Just after the Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy, I wrote about my commitment to making our mornings better. Part of my plan was to purchase Cleaning House: A Mom’s 12-Month Experiment to Rid Her Home of Youth Entitlement by Kay Wills Wyma. Kay’s book is about much more than cleaning up; it’s about getting the whole family to act like a family: a group of people who are all in this together. The kids are not too young, or too old, to help out without fussing. And along they way, they’ll develop a can-do spirit and mom will learn how to let go.

One of our aprons from The Freckled Pear

Freckled Pear Apron

I remember quite a while ago, our pediatrician asked if the girls had chores and the answer was me scratching my head. While they were certainly expected to do what I asked, when I asked, they didn’t have formal chores. Now is the time. They are now almost eight and they still get excited about things like vacuuming. I needed to bottle that genie before it was too late.

So today, our experiment commenced and I thought I’d walk your through our progress with periodic “Whip ‘Em Into Shape” Wednesdays. First off, I’d highly recommend the book. It’s easy to read, makes me feel like my kids are not the only badly-behaved-at-home-good-in-public kids out there, and gives me hope for a less chaotic home life.

Kay has her brood begin with bed making and picking up the bathroom. I am more of a path-of-least-resistance kind of girl. So, I started with her Task Two, which is dinner preparation and clean up. As my first victim, I chose Grace, who loves to cook anyway. I also did not tie this chore to a rewards jar because (1) I am cheap and (2) I thought the girls would buy into this without monetary incentive. Also, I gave the girls super-cute aprons for Christmas, and I figured using those would be incentive enough.

So tonight, Grace:

1 – Choose dinner

2 – Wrote out the grocery list

3 – Helped in the preparation as much as was feasible for a seven-year-old (I did the chopping)

4 – Set the table

5 – Cleared the table

6 – Loaded the dishwasher

She was thrilled with every single step. She even asked to be responsible for dinner two nights a week, instead of just one. Whoo-hoo!

I figured Meg would be more suspicious and whiny about our new chores-for-kids systems, so I just asked her what night she wanted to be responsible for dinner. She thought about it and chose Mondays. No idea why, don’t really care, just want to see it happen.

In the book, Kay’s kids start with total menu planning freedom. I can’t go that far. Mine are going to have to choose from the food pyramid from the start, but then again, mine are younger and (hopefully) more malleable. I know Meg would choose chicken nuggets and mac ‘n cheese for every meal if she could and I’m just not going to go there.

The general idea is that we introduce one new chore/responsibility a month. Doing something for 20 or so days is supposed to establish a habit. And introducing one new responsibility at a time will, I suppose, keep the kids from feeling overwhelmed and overburdened.

The girls also volunteered to vacuum today and cleaned up their bathroom counter without fussing. For my part, I’m trying to learn to say things like, “You know, if the house is clean, we can have more play dates” instead of “What have you done to this room? Start picking up NOW.” I’m also here to help and advise, but not to micromanage. My real challenge is to let go of the “it’ll get done faster and better if I do it myself” thinking.

I’ll be curious to see what starts out as fun and becomes seen as drudgery. I’ll also be interested to see if they object to adding a new task monthly. (I still remember the Lent my mom suggested I start doing my own laundry, only to inform me at the end of Lent that laundry was now my permanent chore. My 13-year-old reaction was huffy resentment.) But if all goes according to plan, the girls will feel capable and I will feel less exhausted. And the house will, of course, be more party-ready.

I’ll let you know how it goes!

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