One of the first of God’s remarks about man was,
It is not good for man to be alone.
Yet, our culture carves the family up into pieces. We divide children from adults, children from children, boys from girls, man from wife, son from father, daughter from mother, and the elderly from the young. Go to school? All the kindergartners go here. All the first-graders go there. Go to church? First through third grades attend classes in here. Nursery is over there. Third through fifth is in the gym. Go home? Divided into bedrooms, among computers and televisions. We are even pulled from our homes into so-called healthy activities designed specifically for one member of the family.
But not on Sunday.
On Sunday, Paul and I slept in until 9. We showered slowly and sipped our coffee. We skipped church and read 1 Corinthians 13 instead. Then, we sang Christmas carols, gospels, hymns, and Johnny Cash songs. We ate Paul’s applesauce pancakes at 11. Then, we hauled in our tree while listening to Christmas music.
Our family has finally begun to run like a well-oiled machine. It feels like each individual has discovered his/her strengths and contributes them willingly and happily to the family. Elsa organizes the junk drawer. She sorts the socks. She organizes the DVD cabinet. She decorates — hanging the pictures and arranging the furniture. Greta cleans. She is always picking up and straightening and putting things away. Ingrid fixes things. She worked on the Christmas lights, replacing the fuses and bulbs that were out. She finds things for people. She has a special memory for where things are. Even Dagne sewed the loose tassels from the rug back to it. We have an ironing board that lowers to her height and she likes to iron and fold clothes. Paul and I both cook. Paul takes care of the outside.
As I watched my family happily contribute to the readying of the house for Christmas, I felt deeply proud and happy. It was as it should be. None of the work seemed too much because one person wasn’t doing everything. How many times had Paul and I wearily arranged for everything to be “just right” for Christmas, exhausted from long days of work away and work at home? Now we have happy little helper elves, pitching in to lighten the load.
We’ve discovered there is work that seems hateful to one and enjoyable to another. None of us like to clean but Greta and Dagne. They like it. But ask Paul to do the laundry and you might as well remove his fingernails with pliers. But chop wood? He does that for fun. Elsa and I fold the laundry. We like it. It gives us time to think. It is quiet and hidden away in the laundry room. Paul likes to sweep. I don’t mind making the beds. It all works out.
I remember when all the girls were little and they all needed me for everything. They needed me to reach the sink, to wipe, to bathe, to rock to sleep, to kiss away hurts, tend when they were sick, to eat, to clean up after them, to change, to dress, to arrange their hair. I used to bathe the girls all in a row. As I knelt there, patiently rinsing soap out of each girl’s hair, I used to say to myself:
This is as hard as it will get.
This was how I used to encourage myself in the midst of exhaustion. I was surprised to learn that, though the demands became easier, they did not disappear, they just changed.
“Mom, I need a new pair of tennis shoes for tennis.”
“Can you take me to my friend’s house to stay the night?”
“There is a birthday party at the skating rink. Can I go?”
Now it is:
“Can I drive home?”
“Can I wear mascara?”
But, though the demands remain, there are fruits from my labor. I can make my own demands now.
“Honey, can you unload the dishwasher?”
“Dagne, can you set the table?”
“Can you rotate the laundry?”
“Kids! Come and get your clothes off the washer!”
And though I feel busier than ever and the days whisk by with astonishing speed, instead of the work piling up …
it seems to get done!
That hasn’t really happened before.
I love it.
It’s not just the work getting done that pleases me so much. It’s the beauty of unity — each contributing — each offering their strengths — being a member of a body — cheerful cooperation and contribution — it is how it should be.
Of course, it is not always this way. But, I venture to say that some families never experience any days like this. It makes me thankful for all the times I took the time to teach when it would have been easier to just do, for all the times I didn’t let a bad habit form, but called them back to do it right, for the careful focus on excellence, for allowing them to offer fumbling attempts, for overlooking messes because I was focused on habits, not the immediacy of a clean house now.
Returns on investments are sweet, indeed.
And it all seems to be coming together. Managing the household chores has never been a strong point for me. But FlyLady came along and helped me to get rid of my CHAOS (Can’t Have Anyone Over Syndrome). And then, my mother-in-law kept pointing out that I had untapped resources I wasn’t using in my children. Our generation tends to forget that kids can help. Children even enjoy chores if they start young — or at least don’t mind them much.
But anyway, over the years, I’ve sweated over “the schedule.” I’d work out everything that needed to be done and organize them all into a complicated pattern across a grid, divided into minutes so everything could get done. Then, though I knew it would be impossible, quixotic, I’d sally forth into the next day ready to implement … “the schedule.” Most schedules never lasted a day. The windmill of life caught me up in its powerful arms and threw me to the ground. Frustrated but determined, I’d attempt again and again.
It wasn’t exactly fruitless. I’d manage to see a little improvement here, a small change there. But the overall change never occurred. Charlotte Mason and FlyLady came to the rescue. True change only occurs by focusing on one habit at a time. FlyLady starts with shine your sink. Charlotte Mason allows you to pick. Whatever you pick you must accomplish perfectly every time for the next 30 days. After the frustration of seeing schedule after schedule fall to the wayside, I decided to just try to do exactly what they said. C.M. quotes:
Habit is ten natures.
In other words, though your personality might tend to slovenliness, or depression, or anger, or any other character weakness, a good habit is ten times more powerful. We do not have to accept who or where we are in life, for we are a bundle of habits. And the following corollary is true:
Habit may supplant nature.
We can be who we decide to be, by changing one habit at a time.
We can even change our family, one habit at a time. So I stopped making schedules. I divided the chores into Kitchen, Laundry, and Cleaning. Each week we rotate. Two kids help in the kitchen, preparing food, setting the table, unloading the dishwasher, and doing the dishes. I have two kids on it because it is all day work and if one of them is gone, I still have a helper. The other two do laundry and cleaning. I stopped making long, detailed lists of what needed to be done and just have them work in their area every evening after dinner (except for the kitchen gals — they help all day). Sometimes it’s fifteen minutes. Sometimes it’s 30 minutes. I still FlyLady around doing my thing. This way I won’t be disappointed by expecting them to do it all. If I’m busy pretending it’s all up to me, most of the work gets done, and any help is a pleasant surprise. Plus, I’m modeling that mom works hard with them. It creates a working atmosphere.
Benefits: it’s cheerful, achievable work. The kid who is willing doesn’t get strapped with all of the work (Ingrid and Greta were always the first volunteers to the question, “Can someone help me with the …” The schedule is simple. It stops me from micromanaging. It allows them freedom to pitch in where they see fit. They begin to see the dirt, grime, or piles of work. The task falls on their shoulders and it provides the buy-in that changes a task from hateful to fair.
Downsides: not every detail gets done. I’m okay with this. Because my focus is on habits and excellence, I believe that eventually, the details will become more pristine and clear. Improvement is inevitable.
I also worked out the homeschooling. Again, I started off with detailed schedules that overwhelmed the kids and produced very little. They all needed individual help, which is the cornerstone of homeschooling. Trying to give individual help to each child at a math table where they were all on different levels of math and they were all stuck until I arrived was impossible. I looked like a harried squirrel trying to pick up more nuts than I could carry but unwilling to leave any behind.
I remembered when I had babies. I used to have one of the kids entertain the baby while I worked with the other. Then, we switched.
So I put that concept to work in our present state.
What can the kids work on without help?
Session One: the girls work on doing their morning chores, prayer, Bible study and memorization, music practice while I rotate them individually through to do math.
Session Two: Still figuring this out. But I believe that it is best to do History Timelines together while I read aloud. Even though the material is easy for the older ones, they enjoy it, they are learning the major points in history, and it provides a framework for further reading. Geography has magically worked itself out by having Elsa join the younger girls’ class. She wanted to learn geography and I considered teaching it to her separately, but I realized that a good curriculum is good no matter what age. Elsa can challenge herself and I encouraged her to. Meanwhile, she naturally organizes the others and models perfect homework. They do their geography work together.
Session Three: science. I’ll allow the other kids to have a break while I rotate each of them through their science work.So this would be their “recess” until Mom calls them to the table.
While I’m rotating them through, I’m folding laundry, putting away dishes, and pulling stuff out for dinner.
Session Four: The girls read assigned reading for an hour while I rotate them through their writing, grammar, vocab, Spanish, etc. The many subjects sound exhausting, but they are small assignments, so it goes quickly.
I hope to be done by one or two so they can get outside or do sports or I can tutor or write or we can go for a walk.
I’m sure this was old hat for some, or irrelevant to others, but I know that I always wanted to know how someone actually worked their day at home, juggling all of the hats we wear. I thought that seeing someone else’s plan would give me something to work with. So, I thought it best to share it here.
Hope it helped some.