Tuesday, September 21, 2010

In Which I Am In Favor of Child Labor (or, On Routines, Empowering Your Kids, and Cleaning Tabata)

(Originally posted at Rational Jenn)

Sunday's Family Conference involved a lengthy problem-solving routine chart creation, and I'm going to tell you all about it!

If you weren't aware of this already, it's time for me to share with you a certain disability I have: I am a terrible housekeeper. I do not get a thrill from sweeping or picking up toys or doing the dishes. These are activities that do not warm my heart as such. The bad part of my disability is that I also enjoy such things as pathways free of teeny tiny LEGO pieces, crumb-free (and yogurt-free) couches, and clothing that doesn't stink.

So based on my desire for X level of cleanliness, I must do Y amount of housework. The result, Z, is the set of very, VERY low housekeeping standards which I have carefully cultivated over the years and strive mightily to maintain.

Now, when the babies showed up, I was of course clueless about how that would change the equation. By the time I was pregnant with Morgan, we'd broken down (in my head, this was a failure of some kind) and hired a bi-weekly cleaning service to do the floors and bathrooms and other heavy housekeeping lifting. I LOVE them. It's nice that, for a few hours every other week, my house is CLEAN.

However, time, and budgets, change everything. Brendan and I have been revamping our financial picture (with success, yay!) since the spring, and it's finally time to let go of the cleaning service. It will save us a tidy sum, and honestly, their level of service has gone down somewhat, unfortunately. Then it occurred to me that I have all of these children handy, and they A.) are responsible for much of the mess, B.) need to learn these life skills, in my personal opinion, and C.) are young, spry, and have tiny little arms that will allow them to reach those hard-to-clean places much better than I ever could.

They already do a lot of work around here, and so do I. When I broke out what the cleaning service does for us, it's not really that much more to add to our family workload. Plus, the savings!

Still, I was reluctant to cancel the cleaning service before we had a Plan in place to tackle these extra chores--ideally, a Plan that had been created and agreed upon by all of us (well, except for Sean). Part of the reason for this is obvious, I hope--simply so that we'd have some plan to make sure the work still got done. But the real reason I needed a Plan-with-a-Capital-P is because my children have inherited the housework disability from both of us, and they are, to say the least, unwilling participants in the cleaning processes we already have going. My husband's disability borders on clinical, I'm sorry to say, as he neither notices stinking piles of refuse strewn about the house, nor does he care. (Sorry, honey, but you know that's true.)

And as it happens, this Family Conference habit we've developed (six months strong!) is a fantastic format for hammering out answers to eternal questions such as How in the World are We Going to Keep the House Fit for Human Habitation without Nagging each other into Insanity?

Ryan was the President of Sunday's Family Conference, and I'd told him that I wanted us to work on some group problem-solving. When I got out my flip chart and Only Mommy Markers (as they are known around these parts), the excitement was palpable.

Because I am me, I had a list I'd prepared with tasks and a tentative schedule, not to present this as a phony "let's pretend to get buy-in to something Mom has already decided about anyway" solution, but so that I had at the ready a complete list of tasks to be done--and to show them what we did as a family anyway.

First, we talked about things we already do on a typical day (Morgan had already begun decorating the lists, as she loves to do at the end of the meeting):

See? We ALREADY do all that stuff. It was reassuring to me that they called all that stuff out from memory, as if they'd actually internalized these tasks and might be on their way to building a habit!

Then we listed out things that we do weekly or every other week:

And we put a check mark next to the jobs that the Cleaning Peopleguys do (basically they do floors and bathrooms). The other stuff? We already do, though we don't always keep to a strict schedule about it necessarily.

Then I thought it might be good to list things that need doing less often, like monthly:

Because of my allergies, we really need to be better about checking the air filters. And of course, it just makes good sense to test the smoke alarms every once in a while.

So now we had a basic list, which we'll tweak over time I'm sure, of tasks that we all agreed needed doing. Everyone seemed to think that adding in the work that we are paying the Cleaning Peopleguys to do will be feasible. Brendan agreed to vacuum. Ryan expressed concern about the grossness of cleaning toilets (though he enjoys plunging them, so I can't quite see why cleaning them would be more disgusting than plunging). We agreed that we do our weekly work all together as a family on Saturday mornings. Maybe put in some fun music to make the time go by faster.

So we were done, right? Not so fast! I then expressed my most deepest concern that when it came time to actually work together on a Saturday morning, people would be reluctant. I told them that I think I will feel angry if I don't get cooperation on Saturday mornings, and that they will probably hate it if I have to remind and remind and nag them to do their work. Since our work needs to get done, and we are all agreed on that point, it seems like fighting about it will not be fun and will not make the work get done faster. So what can we think of to do about that problem?

Morgan suggested that if someone doesn't want to help, then they just go take a break. Nice try, sweetie. :o) Ryan suggested something a little more Draconian, though I can't recall just what it was. But everyone seemed to agree that Blitz Cleaning, or Cleaning Tabata, seemed like a fun way to get the work done.

If you aren't familiar with the term tabata, it's used in high-intensity exercise. The basic idea is that you exercise really hard for a short amount of time, rest for a short amount of time, lather, rinse, repeat.

We have used the Cleaning Tabata technique and it is really fun and motivating (so far) for everyone. Morgan doesn't (yet) have the stamina for three full rounds, Ryan and I do (and I'm sure Brendan does, too, he just wasn't here the last time we did this). So here is our tabata schedule:

Now, unlike exercise tabata, our rest intervals get longer, as you may have noticed. That's for my benefit as much as the children's. I hate housework tasks SO much that I really need to rest for longer and longer periods of time in order to get the energy for the next ten minute round.

The older kids and I cleaned this way on Saturday afternoon (a trial run before the Family Conference) and I was simply AMAZED at what we accomplished in 30 minutes of cleaning (that took a little over an hour of our total time). Each time I set the timer and made a big production: "Get Ready, Set, GO!" and Ryan would start screaming and running in circles, flailing his arms. I'd remind him to use that energy to clean, and he did. One thing you might not know about this kid is that when he puts his mind to it, he is a HARD worker. Morgan needed a little more direction, as she tends to wander off and start reading a book, but she worked pretty hard, too, for the first two rounds. About halfway through the third round I had to start giving her specific tasks to carry out, and pretend to chase her (playfully) to get her moving.

After each round of cleaning, we all walked around and appreciated what we'd accomplished. And during the rest periods, we played on the computer or read or book or tended to Sean's needs. That's another cool thing about tabata cleaning--I can stop and do Seanie things like find his game on the computer for him without feeling like I haven't accomplished a task. I'm pretty task-oriented and I hate being interrupted when I'm in the middle of a process. Because we'd scheduled these "interruptions" I was able to be fully present for Sean and not feel grumpy about reading him a book (yes, I do that sometimes, boo).

At the end of every problem-solving session we all agree to try the new plan for a week and check back. This plan will need to be monitored over a longer period of time than a week, but we'll talk about it at our Family Conferences over the next month or so and work on tweaking it a bit. Do we need to vacuum upstairs every week or every other week? Stuff like that. And because I anticipate the enthusiasm for our new plan and our tabata technique wearing thin after a while, we will probably have to do some negotiation/problem-solving about how to keep people working and other ideas for keeping ourselves motivated.

Tomorrow is the last day for the Cleaning Peopleguys (I didn't want to cancel this week on them at the last minute, plus I think it will be easier for us to get off to a good start if the place is semi-clean to begin with). I kind of hate to break the news to them, because the owner of the company is super nice and has been really good to us over the years. I do intend to hire them on an occasional basis for deep cleaning.

But I am SO excited, and I think it would be nice to do a little something for the whole family with some of the money we save!

This post has also been brought to you by the Positive Discipline Tool Cards Routines and Empower Your Kids.

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