Saturday, July 24, 2010


Someone in my circle of Facebook friends posed the question recently: How do those with large families keep up with household chores? This is a favorite topic of mine.

Let me start off by saying that I am an Anal Retentive Control Freak. There, I said it. I feel better now that it's out in the open.

Because I am an Anal Retentive Control Freak (hereafter referred to as ARCF), having a clean, tidy home is high on my priority list. I can't help it.

I'd like to first address this popular notion out there that families with a lot of kids should not have clean, tidy homes. In fact, it seems that a large family living in a clean, tidy house is viewed by a certain sector of society as something bad. Apparently it means that too much attention is being expended on household cleanliness at the expense of the children's emotional well-being. To that I say: BAH! Methinks people who are judgmental about clean, tidy homes are merely using the age-old method of attempting to make themselves feel better/superior by putting someone else down.

Personally, I have nothing at all against families who don't mind clutter and untidiness. To each his own. It's just that for me, I need relative tidiness to feel held-together at the seams. I'm sure it's a vestige of some coping mechanism from long ago - you know, controlling the things I actually could control as a means of coping with the chaotic, crazy things I could not control. Blah blah blah ... yawwwwwwn.

Anyhow, so yeah, I like a clean house. How do I do it, people seem to want to know. Here's a rundown of things that get done pretty much every day here in our house:
  • The beds get made every morning. Kevin and Joey are responsible for making their own beds, which is actually comical. Kevin actually sleeps on top of his covers and bedspread, just using a throw to cover himself. Meaning, he never un-makes his bed. He's been doing this for a number of years, I kid you not. I'm pretty sure this developed out of a desire to never have to make his bed. I remind him from time to time that someday when he's married, he's going to have to learn how to sleep in a bed, under the covers, again. Joey isn't terribly proficient at bed-making at age 8, although I'm convinced that his lack of skill is really due to lack of interest. Okay, fine. Their room usually looks like a bomb went off in it anyway, so we just keep the door closed.
  • Dishes get done after every meal.
  • Kitchen floor gets swept multiple times a day, and Swiffered about every other day.
  • Laundry is a constant. The washer and dryer is almost always running in our house. I don't let clean stuff pile up too much; I'm pretty good about folding and putting away in a timely manner. The older boys are responsible for putting their own clean clothes away, and Kevin is supposed to do his and Joey's laundry (since they share a room and, thus, a hamper), but he usually lets it pile up until it's spilling out of the hamper and neither of them has clean underwear.
  • The kids, it goes without saying, trash the house every day, but toys and such get picked up and put away at the end of the day.
I confess that I have a housekeeper, too. She comes in once a week and spends the better part of the day doing all the "deep" cleaning - dusting, mopping all the floors, vacuuming, scrubbing the bathrooms and kitchen from top to bottom, cleaning the blinds, etc. My husband seems to think it sounds pretentious if I make mention of my "housekeeper." In my defense, I don't think of it as a status symbol or a class distinction, and I certainly don't think that housework is beneath me. I actually don't at all mind doing housework, but the truth is that it is hard to keep up with it all when you have a big family (hell, it's hard to keep up with it when you have a small family), and since having a clean house is important to me, I'm willing to shell out some moolah to keep it clean. And seriously? On Monday afternoons after the housekeeper leaves? That feeling of reveling in an utterly clean, tidy house? It's almost orgasmic. To me, anyway.

I've been trying, on and off, and with varying degrees of determination and success, to get the kids more involved in household chores, just because I think it's important that everyone contribute to the maintenance of the family home in some way. I think it's important to instill a good work ethic in my kids, and I want them to grow up into people who can fend for themselves. Everyone should grow into an adult who can wash a sinkful of dishes, operate a washer and dryer, set a table, and take out a bag of garbage, don't you think? And really, with all these kids, I shouldn't have to lift a finger. Okay, I kid. I've made chore charts and made promises of allowance based on chores (which I know is controversial, but let's be honest: money talks, and it's a great motivator). And it starts out with great enthusiasm, but the novelty soon wears off for everyone, me included. And I inevitably find myself not wanting to deal with hounding them to do their chores, not wanting to listen to the whining and complaining. Also, being the ARCF that I am, I tend to inwardly cringe at the imperfection of the tasks undertaken by their clumsy little hands and I inevitably fall back on the attitude of "If I want it done now, and if I want it done right, then I might as well do it myself." Not very effective parenting, I know. It probably plays right into the theory of Faux Incompetence - you know, where someone acts like they don't know how to properly do something merely as a means of getting out of doing it.

Last night, Michael asked Kevin to do the dinner dishes, which is actually supposed to be one of his daily chores, but one which I rarely enforce because, like I said, it's usually easier to just do it myself the way I like it to be done. Anyway, Kevin started sulking and he said to me with a puppy-dog expression, "I don't do a very good job doing the dishes." I clapped him heartily on the back and said, "You do a fine job."

Go, me.


NorCalMom said...

Way to go!

I have a similar condition and often find it easier to just do it myself. The kids catch on real quick and don't put any effort into their chores, knowing that I will step in and do it.

I am working on this condition as it does not help me or them for that matter. It is a daily battle that I sometimes just cave and do things myself.

Good job with encouraging your son to do the dishes last night.

Stephanie said...

Well, I'm most definitely not an ARCF so this is my method: Keep the living room, kitchen, dining room, hall, and bathroom moderately clean at all times. THis is so that I won't be embarassed and humiliated in the case of unannounced guests. The rest of the house--bedrooms and basement gets the closed door treatment and I might literally throw myself on some poor unsuspecting houseguest if they unwittingly find themselves led to the wrong door--rather than let them see the sad state of the room behind it. See, even though my house isn't that clean, and I don't care that my house isn't that clean, I want to give the appearance that it is. There is a point though that I tend to get very very cranky, bordering on psychotic when the house get's too messy. That's when the kids know they darned well better get their lazy butts up and pitch in. Yes, I've often wished I was an ARCF...seems easier somehow.

Snowflake said...

We have 5 kids ranging from 6-10. Working full time and raising the kids means most things wait until the weekend (I'm also very anal about having a clean house, but don't have the resources to get the housekeeper - yet - so jealous of you).
They all know that they have things to do, not specifically a chore chart though - we pass the chores around to whomever - that way they all know what to do (all of them can equally clean toliets and floors to by precise standard). Trash gets taken out daily by them (sometimes twice a day), they all unload and load the dishwasher, and they take turns wiping down the table and sweeping the floor after meals. My husband started trying to teach the older two how to do laundry, but since he doesn't know how and once after my daughter did it and I had NO socks (they all went to the twin boys for some reason - what are they going to do with pink Hanes?) I've banished everyone from doing laundry. I don't know I sort of enjoy that task actually for some weird reason.
The kids rooms are usually a disaster. They clean then almost daily, yet 10 mins. later they have EVERYTHING pulled back out (we close doors a lot).

heather said...

The chore charts have worked well for us. I agree that it's important for kids to learn responsibility and hard work ethic but I found myself always criticizing their finished work ("You think that looks good? Your blankets are all wrinkled and crumpled." "Why would you put the dishes in the dishwasher like this? Nothing will ever get cleaned if it's not upside down." etc.) Helping them develop a good work ethic while destroying their self esteem. It's still a tough battle for me. I spend the time "certifying" them on their jobs -- teaching them how to load the dishwasher, make their beds the way I expect, etc. It has helped. All I know is my friend spent lots of time letting her kids learn how to do the housework and her home is always organized and clean because her kids know what is expected of them. It's just getting past the years of them doing everything much slower and sloppier. Good luck!