Thursday, June 11, 2009

I'm Mean But I'm Not Stupid

I’m only three days in to summer vacation and I’m ready for school to start, how about you? It’s not the noise or the mess they make or even the constant whining. It’s the fighting. If it weren’t so maddening, the things they can find to fight about would be funny. I’ve considered recording them and playing it back, but I’m not sure they would see the humor. My main strategy is to duck and cover. I hear the voices escalating in the kitchen I head for the laundry room. The battle moves to the living room, I make a beeline for the garden. If they follow me outside I just keep moving. That’s the key, never be a stationery target.

I wish something could be done, but I’m fairly certain there is no remedy. I remember fights with my little brother that got bloody. I think my own mother also employed the duck and cover strategy as I don’t remember her officiating any of our battles. There are only two solutions that work for me. 1) get rid of one or two kids or 2) become their common enemy.

Getting rid of one or two works really well but is dependent on kind friends with similarly aged children. When only one or two children are home the house is measurably quieter. I’ve tried the day camp routine as a way to get rid of a kid or two, but that requires me to spend entire days in my car and go nearly broke. I don’t think camps were as expensive or as plentiful when I was a kid. Today there’s a camp for everything. My kids each get to pick out one day camp to attend. That’s all I can afford, and truth be told, I do want to spend time with them this summer even if it means listening to them fight.

My other strategy in the battle against sibling battles is to become their common enemy. When they are mad at mom they suddenly become the greatest of allies. They mutter under their breath, roll their eyes at each other, make faces at me behind my back (forgetting about the eyes in the back of my head), and run constant reconnaissance missions to keep tabs on my whereabouts. It’s a beautiful thing siblings united against their mother.

Recently my husband, youngest son, and I were working outside tearing off an old deck while the older two huddled inside trying to figure out how to get beyond the list of chores that had accumulated all week leaving them with no computer time until they were accomplished. My husband ducked inside to grab a tool and overheard my son say to my daughter, “We can’t do that! She’s mean, but she’s not stupid!” He managed to get back outside before doubling over in laughter. We howled for hours over that comment. When I shared the exchange with a friend, she said, “That’s awful that they think you’re mean.” I looked at her like she had three heads and said, “I’m fine with mean. Mean’s relative, stupid’s permanent.” And this is true. I’m fine with my kids thinking I’m mean as long as they respect me. Compared to many of their friends my kids live the good life when it comes to my attitude about chores, their appearance, the cleanliness of their rooms, their homework, and the number of pets I allow them to bring home, so while I might temporarily hold the title of “meanest mom” I know it’s not forever. Someday, they’ll appreciate me. At least I hope they do.

This leads me to what I set out to write about - should we expect from our children when it comes to chores? This is quite definitely a family-by-family and kid-by-kid decision. I’ll share with you what I expect and the reward system I use. You might find it useful or not. And maybe you’ll understand my title of “meanest mom in the world”.

First off, I don’t do allowance. My reason is that nobody gets money for just existing. We all have to earn it and the sooner my kids learn this the better. There are several ways they can earn “mom bucks”. Mom bucks are worth 25 cents each or they can be worth 50 cents each if the money is used to buy books. Blatantly bribing them to read more I admit. It works though.

All three kids (ages 7, 10, and 12) are expected to help with dinner chores on weekdays. Their father and I handle the dinner chores on the weekends and holidays. They earn a mom buck for each job. If they fail to do their job, their mom buck can be earned by another sibling who takes over the job. If I have to do it, they pay me a mom buck. They can be excused without penalty if they have practice, too much homework, another commitment, or I don’t feel like dealing with their whining. The three jobs are broken down thus:
1. Set the table - clear off all the belongings and general junk that has accumulated during the day, put out the placemats and napkins, utensils, drinks, and any condiments, salads, or dishes that are necessary for the meal.
2. Clear the table – Everyone is expected to clear their own dishes, but the person in charge of clearing picks up everything else and puts it in the appropriate place - on the counter, on the floor for the dog, in the cabinets, or in the fridge. They then shake the placemats and napkins off over the trash can and hang them on the backs of the chairs if they are reusable. They wipe the table off with a clean dish rag and sweep under and around the table.
3. Dishes – place all the dishes in the dishwasher and everything that needs to be washed by hand in the sink. We have yet to make them do the handwashing. I’m steeling myself for that battle, but not quite ready to go there yet. Dishes is the easiest job, but it require them to come back in to the kitchen after they’ve already begun their next adventure so they generally hate this job. Plus they have to touch the icky utensils when they drop them in the dishwasher and they miss (kind of like that party game of drop the clothespin in the bottle).

Mom bucks can also be earned at my discretion. For example, it’s raining and the dog really needs to go out and I don’t know where my shoes are, I might offer a mom buck to anyone who takes the dog out. I’ve been known to pay 2 mom bucks to someone who takes the puppy out for at least 10 minutes and runs her around. If I catch them doing something nice for a sibling, I’ll award a mom buck. I always keep a list of chores they can choose to do if they’d like to earn some more mom bucks - clean a bathroom, vacuum a room, straighten up the playroom, sweep the porch, etc. The harder the job, the more mom bucks they earn.

There are also a few things I expect from my children simply because they live here. If they don’t follow through with these expectations, they reap the natural consequences. There’s a bunch, but here’s some I can think of right now:
- bring their own belongings in from the car (or they may be thrown out at next car dumping)
- clean up their belongings around the house (or they go to the time out box)
- bring their dirty clothes to the laundry (or no clean clothes this week)
- remove their sheets for washing and put them back on afterward (or sleep on a bare mattress)
- fix their own breakfast unless it requires the stove (or go hungry)
- do their homework (if a homework slip comes home that means I get to nag and harass them)
- keep their rooms clean enough that I can run the vacuum cleaner without sucking up anything important (or no one comes over to play until it’s done)
- keep the computer/play room straightened up (or it gets locked)
- put their shoes in the shoe basket (or risk them being chewed to pieces by the puppy)

We keep track of everyone’s mom bucks, chore assignments, and activities on a big white board that is updated each week. It also lists the running tally of mom bucks each child has earned. They can lose mom bucks for using the words – stupid, hate, dummy, or any other truly disrespectful word.

That’s our system. It has evolved over many years and seems to work for us. If you haven't done it already, develop your own list of expectations and clearly communicate them to your kids. It is a bit of a battle to get kids to accept responsibilities around the house, but it’s worth the effort. Their future spouse or roommate will thank you for it. Heck, your kids might even thank you for it. Take it from me – I’m mean, but I’m not stupid!

1 comment:

  1. Oooh, prepare for a rant! I think children all should have age-specific chores. I'm one of 7 and my sister and I started doing our own laundry at ages 13 and 15 because if we wanted our clothes when we wanted them that was the way to do it.

    As you say about allowances, we all need to earn a living and be part of the larger community. And doing chores is part of living in a family and learning how to do stuff.

    A good friend is delighted now that her college age sons finally help Dad clean up the kitchen after a meal. They still don't do house hold chores like lawn mowing, etc. Okay for their Dad who commutes long hours, but not for them. I just grit my teeth when I'm there.