I hate group projects. I would much rather do all of the work by myself, and resent you for it, than have your ineptness screw it up for the rest of us. I have had the same attitude toward chores and work around my house. If you’re going to half-ass it, then I’ll just come along behind you and do it myself and we’ll all be happy.
Except, I am not happy. As a matter of fact, I am really pissed about it. The problem is, it’s my own damn fault.
If I wasn’t such a control freak maniac about how towels are folded, then maybe I could get a little help. But instead, I have taught my children that if they screw things up just enough, I will martyr myself and complete the task. Therefore, they put in zero effort and I do it all for them. It is a terrible position that I have put myself in and I bitch about it all the time. It is exhausting for me and my husband. He helps out around the house and I am grateful. Yet he says that I complain all the time and do nothing about it. He’s 100% right. But when you have created four complacent little monsters, motivating them is not an easy task.
Recently, I found something that has worked pretty well and I am starting to feel a bit of relief.
It had gotten so bad that I just decided not to do anything either. Laundry was piling up; dishes were being removed from the dishwasher one at a time. And if you forgot to take a shower because I didn’t remind you? Too bad, you’re going to school stinky. Mom had officially had enough. Then I had an epiphany. They aren’t doing anything because I want things done a certain way that only I know how to do. If I haven’t taught them what I want, then how could they know? I realized that I needed to lay it all out for them step-by-step, and maybe they would get things right. It was worth a shot.
I went to Target and I got four dry erase boards. I figured that this was a good place to start. I put one in the laundry room, one in the kitchen, one on their bathroom door, and one in the hall near their bedrooms. This would help them to have a visual and a line-by-line guide. My kids are more than old enough for this kind of thing — and to sweeten the pot, I added cash incentives. They would each receive a weekly allowance for doing the basics; picking up their rooms, doing their laundry, and taking out the trash, with an opportunity to earn more money. Anyone who volunteers to wash, fold, and put away a load of community towels gets a bonus. Same goes for my five-year-old’s laundry. She is a bit young for laundry duty, but her jobs include feeding the dog and picking up her toys, cleaning up her room, and helping to set the table.
At first, they balked. It was overwhelming to see 10 steps to doing the laundry. But at the same time, I think it was sobering. They were realizing that I had been doing those ten steps to a minimum of six loads of laundry a week. And that’s if I only do each person’s laundry and not separate loads of sheets, towels, whites, etc. (Pro tip — I wash every person’s clothes in separate loads. This makes it much easier to throw into baskets to be put away. It eliminates sorting, which I hate.) They each have a designated laundry day that they must do a minimum of one load. If they are feeling ambitious and want to wash their own sheets, I welcome the help.
After the laundry lesson, we moved onto the kitchen. I doled out responsibilities for setting and clearing the table at mealtime, cleaning the dishes, loading and unloading the dishwasher, sweeping and taking out the trash. I kept myself in charge of counters, the stove and sanitizing the sink; I am just not ready to give up the real cleaning duties. Again, they weren’t thrilled but they saw that if they worked together, it didn’t really take that much time. It is when you are doing everything by yourself that it becomes a daunting task.
I laid out how I wanted their bedrooms and bathroom cleaned up and my expectations for how their rooms are to remain straightened. They spend a great deal of time in their bedrooms and I want them to take responsibility for their appearances. I shouldn’t have to be picking up dirty socks and finding empty water bottles and cups all over the place.
This seems like pretty basic stuff and you are probably thinking that I am bonkers for not making them do these kinds of things sooner. Here’s the thing, kids can be manipulative, just like adults. I simply got tired of listening to the bullshit and did it all myself to keep the peace. And then I slapped myself in the face, called myself an idiot, and realized that it was not only unfair to be doing all the work, but I was treating them to an injustice. They were learning nothing about self-sufficiency.
I don’t want my kids to grow up to be lazy or to be slobs. I don’t want them going away to college having never done a load of laundry or washed dishes in the sink. They need to know how to do simple tasks to maintain organization and cleanliness. And they need to be able to do it without me standing over them barking orders. Someday the visuals will be unnecessary because it will be second nature. Until then, a little cheat sheet is a good thing.
I am grateful for their help. However, don’t be fooled. There is still plenty of work to keep me busy, but I am not obsessing over every detail. As tempting as it is to refold the blankets that have just kind of been tossed over the back of the couch, I am not doing it. Completing a task like straightening the couch gives them a sense of pride. I don’t want to take that away from them. And as much as it kills me, I leave the towels folded just the way they do it because when they grab a new one, I want them to be reminded of their hard work.
But I will probably wipe down the table a second time after dinner behind their backs, just because old habits die hard.