Teaching, Cleaning, and Working: Balancing it All
I think, with all the challenges of being a single homeschooling parent, managing the house was the most challenging of all. I have to confess, sometimes I failed dismally. In my early years of homeschooling, I would often compare myself to other homeschool moms who appeared to have it all together, and feel even more of a failure. Never mind that these moms were not single parents. Never mind that they didn’t have a child with challenges or health issues of their own.
Housekeeping would fall way down on the list of priorities many times. I remember one time I had an unexpected visit from a relative. This person started in on criticizing me that my dishes were not washed. I told this person that they were washed each night before I went to bed, but I had more important things to do with my time than worrying about dishes three times a day. I had the habit of doing the dishes after I put the kids to bed (they were young then). I would do the picking up and all the house chores after bedtime.
We often run into well-intentioned family and friends who think our homes need to be magazine-ready since we are home with the kids all day, right? I have to warn you that having children at home all day, living life as a life-long learner, doing experiments, creating art, etc., will often leave the home in a state of minor chaos.
I will share some ideas that helped me through the years as I slowly gained my “sea legs” on the homeschool journey.
First step is always to downsize as much as possible. An excellent resource is Flylady. She has a lot of free information on setting up cleaning schedules, etc. I must warn you that she does send out a lot of email/reminders. You can fix your settings so you do not get these and only access the information online. Flylady is very well known and has helped many families.
Second step is to set up a cleaning schedule. Again, Flylady can help here. After the schedule is set up, I would assign chores to the little ones. If they can walk, they can help clean in some way. It is a huge disservice how many parents refuse to give chores to their children today. They want them to be “kids” as long as possible. The problem is that they are not teaching them responsibility or life skills that are very important. There are easily found sites online that have age-appropriate chores. There are also sites online that give lists of life skills teens need to have before they move out on their own.
An example of a site: http://www.momjunction.com/articles/everyday-life-skills-your-teen-should-learn_0081859/. Kindling Dreams, my organization, does offer a Life Skills 101 class for junior and seniors. We cover a variety of basic skills to equip teens as they move out on their own.
In order to develop these skills, children need to begin learning them from a young age. Everyone in the home contributes to the general well-being of the home.
When the children were young, chores were mainly picking up after themselves and keeping their room clean. As they got older, they began helping with dishes, and even helped in preparing meals. I would let my children experiment with meals in the kitchen with the one rule that they had to eat whatever they created. All of my children can cook, males and females.
As they became older, I divided work into zones. They would be assigned a zone for a month. There was a kitchen zone, outside zone, living area zone, etc. They would also have responsibility of shopping and preparing menus/meals. Once they hit their teen years, they had to do their own laundry. They were assigned days. If they missed, then they had to work with their sibling to fit into another day.
As children age, they also assumed more responsibility for their own learning. I would give assignments for the week, and they would be responsible for making sure they were done by Friday.
These suggestions may need to be adapted if a child has challenges. It is important for the child with challenges to learn as many life skills as possible. It may take longer to learn. They may also need notebooks with lists created so they have reminders.
The main thing I had to remember was that housework, while important, is not the top priority over work, learning, and life. If a parent begins early to teach general pick-up, then the chaos remains on a low level. If the limits are set — chores before play — then there is no question of the answer if Susie wants to go play with Lori next door, but has not finished her chores. Setting simple limits and being consistent is very important in achieving balance in the household chores just as in other areas also.
One thing my father would say to me was “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” It’s all small stuff at times when it comes to maintaining the home. We want to remain ahead of the “house condemn” stage, but also remember the importance of allowing children the freedom to “experiment and get messy,” as Ms. Frizzle (The Magic School Bus) says.