Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Musical Chores

Parenting, for me, has been an evolution of "figuring it out."  It took me a while to understand that a mom without a game plan is just about as useful as a poopy flavored lollipop.  Recently, I have become more philosophical about the whole process of raising a family of 6, and making some informal inquiries about the way different people cope with raising their children.  I have learned a few things about expectations and technique.  

First: You can not just "get along go along," with four small kids.  Or at least MY four kids.  Though running and crying in the bathroom often seems like a good option, the problems that sent you there will still be waiting for you when you emerge from that sanctuary.
Second: You need a game plan.  And a flexible one at that.
Third: Good habits are hard to make, but easy to live with.

As a stay-at-home-mom, or SAHM, I am offended by the general malaise out there that says that all we do is lounge around in pajamas and frizzy hair.  Not so.  This is the nitty gritty of living and raising humans. You have to be on top of your game. All day. Every day.  In essence, to keep it altogether, you must become like the plate spinner who must keep an eye on a lot of things simultaneously to keep it working smoothly, lest it all come crashing down on you. Not for the faint of heart.

So I am trying something new. I am trying to transition my children from simply resource consumers to participating citizens in our household.  With good habits.  And I'm using music.  I happened upon this technique after observing a number of parenting style options and an ad from http://choresgetdone.com/.  I have been evolving through these parenting styles:

1) Mom Does It All: This model is one that looks at children as mere consumers of mommy and daddy's time, patience, and other resources.  Kinda like Veruca Salt of Charlie's Chocolate Factory fame.  Since birth, the only expectation is that they will come when called, and maybe eat the broccoli off their plate.  They are pampered and frequently peppered with suggestions about what they want, and begged - more than asked - to do things to help themselves out. This works with a small child or two. This does NOT work with crowd control.

"Would you like some milk? 2%, 1%? Skim?  Want some chocolate milk?  How 'bout I get you some chocolate milk, hmm?"

These kiddos are not expected to help out, and wake up with everything having been done for them.  If left unchecked, they tend to operate independent of any understanding that their upkeep requires a lot of work. And when they enter the big wide world on their own, they have nary a clue how to take care of themselves because Mummy did it all. A bad egg indeed.

2) Mom Supervises It All:  This model is a hybrid of the Consumer/Citizen.  And this is where we have been living most recently.  Some kids are old enough for chores, and some are not.  The children outnumber me 4:1.  They have chores that they are expected to complete, but if no one is going to check up on it, then the children scheme for how to have an "out." The modified rules are,  "You have to do what mom asks you to if you are directly under her gaze, but if a request is sent from a distance, like, "GO BRUSH YOUR TEETH!" you can weigh the probabilities that you will ACTUALLY get checked on to have to complete the task."  Multiple requests from mom for the same task become a "cat and mouse," game to see who will last, who will get it done, and who will get caught.  And the more children there are in a family, the safer it becomes to just wait for the request to blow over.

After all, dinner will still be on the table, and if you feel like bowing out of clean-up time, just dawdle, and maybe stay in the bathroom for a while until someone notices that you are gone.  There is the occasional time when mom's frustration mounts to the point that the children see their mother's face become detached from her skull, and at that point most kids will just get out of the way.  But even that will, more often than not, only get you sent to your room - NOT on the road to completing the task.

Though not ideal, this is a workable plan for moms, but something usually gets lost along the way: Mom's personality.

Much like "Bootstrap" Bill Turner who became enslaved on The Flying Dutchman, "I am the ship, part of the ship, part of the crew," running a household can suck you in and remove any traces of your former identity. There is more work to do, than time to do it in.  And it is relentless, unchartable, and unstable. Sickness, forgotten homework, emergencies, and kids bouncing on the bed can throw a typical day onto an ad hoc schedule.

When you have many young children, there are also a lot of needs, but very few helpers.  The tedium really starts to drag you down, and there is no quick fix.  The work you just completed is undone moments after you thought you were finished. Cheerios, in the hands of a toddler, can become everything from glue to a hail storm of pellets and powder.  You mournfully think back to the days when you would read a book, take a karate class, or do ANYTHING creative and fun.

After all, that's what you were when you got married!  Fun, vivacious, full of ideas and energy.  Now, you feel like a warden-banshee roaming through the house, and you hardly recognize yourself anymore. You think back to the time when you would say to your friends, "Hey! Lets get some popcorn and go see a movie!" With so many things to stay on top of, that gives way to a lethargic, "Get your shoes out of the living room... please.  Now. NOW! *wait* Right NOW! I've already told you THREE TIMES! Just move them for heaven's sake!"

I don't want to stay in this mode.  So I am trying to transition to a new mode.  The, "You are a citizen of this household," mode.  And we will all be doing things to contribute to keeping it running.  "Many hands make light work."

3) Family Citizenship: In this model, you are able to train with positive reinforcement, and self-guidance.  And it involves a playlist, a routine, and a reward.  The children help you select songs that are associated with a specific task.  When that upbeat music plays, each family member completes that task.  If you finish all of the tasks before the music ran out, you get a point that will cumulatively count towards a reward.

We started on Sunday, and I gotta say, I am ELATED with the results.  The kids are racing against the clock.  And since each task is completed each morning, there isn't a huge mess build up.  Laundry is dealt with in a timely fashion, and after the kids skip merrily off to school, everyone is dressed down to the shoes, and I can walk down the hall and peer into one tidy room after another.  I start feeling like myself again.  Contemplating what would be fun for the day, not just how to deal with the overwhelming mess.  Things will evolve when the kids get older.  But for now, this is working for me:

So, for your pleasure here is our first playlist and the tasks we ALL complete before the songs are finished:

"You are my Sunshine" - Get up and meet in the living room
"The Queen of Mars" - Kids take meds
"Good Mornin'! " - Make your bed
"Birdhouse in Your Soul" - Pick up your room
"Vogue" - Get dressed
"A-G-L-E-T" - Get your shoes on
"Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini" - put any stray laundry away
"Scripture Power" - Meet in the kitchen for scripture study/ get your scriptures out.
eat breakfast while dressed and do WHATEVER YOU WANT until its time to go. Parents shower and get dressed in a tidy room with kids all ready to go.
"Ray of Light" - Brush your teeth
"So Long/Farewell" - get your backpack/coat/jacket on, and get out to the car.

We still need to get a "vacuum your room" song, but what has gotten us this far has me just over the moon with delight.  No shouting.  No having to say "HURRY!" a bazillion times in the morning. No being left with a trashed house and a depressed momma.  *pats heart* Everyone just gets ready, and does it themselves to be-boppin music.  Am I willing to give my kids a play date every once in a while to maintain this?  OH YES.  Hopefully it will sink in for each child, that the small and frequent things that they do in a day help to contribute to happy home, a happy living space, and a happy mama. Wish me luck.


Danika said...

LOL, they get dressed to Vogue!!! That's awesome! I hope Matthew is throwing in his two cents on the music because I'm LOVING the cd he made!

Danielle Spangler said...

WE have been struggling with this as of late!!! It was just this week that I started screaming to the whole family that I am NOT GOING TO RAISE LAZY LITTLE PEOPLE!! I realize that they help quite a bit. But, I am tired at the constant nagging that it requires. It drains me. I am going to have to try something like this! Great post:)

Erika said...

Hmm good idea. I am always looking for new ideas. sigh. I totally relate to the "Mom supervises" model. ugh. And why do kids know if they lay low they luck out? Except it's not so lucky when my face becomes detached from my skull! :) So good to hear others suffer from the same problem. I feel like a shell of my former vibrant self! Maybe we shall implement this new idea...

Beth@seasonsofhome said...

Every few months I find myself in need of an attitude change. It's usually that I have to stop myself from saying no to everything because I feel overwhelmed; or getting mad and out of control rather than disciplining with control. Thanks for the wake up call.