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