Tuesday, February 09, 2010

How children can help with housework

Recently the Work and Family Mail Box at the WSJ had this complaint from a father of 3 and one on the way. "My wife is busy and I work long hours, so it's embarrassing when people drop by."

My first thought was, Oh, oh, I'll bet that's the mother-in-law "dropping by."

I have no small children and my personal areas of our home (my office, the kitchen, the laundry room) are much messier than when I did. My children were my main focus in the 60s and 70s--I wanted to be a good example, I wanted to teach them life skills, and I was a bit fussy about hygiene and good health, probably more than I needed to be. So therefore, my children "helped" with housework without actually doing the work.

When they were toddlers I vacuumed and picked up toys once a day--usually about 4:30. One tip my Mom (married 65 years) gave me was always look good for your husband when he walks in the door--and that includes the house. Put on a fresh dress, straighten your seams (her era), comb your hair and powder your nose.

My children were bathed daily before bedtime, and since I was already on my knees, that meant the tub was cleaned daily, and the floor mopped up. Toilet training meant special attention to hygienic facilities. In those days, I ironed weekly, not bi-monthly. Shopping was once a week--alone--not every other day like now when I have plenty of time and no schedule.

My parents had four children within seven years, and I can't ever recall a time when the house was messy for long, even during the time when mom baked and sold pies (although I wasn't tall enough to see the kitchen counter then). Neither had mothers who put in a lot of time on "keeping a house" so a pleasant, clean house was important to them. However, we were free to rearrange the furniture and drape blankets around to create houses, drag out the Tinker Toys, Lincoln Logs, dolls and trucks, or set up an art studio on the dining room table. I can't recall anyone stopping me from running through the house pretending to be a pony, using the beds as a trampoline, (or falling down stairs frequently). So Mom must have started picking up the mess and putting the furniture back about an hour before Dad's return in the evening.

The WSJ columnist suggested to the reader that he find a "household coach" to help his wife with organization. I've seen this done on TV, but wonder how long it lasts. I think of my own efforts to keep my personal space clean--it's not exactly like I don't know what to do or why! Today we have on-line helps like Fly Lady (today is zone 2) where you tackle one area a day and do a 50-fling/pick up or something like that.

I tend to think you either see it and it bothers you, or you don't. In that family, unfortunately, the husband could see it, the wife couldn't.

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