find some kind of magic answer to get your own kids to clean house, my apologies. I’d suggest heading over to Nony at A Slob Comes Clean.  She’s got a great blog with lots of ideas of how to get kids to help. She even has an ebook on the subject.  Be sure and watch her daughter in the video – that girl is a great towel folder.

I’ll continue to write about my points project, including my failures.  When I finally figure out how to get my kids to clean with a joyful heart, I’ll let you know.

If you have any advice or encouragement, I’d love to hear it.  Quite frankly, I’d just like to know I’m not alone.  Do you believe that kids can clean, or is this a hopeless dream?



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Susan Baker
I have a passion for encouraging weary worn out mothers to find joy in everyday motherhood and peace in unlikely places. I have two elementary school boys, one nerdy husband, and two cats. I have a strange fascination for bad puns, the color pink, socks, and books. I worry about running out of toilet paper, wine, and chocolate.. I serve an amazing God. I live an ordinary life filled with wonder.
Susan Baker
Susan Baker

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  1. You are not alone!
    My kids hate cleaning as much as I do. The oldest has figured out that it’s just easier to “do what you gotta do, so you can do what you wanna do”. I only had to say that to him 1,000 times before he finally got it – and he’s the really smart one My youngest however, there is nothing in this world that will make him joyfully do a chore. However, both boys know they are expected to pitch in. No exception. They are rewarded for their efforts by getting to have a place to live, food on the table, and a fairly somewhat tidy home. They get verbal praise for a job well done – but nothing more. I’ve always believed hard work is it’s own reward and I want my boys to have a strong work ethic and see the value of going the extra mile or doing the right thing – even when no one is looking.
    I find fair, but firm consistent rules work best. For example…
    If the table isn’t set properly – no one eats till it is.
    If you don’t put properly fold your laundry you have to refold the whole basket – plus my stuff.
    If you don’t do your chores you don’t get to do fun stuff like watch TV, go bike riding, play at a friends house, get ice-cream money on Friday.
    Starting in 1st grade I started using a chore list that I printed out and put in a plastic protector. The front had MORNING ROUTINE and the back had EVENING ROUTINE. I would simply ask the boys, “Have you done your list?” They knew exactly what was expected of them daily and the chores were age appropriate.
    One last thing – I feel like I’m rambling – there is 2 cool iPhone apps that can help. One is the Consequences Jar – you put in good and bad consequences. If they do well, they shake your phone and they get a good consequence. If they don’t do so well, they turn the phone upside down and shake out a negative consequence. The other app is Epic Win – it’s perfect for kiddos who like gaming – it turns chores and home work and things like teeth brushing into gaming achievements. They have to perform these items to “level up” their character and progress through the game. My youngest really likes it.
    You could always go “old school” – spare the rod, spoil the child. (gasp! Did I just publicly suggest spanking? Yes. Yes I did.)
    Leah at CodeRedHat recently posted..Clean Eating and the Stupidity of AmericansMy Profile

    • I’d been eyeing the epic win app, but hadn’t found anyone who liked it. There’s an online equivalent of it too, but I can’t remember the name of it. Thanks for the recommendation.

      And I confess… old school happens at my house. There’s a wooden spoon in my car. Yeah.

  2. Melinda Stanton says:

    I made a job chart with a spinner in the center; each kid had a job for a week. One funny comment was when my son asked why they had to do chores– I explained my responsibility for teaching them to take care of themselves. He explained that they had learned that so they really didn't need any more practice! After I finished laughing I told him then now it's just part of THEIR responsibility as family members.

    • The conversation we had this past week (with the kid in the photo) involved the phrase "but mom, that's YOUR job." I'm so glad my husband was home and heard it. He was on it – fast. I never had to say a thing.

  3. Melinda Stanton says:

    I made a job chart with a spinner in the center; each kid had a job for a week. One funny comment was when my son asked why they had to do chores– I explained my responsibility for teaching them to take care of themselves. He explained that they had learned that so they really didn't need any more practice! After I finished laughing I told him then now it's just part of THEIR responsibility as family members.

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