Just say “Yes!” (The Child Friendly Home – Part 4)

Nancy Regan did us a great favor in the 1980’s with her “Just Say, ‘No!’” campaign.  She had a great idea, and it wasn’t just about forbidding certain behaviors.

Just Say No

She advocated having an answer prepared before you encounter the question.

So, what would happen if we were prepared to just say, “yes”?

“Yes” Grants Freedom

When God originally created the world, he put Adam and Eve in the garden and said, “yes” to almost everything there.  That was paradise.  In the Garden of Eden there was only ONE thing that was a “no.”

We were created to live with that kind of freedom.  Of course we chose the one “no” and things changed dramatically, so there will always be a lot of “no’s” in our lives.  But part of our job as Christians, and as parents, is to push back the effects of the fall not to wallow in them.

I want my home to be a picture of that.

I don’t like the idea that Christianity is a list of do’s and don’ts.  It’s not.  Christianity is about freedom and grace:  freedom from the power and penalty of sin and grace because of the power and penalty of sin.

As parents I think we need to be prepared to say “yes” a lot more often.  And having a house that is ready for kids makes that a whole lot more possible.

We can make choices that give us the freedom to say “yes” and our kids the freedom to be kids.  It doesn’t have to mean using melamine plates and sippy cups until the kids go off to college either.

Some things we’ve discovered about filling the home:

  • Leather sofas (yes, leather) are a lot more forgiving with spills and even ball-point pen than their fabric counterparts.
  • If you already have fabric sofas, a quick coating of Scotch Guard or a washable slip cover are great options.  (Please stop short of those clear plastic covers that were popular in the 60’s and 70’s!  Those do NOT make children feel welcome.)
  • Floor cushions make great seating and fort building supplies.
  • Fleece throw blankets in favorite designs keep kids warm during movie nights and keep good sheets and blankets from being used for said forts.
  • Already-distressed furniture offers a great way to relax and let kids be kids.
  • Satin or eggshell paint on the walls doesn’t glare in the light, but has enough sheen to keep crayons and markers from soaking into the wall.
  • Wood or tile floors are preferred for kids with allergies and they also bear up well under spills, traffic, muddy shoes, and bloody noses.
  • Wood or metal dining chairs take spilled milk with a lot less tears than upholstered ones – because let’s face it, our kids do cry over spilled milk, but we don’t have to. (Again, Scotch Guard and slip covers can be a great alternative.)
  • Washable placemats.  Enough said.
  • Mix and match dishes, so that you don’t have to worry about the ones that get broken.
  • Coasters, coasters, and more coasters.
  • Rags available in every bathroom or kitchen – this keeps them fairly close to any room in case of an emergency.
  • Hooks.  Hooks. And more hooks.
  • Do I need to mention hooks again?
  • Labels.
  • Step stools.

Freedom Requires Grace

Our Father granted freedom and furnished grace in the garden of Eden.  He gave Adam and Eve the freedom to choose life or to choose death.  He knew they would choose death and was already prepared to repair the damage while letting them live with the consequences.

Parenting with grace calls us to the same thing: provide a great environment, give instructions on how to live in it, and be prepared to repair the damage while letting our kids live with the consequences.

It doesn’t do our children any favors to raise them in such a child friendly environment that they don’t know how to behave in the adult world.  Part of having a home where kids are comfortable is giving them a safe place to mess up as they learn what is right.  If I know how recover from their mistakes, I can relax a bit and let them make them.  I can also let them help in any “repair work” that needs to occur.

Some things we’ve discovered about fixing the damage:

  • LockTite Gel is awesome!  We use it to repair plastic, wood, ceramic, glass, and cuts that almost (but not quite) need stitches.
  • Easy access to first aid essentials: happy ice (ice packs), alcohol swabs, safety pins, band aids, and triple anti-biotic ointment.
  • Gorilla Glue has it’s place, too, especially for wood and on things with surfaces that match precisely.  Don’t forget to use clamps – it expands.
  • Duck Tape is not just for decorating anymore. lol
  • Nail polish comes off of tile, laminate, and counter tops very well (wood & carpet, not so much), paint nails over a hard surface and nail polish remover can remove spills.
  • Mayonaise lifts water rings from wood (just in case they forget to use a coaster).
  • Baking soda is your new best friend.  It works wonders on stains, odors, and glue.  Do a web search of uses for baking soda in the home.  It is definitely worth the time.
  • Hand sanitizer will get permanent marker out of fabric.
  • Salt will remove the gel beads from your washer when/if someone throws a disposable diaper in there.
  • Olive oil and lemon juice can help work pen marks off of leather.  It also makes a great wood conditioner for finished furniture.
  • Ice followed by boiling water will remove candle wax from fabric.
  • Baking soda (again) will absorb remaining liquid and odor from carpet, bedding, clothing that has been soiled by an upset stomach.
  • A salt paste will remove rust stains.
  • Hydrogen Peroxide will remove mold from grout and caulk and rust stains from bathroom shelves.
  • The adhesive portion of flexible fabric bandaids make great patches for the back side of torn fabric that cannot be washed (sofa cushions, throw pillows…).  Add a tiny bit of satin-finish clear nail polish to the top to keep threads from unraveling.
  • Baking soda will get crayon off of paint and glossy surfaces.
  • Paint on fabric should be rinsed immediately with water and followed with a mild detergent like Dawn dish soap.
  • Ready access to spackle, dry wall tape, and touch up paint is a good idea.  A paper towel or q-tip make great disposable paint applicators.
  • Old t-shirts make great rags to use to lift stains from carpets, upholstered furniture, etc. Plus it helps the husbands feel better about getting rid of them if they have a further useful purpose. 🙂
  • Fabric softener sheets will remove stubborn, burnt-on food (especially helpful for rescuing pans when young folks are first learning to cook).
  • Effervescent denture cleaner removes coffee stains.  It also works well on odors and tomato/grease stains in plastic storage containers.
  • Baking soda + vinegar + boiling water = grease removal in disposal and kitchen sink drain.
  • Keep a good plunger in every bathroom.  Really.  They aren’t that expensive.  With kids toilets often receive wrong things or wrong quantities of things.  Many a potty-overflow can be averted by having the plunger handy. (True story:  when we sold our last home I overheard the buyer ask his Home Inspector if he thought we had plumbing problems since we had a plunger by every toilet.  The Home Inspector said, “They don’t have plumbing problems, they have kids.  See, they are all dusty except for the one in the kids’ bathroom.  It’s a good idea, actually.”)

It is important to know how to repair damage, and then to remain calm when accidents happen.  I know, easier said than done.  But having the right tools for repair, really helps.  And don’t kids need to see that there is a cure for brokenness?  Doesn’t the opportunity to redeem their mistakes open a door to talking about the Redeemer?

For me to “Just say, ‘Yes!’,” I have to prepare a place of freedom and be faithful to repair the accidents that happen there.  I can act in my children’s lives to help them experience the grace God has given me.  I can model the same freedom and faithfulness I have experienced. When I succeed, I point them to the only one who grants true freedom and is faithful to cure brokenness.

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Photo Credit:  This image is a work of an employee of the Executive Office of the President of the United States, taken or made as part of that person’s official duties. As a work of the U.S. federal government, the image is in the public domain.

Julia Sets (Periodic Chore Planning)

I am a mathematician at heart.  I love numbers.  I love number theory.  I delight in understanding and playing with the relationships between numbers.  As an undergrad, I focused on theoretical rather than applied mathematics.  My senior project was on chaos theory and fractals. This branch of mathematics deals a lot with irrational numbers.

From your math days, you may remember that rational numbers have recognizable repeating patterns (2.33333) and irrational numbers are those numbers which have no repeating pattern (π=3.1415926535897932384626433832795…).  Rational numbers can be written as a ratio.  Irrational numbers cannot (the ever popular 22/7 as a representation of π is an approximation, not accurate).

Enough of the math lesson for now.  I want you to see what irrational numbers look like.

Bright Julia Sets

Isn’t that beautiful?

OK, one more math fact:  that is a picture of a modified inverse iteration of a Julia set – named for Gaston Julia, I’m not that good. lol.

I would LOVE it if chores with no recognizable repeating pattern produced a home that beautiful.  Unfortunately, when I put my number toys away and come back to the real world, I realize my failure to have a repeating chore pattern looks more like this:

Garage clutter

Our garage a month ago. Not so beautiful.

I have my own “Julia sets” a.k.a. chore plans.  They are very rational and serve to push back chaos in our home.  Less chaos at home = more time to play.  That is beautiful.

So how do I do it?

First, I sit down and make a list of absolutely everything I want to have cleaned or maintained in our home.  I put each item on its own line.  (One exception:  Laundry.  All laundry in our house happens on a parallel schedule.  I’ve had several questions about laundry in particular, so I’ll handle that in a different post.  But you need to realize all of what follows completely ignores the laundry question.)

Second, I go through the list and make a note of how often I think the item should be cleaned.  For instance, I want the floors vacuumed every week, but I only want to rub the dining room table with lemon oil once per month.  I want to vacuum the dryer vents every six months, but I the trash cans in key bathrooms need to be emptied twice per week and I will need to cut rolls of paper towels in half every other month.

Third, I divide the list into groups by frequency.  I literally cut the list into strips of paper that I can move around.

Fourth, I start scheduling chores.

Sounds easy, right?  Well, if I am honest, it’s not that easy.  There are a lot of decisions to be made, but having made them, I won’t have to think about it again for quite a while, so it is worth it.

Decisions. Decisions. Decisions.

  1. How often do I want to clean?  At some points we’ve had a 30 minute block each morning for cleaning.  Right now we are cleaning only on Thursday’s.  We’ve also had phases where we’d divide the cleaning into three or four days per week.  I think about what is most likely to be successful with my family with all we have going on right now.  Often our cleaning schedule looks different when we are out of school than during the school year.
  2. How long do I want to clean when we clean?  If we are doing a little each day, I want to schedule a short cleaning session.  If we are only cleaning once per week, I should expect it will take longer.
  3. How long will each job take to complete?  Always over estimate.  It is important to set realistic expectations or when it comes time to work I will be frustrated by either taking too much time to get things done or by not being able to get to some things because we cannot take extra time.  Either way I am setting myself up  for failure – or worse, tempting myself to a little adult temper tantrum that leaves a bigger mess to clean up than the undone chores.  If we get done early, we celebrate: dance, have candy, play a game, or go do something fun.
  4. Look at the set of chores with the least frequency and divide them into piles by month.  When do they need to occur?  For us, leaves need to be to the roadside in November and January if we want our tax dollars to pay for their removal, but the exterior windows are better cleaned in late spring or early fall.  These jobs tend to be ones that take the longest, so I will want to balance the times they occur with less chores in other areas.  I call these chores “deep cleaning.”
  5. I continue through the remaining sets of chores that occur less often than monthly, assigning each to a month.
  6. When I have everything assigned to a month, I can start looking at monthly chores.  Since our calendar doesn’t cooperate with a nice neat number of weeks per month, I decide on a number of weeks that I’m calling a month.  Historically I’ve chosen four, but the last time I did this, I decided to allow five weeks per month.  I use this number of weeks to schedule chores in a repeating cycle.  Right now we are using a 5-week rotation, which means some things only get done once every five weeks.  This isn’t rocket science.  I went to five weeks because one of our tasks is a trip to a wholesale club for bulk items and five weeks worth of juice is all that will fit in my pantry.  Adding the extra week to the rotation also decreased the time we have to spend each week on cleaning, since jobs are distributed over a longer time period.
  7. Divide the chores over the number of weeks in my month.  I try to distribute them so that no one cleaning day will be too heavy (which means we all dread it or avoid it).  I know I’ve got a list of weekly tasks sitting there waiting to be added to my weekly list.  I can’t ignore it forever, but it’s pretty obvious those things will occur every week.  I usually choose one of the weeks to include the “deep cleaning” chores.  Another week will focus on cleaning and stocking the pantry (including our trip to a wholesale club).  I distribute all the other jobs over the remaining weeks in our schedule.
  8. Add the weekly chores to any given week – and make adjustments where needed.  Sometimes I’m just taking a quick weekly job to a different level.  For instance, once per month I want to move the sofas and vacuum behind them.  I don’t need to have “vacuum the living room” on that list in addition to this deep cleaning version of vacuuming the living room.
  9. Double check the weekly lists to see if they can be accomplished in the time committed to cleaning.  If I’ve allowed two hours per week and the lists amount to 3-1/2 hours per week, I need to cut something.  Keep in mind, sometimes with lots of cleaning helpers tasks can be done simultaneously.  But I need to expect that sometimes bad attitudes and broken vacuum cleaner belts will happen.
  10. If I am cleaning on a weekly basis, I am pretty much done with the decision making at this point.  If I want to divide the weekly tasks into smaller portions to do each day, I need to sort the jobs into sets that will fit the time I have to work on a daily basis.
  11. When I’ve divided and distributed all the jobs across the weeks/days I plan to clean, I make a final list.
  • This list can take many forms, but I need to be able to work from it on a weekly basis.
    • In the past we have had them on index cards and dealt them like playing cards to all the “players.”
    • When we did daily cleaning, I drew our floor plan on paper and color coded the sections of the house we’d clean on any given day.  The jobs were listed right on the floor plan.
    • For a while we had a small box of note cards with jobs sorted by the age of the person who could do them.
    • Then I used the note cards and box to sort by day of the week.
    • Then I used the note cards and box to sort by level of cleaning.
    • Once I got an attendance chart from a school supply, wrote all the jobs across the top and our names down the side.  I laminated it and we used re-positionable stickers to mark when jobs were completed.  It was a race to see who could get the most stickers.
    • I saw exactly one episode of “Eighteen Kids and Counting” and got the idea to assign each child a jurisdiction to maintain.  We might revisit that as our kids get older, but with four kids under five it was a bit premature.
    • Right now I have checklists divided up by person on my computer.  There are five different lists and I print them out in batches and keep them in a file to pull out on the appropriate week.
    • Someday I would like to get them into a shared notebook in Evernote so that everyone in our house with an iDevice can see it and we can save paper, ink, and the planet.  🙂

There are lots of ways to do it, but kids thrive when they know what to expect.  I like thriving.

It is REALLY important to remember that the cleaning cards, list, spinner, box, floor plan, app, whatever are not the stone tablets God wrote on and gave to Moses.

It is a plan that promotes good stewardship of our homes.  But it is just a plan.  I can always veer from the plan when needed, but it his helpful for me to have a plan.  It frees me to choose something different.  It’s actually very powerful to respond in stead of react.  For example:

  • Right now we are cleaning weekly.  If we have company on cleaning day – or over several opportunities to reschedule cleaning day – we skip it.  We’ll just pull that list out the next time.
  • If we have sports or extracurricular activities on cleaning day for two months, we switch the cleaning day for two months.
  • If we only have one hour to clean one week, then we hit the highlights and call it a day.
  • If someone is sick they don’t clean. (Of course, chronic illness on cleaning day would require some remedy.)
  • If we need to help someone outside of our family, we do it.
  • Maybe cleaning day turns out to be the only sunny day in weeks – go play outside.  The cleaning will be there another day.

I constantly have to remind myself that some cleaning is better than no cleaning.  With a well-planned, rotating schedule, it’ll all come around again eventually.  Eternity is not hanging in the balance with changing the water filter in our refrigerator.  But I am training hearts (mine and those of my children) for eternity as I go about changing the water filter.  As C.S. Lewis said,

[E]very time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different than it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing into a heavenly creature or a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow creatures, and with itself. To be the one kind of creature is heaven: that is, it is joy and peace and knowledge and power. To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impotence, and eternal loneliness. Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state or the other.

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Julia Set Photo by Adam majewski [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Back in the Garden

If you spent any time in Sunday school as a child, you are familiar with the story of Adam and Eve.

Once upon a time, God made Adam from dust and put him into the garden.  In the midst of the garden was the tree of life.  The tree of the knowledge of good and evil was there, too.  God had Adam name the creatures and Adam discovered everyone had a partner of like kind but him.  Having exposed his need, God met it with Eve (as he had always planned to do).  When Adam saw Eve, he immediately recognized she was exactly what he had longed for and was amazed with God’s provision.  And they lived happily ever after. The End.

Wait! That’s not how it ends, is it?  That would be the Disney version, right?  Just skip the whole sin-and-its-consequences part and ride off into the sunset.

It is how it should’ve been.

But what really happened was Eve was faced with a choice: life or knowledge.  And she chose knowledge.

If you had a good Sunday school teacher they taught you that we would’ve done the same thing.  In fact we do it every day when we choose our way instead of God’s way.  And just like them, we suffer the consequences – little deaths in the form of  broken promises, broken relationships, broken possessions, and broken bodies.  One day our bodies will die, too.  If we are not in Christ, our soul will suffer eternal death-but-never-dying.  If we are in Christ we will finally experience life as it was meant to be lived – unending and free from sin and sorrow.

What escaped me for years, was the fact that I do not only choose sin just like my first parents did, I daily choose between life and knowledge.  When I open my copy of God’s word I am standing in the garden and I can see the two trees – life and knowledge – with their branches intertwined against the clear blue sky as they stretch toward the sun.

Palms to sky

I must choose which fruit I will eat.

Will I look on the life offered in scripture and see that it is good and and a delight to my eyes and share it with my husband?  Or will I look on knowledge of scripture as sufficient and delight to add to my knowledge and have nothing of value to share with anyone?

Notice that either way I am taking scripture in hand and eating of it – choosing life is not choosing ignorance.  Choosing life means I interpret life through the lens of scripture.  Choosing knowledge means I interpret scripture through the lens of life.

James 1:22 puts it this way,

… be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.

Which will I choose?  Doing life according to scripture and letting it penetrate my heart or letting the sound waves of scripture bounce off of the eardrums of my heart?

Will I eat of life according to the Bible, accepting Christ’s righteousness, reveling in his grace & abundance, and yielding to his Spirit?  Or will I eat of  knowledge of the Bible, establishing my own righteousness, repeating “right” answers, following the rules, and clanging like a cymbal as I fail to live in love.

I am just like Eve.  Satan tempts me to eat the fruit of knowledge instead of life.

  • It happens when my devotions become a check box on my to-do list instead of a check point for my heart.
  • It happens when when I study the Bible to teach others instead of to be taught and then share from what I’ve learned.
  • It happens when Scripture memory is a compulsion rather than a cleansing.
  • It happens when my prayers center on my creature comforts rather than my Creator’s call.

But I am different than Eve.

  • I don’t have to wait for the cool of the day to walk with God – His Spirit is with me through the heat of my day, too.
  • God didn’t breathe life through my nostrils, his Spirit gives me life with every breath I take.

I must choose to value life over knowledge, and because his Spirit lives in me, I can.

Free at Last! (The Child Friendly Home – Part 3)

Several years ago some folks came to visit our home.  After spending a bit with us, one lady commented, “You’d never know kids live here!”

I know she meant it as a compliment, but it cut to my heart.  Our house was orderly and furnished in a way that reflected my tastes for home fashion.  The “kid area” was out of sight, and *mostly* out of earshot.  It was very comfortable for adult guests to visit and relax.  But my kids lived in that house and it didn’t reflect them at all.  Our house said, “children should neither be seen nor heard.”

Tile Mural of Kids at PlayI realized that my kids were living in a museum – and not the “please touch” variety.  They were in bondage.  They were not free to be kids.  They adorned the home, but they did not adore it.

So I started making changes.  There are things I did to make our home appealing to our kids and I have lots more ideas (much to my husband’s dismay!).  Some are more elaborate than others, depending upon our resources (financially as well as time and energy to complete the tasks).  I want our home to reflect our interests, protect each other’s privacy, communicate belonging, and to be a place we want to be.

Reflect Kids’ Interests

  • Decorate kid bedrooms in a way that reflects their interests.
    • In our last house the girls’ room was painted to look like a garden.  My sister and I painted a white picket fence, grass, flowers, bugs, clouds.  It was a sweet place for little girls.  It cost about $8 in craft paints and an afternoon of painting.
    • It took a little while to come up with a theme for the boys’ room in our current house that would appeal to boys ages 1 to 12.  We ended up settling on pirates.  There is a 6’x4’ antique-looking map on a wall, a ship wheel mounted to the wall (I attached it to a lazy-susan swivel so that it really spins), and a fun pirate-y quote painted on one wall.  We also hung a Jolly Roger flag and some keys.  With all of that, can you guess their favorite thing?  A play on words – I hung a “poop deck” sign over their potty. LOL.  Hey – it’s a boys’ bathroom and it appeals to them.  At least the potty humor is contained to the bathroom.
    • Our current girls’ room only has a 6’x6’ mirror on one wall and a window seat with a fun cushion.  The mirror was moved from a bathroom we renovated (yes, this huge mirror was over the tub!).  My step-dad and I built the bench using parts of table legs we’d salvaged from another project.  My mother-in-law made the cushions.  It’s pretty low key and inexpensive – mostly reusing what we had on hand.
  • The point is to make the bedroom a place that reflects your kids’ interests.  It could be…
    • a trophy shelf
    • a poster of a favorite singer
    • a latch hook pillow for the bed
    • a bedding set that reflects your child’s interests
    • a fun switch plate for the light switch
    • a cool night light
    • a bed that looks like a boat or a car or a tent
    • a plane hanging from the ceiling
    • walls painted in a favorite color
    • a rug with roads and houses
    • a mirror that looks like a window
    • anything that rates high on the kid-coolness scale

Protect Privacy:

  • If you have a lot of kids, this can be hard to accomplish.  For our boys (five share one room) it amounted to hanging canvas curtains (in keeping with our pirate theme) along the open side of their bunk beds.
  • My oldest has a trundle, so he had zero privacy. I refinished my grandmother’s secretary for him.  He has a place to keep his “stuff” and his own desk for school, drafting, whatever.  For him, three drawers, a desk, and the open shelving at the top to display his favorite things are enough personal space to make up for the public nature of his bedroom.
  • Our kids all have a plastic bin with a lid on it in which they may keep anything (except food) they want to keep.  Bins are off limits to anyone but the owner.  I think the bins cost about $4 at Ikea.  A toy that they are not ready to make available for public consumption, special post cards from traveling grandparents, a rubber band collection, that special feather or rock – there is a place for what is important in their private worlds.
  • We hung a curtain across the nook where the girl’s have their window seat.
  • We have friends who partitioned off part of the basement with bookshelves so a teen could have his own room.
  • Some rooms are large enough to use a room divider or curtain to define spaces.
  • Maybe your house has a room with double closets and you can separate kids by closet or provide a small get-away space in one while the other one houses clothes.
  • Maybe there is space under the stairs or an unused closet somewhere else in the house that can become a reading nook or secret hide-out.
  • We cut a hole in the boys’ room ceiling and “finished” a small portion of the attic above their room to look like the belly of a pirate ship.  Get creative!

Communicate Belonging

We wanted to emphasize that our kids are part of something bigger than themselves: a community we call family.  We want them to feel like they belong, like they have a place with us.  Their individuality can affect home decor.

  • Hang their artwork
  • I have a collection of Willow Tree figures – each is a woman with a child at varying ages.  I have one figure to represent me with each of my children.
  • Hang letters, or their name, on the wall in their rooms decorated in a way that appeals to them.
  • My sister gave us 7 cardboard Q’s.  I let each child choose a sheet of scrapbook paper at Hobby Lobby and we decorated them and hung them in the kitchen.
  • I painted a tree on the wall in our entry way and we have pictures of each person in the family hanging on the tree – our family tree.
  • Use their favorite colors throughout the house.

Create a Place You All Want to Be

  • Low bookshelves invite them to read
  • Clear bins invite them to play (and put things away!)
  • A swing set, fort, and trampoline invite adventure out of doors
  • We don’t have room for ping-pong or a pool table or Foosball, but these are great ideas for inviting kids and their friends to be part of the home.
  • A constant supply of popsicles, hot cocoa, Kool-Aid, Goldfish, pretzels, raisins and string cheese.
  • Basketball hoop, sidewalk chalk, plasma cars, and extra bike helmets.
  • A playroom that incorporates their interests
    • A pair of tilted desk tops for the artsy kids form the roof of a play house for a little girl.
    • Several sets of plastic drawers for Lego storage topped with a long shelf with base plates attached for easy building.
    • Bean bag chairs for sitting – but fill them with stuffed animals and you’ve doubled storage space.

This really gets my juices flowing again!  My husband will NOT be excited, but how about you?

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By Brbbl (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

Consider the Ant (Daily Chores)

Ant Silhouette

Proverbs 6:6  Got to the ant… consider her ways…

I am not a big fan of ants.  Sometimes it seems like ants are my lot in life.  Every house we have lived in has had an ant problem.  Maybe God is trying to draw my attention to the ant.  But my response has been to add “exterminator” as a line item to our family budget. I like that the verse says “Go to the ant” rather than “Let the ants come to you (and live in your kitchen)….”

Even better still, I live in a time where I can go to Wikipedia to consider the ant.  In that safe online environment,  ants are amazing.  Ants communicate, learn, construct and defend nests, navigate long distances, cooperate with kin, compete with other colonies, and enter into beneficial relationships with a variety of other creatures.   There are even ants that cultivate little fungus gardens in their nests rather than forage for food.  Ant societies are characterized by division of labor, communication between individuals, and an ability to solve complex problems.  No wonder scripture instructs us to “consider her ways.”

One thing I recently learned about ants was that ants grow into their roles in the colony.  Ants are sort of born with a blank slate.  They try different jobs until they settle on one.  If an ant isn’t good at foraging, they stop trying that and learn a different way to contribute to the colony.  If they aren’t good at caring for eggs, they find a different specialty.

Bringing that home, we can weave this knowledge of ants with what we know to be true about work from scripture into the fabric of our daily life.  We can try out different ways to contribute to our family – and give our kids the opportunity to do the same thing.  We can divide the labor, communicate well, and solve problems.

So, a couple of  weeks ago I gave you a huge list of chores for kids of all ages.  (I know, so the 0-to-2-year olds got off a little easy…

So, what now?  What do you do with a list like that?

There are a couple of categories of jobs to be done around the house.  There are the every day things like cooking meals, making beds, and cleaning up the kitchen.  And then there are the weekly/monthly/quarterly things like vacuuming carpets, cleaning the oven, raking leaves, and  planting the garden.

Today let’s talk about daily things.  Next week we can talk about periodic things.

In the Quillen house we live by routines.  This may sound boring – but it keeps the stuff that we need to do to live in a supporting role rather than becoming the star of the show.  By having well established routines, we are able to accomplish what needs to happen (eating, clean clothes, devotions/worship) in a consistent way that then frees up the rest of the day for the things we want to happen (school, work, play).

A Day in the Life of the Quillens

Rise & Shine

  • Get up
  • Make bed
  • Go potty
  • Devotions (when our kids turn 9 we start them with morning or evening devotions)
  • Get Dressed (older kids shower first)
  • Put away PJ’s
  • Brush teeth, do hair
  • Swish & Swipe
  • Sort recycle, unload dishwasher, take out the trash, change hand towels, set the table
  • Pour drinks and set out needed medicines.

Breakfast

  • Eat
  • Kitchen jobs
    • Clear the table and counters, put away food, dry & put away dishes
    • Rinse dishes and load dishwasher, hand wash any needed dishes, run disposal, wash sink
    • Wipe placemats, table, counters, change dish towels.
    • Sweep the floor in the kitchen, dining, entry
    • Set the table for the next meal, set out cups and glasses.
  • Practice piano, violin, guitar, etc.
  • Put away laundry

Then we go to school and work or pursue other activities of interest.

After school/work/etc.

  • Homework, free time, naps, sports/extra-curricular activities
  • Set the table if needed
  • Cook dinner, get drinks

After Dinner

  • All the same Kitchen Jobs
  • Sports/extra-curricular activities
  • Baths, pj’s, brush teeth
  • Start laundry
  • Family time/free time
  • Family prayers & worship
  • Bedtime for littles
  • Devotions (older kids who don’t do this in the morning)
  • Time for bigs with parents
  • Bedtime for bigs

Except for the “school/work” part, we do this pretty much every day.  Sunday’s we skip a few of the morning chores (emphasizing the day of rest from usual work idea) and meals are mostly prepared on Saturday.  As a ministry family, our “days off” are Thursday and Saturday.  Instead of school and work we fill that part of the day with periodic chores, play time, and larger projects (more on that next week).  And of course, holidays and breaks from school change what we do in that “school/work” portion of our day.

Scheduling routines is like choreographing a dance with allowances for each of the dancers to move freely while synchronized with the other dancers.  Sometimes I realize their timing is a little off or I have orchestrated their moves poorly, so dancers collide – but we can work with it.  The important thing is for everyone (especially the mama) to remain flexible.  And trust me; my kids give me ample opportunity to stretch!

The first step is to evaluate what is habit-worthy.

Our daily schedule likely includes most of the things other families do every day.  We may be missing some things like caring for pets, packing lunches, or exercise programs.  Some families may not do everything we do either.  Not everyone needs to unload the dishwasher every.single.morning or start laundry every.single.night.  Most people probably don’t change the hand towels in their bathrooms every day (though I will say our cold/flu episodes have decreased since we started doing this!).  The important thing is to take the time to think through the times in your day and the tasks that must get done.

The second step is to establish those habits.

I like things to be black and white.  Establishing habits isn’t a black and white kind of thing.  It has been really hard for me to learn that there are lots of right ways to establish habits and we may need to use a combination of those at any given moment.

Most people are familiar with chore charts since they are commercially available in physical and digital formats almost everywhere.  Chore Charts are a great way to help our kids visualize what needs to be done and to hold them accountable.

  • For a while we used a laminated chart with reusable garage-sale stickers.  Kids love stickers.
  • We’ve had charts on foam-core board with little laminated check marks to Velcro to the board when a task was done.
  • I’ve printed checklists and used a ball point pen to mark off completed chores.
  • We even had an app that assigned chores by child and they could earn reward games by completing their chores. This lasted less than a week for us because there was so much competition for the iPod and we quickly felt “entitled” to screen time.  I’ll write more on things to think about with respect to allowances and rewards in an upcoming post.
  • One notable version of a chore chart is the idea of Chore Packs, created and sold by the Maxwell family as Managers of Their Chores.  (I love a lot of the concepts in these materials, but I don’t embrace everything this family articulates.).  Chore packs are essentially cards with individual chores listed on them, placed in a name-tag pouch that either clips to a child’s clothing or hangs around their neck.  The child rotates through the cards in order until all are completed.  Then they turn in the cards for a parent to inspect and receive their next set of cards or the freedom to move on to another activity.  We liked this variation of a chore chart for a while because the little dangling packet served as a reminder that there was something to be done when our more forgetful children left the room.  (Seriously, sometimes it seems like there’s a memory-wiping fog at the entrance to the hallway and as soon as the kids pass through it the best of intentions to “go brush your teeth” are wiped clear and replaced with “tackle your brother” or “must find tiara.”  The physical presence of the Chore Pack helped with that.)

Whatever the method, the idea is to provide what our kids need to remember to do what is expected.

Now some people do think that this is an artificial support – a crutch of sorts – that prevents our kids from learning self-discipline and independence.  It is external regulation and won’t develop the internal drive necessary to be successful later in life.

I am a big proponent of starting habits early with a view to how it will play out in adulthood.  I hate having to re-train children because I failed to recognize the potential outcome of a behavior, so much so that I often expect adult-like behavior from my kids.  It is important for me to remember my kids are not adults and there are many ways to develop good, life-long habits.  And in all honesty, I use a similar crutch, as do most “successful” adults.

I am pretty organized and reliable.  I’m not saying that to boast – it’s rather annoying really – especially for people who know me.  Sometimes our greatest strengths are our greatest weaknesses, and I am certainly proof of that (I’ll appeal to my husband and kids to verify that statement!).

But I use a crutch.  We lovingly call it my “trusted system,” a term borrowed from David Allen who authored Getting Things Done.  My “trusted system” consists of a my physical tickler file tied to a digital calendar and to-do app with robust reminder capabilities.  My kids know how much I trust this system – they’ll ask me to put things that are important to them into it.  They’ll actually say, “Mommy, can you put down painting my nails in your trusted system?” or “Mommy, is signing up for soccer in your trusted system?” or “Will you put teaching me to knit into your trusted system for our next school break?”

I’m beyond using a chore chart or chore packs, but I am not beyond needing them.

Chore charts, in any variation, are the entry port to a good trusted system.  By instituting this version of a “trusted system” for my kids, I am modeling and training them with skills to keep what is important in front of them.  That is a great life skill.  I need them to know they don’t have to go it alone.  There are systems and people to come alongside of them and help them do what they are called to do.

The beauty of my “trusted system” is that if I really fill it with everything that I need (and want) to get done, I can trust that I am doing exactly what I need to do at any given moment. I will know when I am done. I will be free to move on to something else. And I can rest easy because I know there will be time later to do all the things that keep popping into my head now, including “paint nails” or “sign up for soccer”  or “write blog post,” if that is important to me.

God knows we cannot remember everything.  That’s why he instructed the Israelites to put his word on their doorposts and to talk about it as they walked and sat together.  It’s why Jews wore scripture on their foreheads and attached to the hem of their garments.

OK, so maybe they had such a strong habit of making cheese on Friday’s that they didn’t need a chore chart, but the lowing of cattle surely acted as a reminder to milk them and the sight of ripe grapes on the vine cued them to make wine.  Days and seasons are a reminder of sorts – as are the ebeneezers Jacob set down with stones and the rainbow God set in the clouds.

The need for reminders is intrinsically human.

So, call it a crutch if you must, but also realize we are broken by sin and require crutches.  Then provide the best set of crutches available for you and your children to be able to walk in the way you should go.

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Photo credit:  By ജസ്റ്റിൻ (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons