This post is by Contributing Writer Lori Hernandez of Three Acre Farm.
About 2 months ago, I had a serious panic moment.
This spring, I will be expanding my farm business and working full time hours on the farm. In the midst of all the work of ordering seeds and supplies, creating spreadsheets and planting calendars, registering with state and federal entities, taking small business start-up classes, creating a website and all the other things that go into running a business, I realized I forgot one VERY IMPORTANT thing.
“Who is going to do all the work around the house that I have been doing the last 10 years?” I don’t have a house that will just clean itself!
Going Back to Work
For the past 10 years, I have been a stay-at-home mother. My son is 10 and my daughter is 7. It’s been an incredibly challenging, yet rewarding job. I manage about 90% of all the household tasks. This includes cooking, cleaning, laundry, budgeting/bills/paperwork, managing the family calendar/schedule, taking care of the kids, caring for the farm animals, maintaining a 1/4 acre garden, food preservation and much more.
Lest you wonder what in the world my husband does (and “why is he not helping her more?!?”), he works an exhausting physical labor job outside the home every day, then has a list of projects to work on at home that is a mile long. With a 1880’s fixer-upper farmhouse house “Oooo! I bet fixing up an old farmhouse is so much fun!” (Guess what. It’s not!) and the myriad of tasks that must be done to keep our farm running, his days are even busier than mine.
We sat down one day with a chart listing all the activities that must be done to run a household and figured out who was responsible for what (even little things, like who plans birthday parties, vacations, etc). This helped greatly to make duties crystal clear and also gave us a greater appreciation for the work each of us does. If you are feeling resentment about your duties, I would recommend doing this exercise with your spouse/partner, so you can be on the same page!
But now… I’ll be working full time and my husband will be adding “Help Lori with the farm,” to his already crunched days. So who is going to be taking over for me? I wish we could afford to hire someone, but that is not possible at this time.
Getting the Help I Need
I must confess that I have done a poor job teaching my kids to be helpful around the house. Unfortunately, my perfectionist tendencies rear their ugly head and I want things done MY way.
It’s SO MUCH EASIER for me to do things myself, instead of taking the time to teach my children how to do it properly. Please tell me I’m not the only one who feels this way! But man, oh man, it’s coming back to bite me in the butt!
We have tried chore charts/routines in the past, but I’ll totally admit they failed because of my lack of consistency and my unwillingness to invest time in “job training”.
But now…I KNOW I will not be able to do it all. I feel an overwhelming sense of urgency to train my children how to take over some of the tasks I normally do. It’s time to get serious!
Creating a Kid Friendly Kitchen and Home
The first thing I did was walk around my house with a critical eye. Looking for barriers or problems that were keeping my children from helping out more with domestic chores. Some of these ideas were inspired by the book “The House That Cleans Itself” by Mindy Starns Clark.
Here are a few things I did:
- Put a small trash bin in the living room. No excuses for trash laying around when the trash bin is one step away now! When I ask them to clean up, they are not making trips to a different room (and getting distracted!). Sounds like a little thing, but anything that makes a job easier is helpful.
- We did a major toy purge and carefully organized what was left, making sure everything had a home. The toys are all in one place, instead of being scattered in different rooms around the house.
- I rearranged my kitchen cupboards and drawers so the kids could easily reach/put away what they needed. Water bottles and lunch packing supplies are now easy to reach.
- Took photos of the contents of each cupboard/drawer and taped them on the outside, so the kids could learn where everything goes (this is also helpful for husbands! Ha!)
- Organized the pantry, putting like objects in boxes (I use the boxes that Clementine oranges come in) and labeling where they go, so kids can help easily find ingredients.
- Purchased a Dyson V6 cordless vacuum, so the kids can take over vacuuming duties. My older model Dyson works great, but it was much too heavy for them to carry up the stairs and let’s face it, cords are a real pain in the butt. We only have one room with carpet in our house, and some large rugs, so this is a perfect solution for us. I LOVE IT and it was worth Every. Single. Penny. And get this – my kids argue over who gets to vacuum now!
- Purged the kid’s bedrooms, explaining that less stuff means less to clean/organize!
- My husband recently built lockers/cubbies for us in the breezeway. I ruthlessly trained the kids to keep all their coats, backpacks, shoes, mittens, etc. out there, instead of them laying all over the house.
- Made room in my son’s closet so he can hang all his shirts, instead of folding them (getting him to fold shirts was a nightmare). Now he only has to fold pants/shorts, pajamas, underwear and socks. He also has hooks on the wall for hanging up clothes that can be worn again.
Like I said chore charts haven’t worked so well for us in the past, but we decided to try again.
This time, though, I sat down with the kids and laid it all out there for them. I told them I simply was not capable of doing everything anymore and I desperately needed their help. I wrote out a list of items I needed help with (in my Bullet Journal, of course!) and showed them the list. They both agreed these were tasks they could do.
I think presenting it this way, asking for help made them feel more responsible and like they were contributing in a meaningful way.
Next, I typed up a simple chore chart for each kid (not feeling creative? Check Etsy or Amazon for a great selection of chore charts. This downloadable one is from GraceByFaith). I decided to start with just a few tasks, to allow us to build a solid routine and not overwhelm ourselves with too many changes at once. Since my kids are in school from 8-4 everyday, by the time we factor in after school commitments, dinnertime and homework, there is very little time for chores when bedtime routine starts at 7:30.
I put each chart in a page protector and the kids mark off their tasks with a dry erase marker. They alternate jobs every day, which I mark with the blue star.
The Morning Chores have become a breeze for the kids. Now that they are cleaning on a regular basis, they can have their rooms tidy in less than a minute.
The Evening Chores are a bit more involved and require a lot of my attention. I’m investing time teaching them how to properly set the table, clear the table and put away leftover food, load the dishwasher and wash up/put away dinner dishes. It all sounds easy, but actually requires a lot of training!
The kids really like having the photos on the cupboard/drawers. It’s become a fun game, trying to find the item in the photo.
I’m enjoying dish washing time with the kids – it’s great way to spend one-on-one time and talk about their day. I’m trying to think of even more ways to make it enjoyable, such as allowing them to pick out their favorite music to listen to.
Before our bedtime routine, we set a timer for 5 minutes and everyone goes around getting the house picked up for the next day. This one action has been a real game changer. We usually finish in less than 2 minutes when we work together!
On Saturday, when they have more time, they do a more thorough bedroom clean up and take turns either cleaning the bathroom or cleaning the breezeway (not an easy task! Farms are dirty – you would not believe the amount of stuff we track in!).
For these 3 tasks, I wrote up instructions and posted them in the appropriate place, so the kids could make sure they were doing everything correctly. The first 2 times they did the job, I helped them. Now I make sure I’m nearby to supervise. Soon, they will be able to do it alone.
My 10 year old son learned how to do laundry this past summer, so he is in charge of washing, drying and putting away his own clothes. Yes, he still needs reminders at times, but he’s getting better. My 7 year old daughter is slowly learning.
As summer approaches, I imagine we will be adding more chores to the list.
To Pay or Not to Pay…
If you want to start a very opinionated discussion on Facebook, you should ask people if they pay their kids for chores or not. Whew! I was surprised by all the feedback!
What I finally determined is the question “To Pay or Not to Pay” is very personal. What works well for one family might totally backfire for another family… so let’s be kind to each other and not judge the decision each family makes!
We tried paying our kids to do chores for about 1 day and stopped right away when we noticed an ugly sense of entitlement. They refused to do ANYTHING unless there was money in it for them. This system just didn’t work for us. Yet, I still wanted them to learn the connection between work and earning money.
I recently read “Smart Money, Smart Kids” by Dave Ramsey and his daughter, Rachel Cruze. It was comforting to read that even Dave Ramsey, the “money master”, didn’t have a great system worked out and was not terribly consistent either.
Using the ideas in the book, we decided we were going to pay, but not for each individual chore. Here is what we worked out:
- At the beginning of the week, each kid gets $5 to put into their money jars.
- $1 goes in the Giving Jar, $2 goes in the Spending Jar, $2 goes in the Saving Jar
- If the kids fail to do their chores on time, they lose their money. Don’t do the work on time, don’t get paid. Even if they lose their money, they are still required to do the work, without pay.
- If they grumble, complain or argue about their chores, they lose their money.
Obviously, the kids got to decorate their own jars. 😉
We typed up the rules and made the kids sign at the bottom, after we VERY thoroughly explained the terms and conditions. The first week, we expected slip-ups, so we instituted a “grace period” and didn’t penalize mistakes…and now I would recommend having a 3 week grace period because it takes a long time to establish habits!
Yes, we did have to take money away and yes, it was painful (for both kids and parents!). We discovered that watching your money being taken away has a strong impact!
I like the idea of teaching my kids how to manage their money wisely at a young age. They are allowed to use their spending money however they wish (within reason, of course). They spend it on Scholastic book orders, snacks at sports games, toys at garage sales, etc. We don’t buy anything besides necessities for them anymore.
My 10 year old son is now responsible for buying his own clothes and sports equipment (we will help occasionally, like with back-to-school shoes and the like). The chore money, along with birthday money, helps him achieve that…and teaches him the joys of thrift store shopping! He also has to pay half of the fees for any after school activities he wants to participate in (such as baseball).
I know not everyone agrees with paying for chores. Right now I feel like the money management lessons make it the right choice for us. It’s also sparked some great conversations with our 10 year old about saving for big things, like a car and college tuition.
Since my son asked if he could do extra chores to earn more money, I typed up a short list of jobs we were willing to pay for. I’m sure I’ll have more to add this summer!
I also told the kids I would pay them an hourly minimum wage for help on the farm this summer (weeding, watering, harvesting, etc). To earn their pay they will have to work HARD for the entire hour. We’ll see how that goes…unfortunately, neither of my kids inherited my love for gardening and they despise helping me with that work.
I, on the other hand, love the work and would rather not listen to them complain for an hour!
So… How is the System REALLY working?
Pretty well, honestly.
Perfect? No. There are some days when life is just crazy and things don’t get done, and it’s nobody’s fault. We try to stay flexible and extend grace when needed.
As summer approaches I will be working during the dinner hour a few nights a week. I will need the kids to help even more with dinner prep and cooking.
Confession time…I have not enrolled in the Kids Cook Real Food eCourse yet, but I think this is the perfect time to jump in! The idea of having my kids to take over some tasks in the kitchen sounds like a dream come true!
I’m starting to feel a bit less panicky now, as my children are proving to me daily that they are capable of being truly helpful with keeping our home running (somewhat!) smoothly. I certainly expect some bumps along the way and some stressful days. But I feel like I have more support and I’m not doing everything on my own… and that is always a good feeling.
Katie here, just interrupting for a sec if I may with an exciting announcement about something I’m super passionate about…kids cooking dinner!
If your dream would be a night off dinner – or you know it’s vital that your kids have life skills like cooking – or they’re ASKING to help in the kitchen but you’re not sure where to start – these brand new videos can help!
It feels like you don’t have time for anything else – but teaching kids to cook truly creates time where there was none once they start pitching in on dinner prep. #kitchenmiracle 😉
For a fun sneak preview of one of our recipes, here’s my 5yo making mac and cheese in the Instant Pot – can you figure out what that secret VEGGIE ingredient is?