I’ve heard it said that cleaning your house while your kids are home is like brushing your teeth while eating Oreos.
And all the mamas said, “Amen.”
A mother tidies the living room while the toddlers dismantle the progress she’d already made in the kitchen. Kids seem to be inspired by the messiest ideas exactly when mama is attempting to reign in the disaster zones. Paper snowflakes? Kinetic Sand? Snow angels in the Kinetic Sand! WHY?
While there is always an element of entropy in every home filled with tiny people, I’ve discovered a few tips and tricks along the way. Sending your kids into a Netflix trance is not the only way to get housework done.
As a mom of six, I’d love to share some ideas for incorporating your kids into fixing the mess, rather than making the mess.
Ages 2 and up:
- Mop. After you sweep, hand your little one a damp rag and let them scrub the tile while you mop in a different corner. My three year old son and two four year old daughters beam while scrubbing. It makes them feel useful and proud to contribute.
- Toy hunt. Pick any specific type of toy that you happen to find in random places in your home: Lego, magnatiles, crayons, whatever. When my house has reached the messiness level of “shaken snow globe,” I assign very specific jobs to each child. The younger the child, the simpler the job. A tiny one might feel overwhelmed if assigned to clean up the entire toy room. But even the littlest kids can search the house for specific stray items with joy and success.
- Give chores a fun name to add an element of enthusiasm to the project. “Time for a Hotwheels hunt! Max, you get to look under all the beds and couches, shoe bins and cupboards. Find every last Hotwheels and put it back in the Hotwheels container.” Or, “Alert! Captain Toy has reported a serious problem in ToyLand. Several ball pit balls have been reported missing from their home base and need to be returned immediately. Can you help Captain Toy?” (Adding some creativity and fun to chore time can help kids maintain a positive attitude, and usually goes over much better than when I bark orders while one of my eyes twitches.)
Ages 4 and up:
- Empty the dishwasher. We moved the location of our plates and utensils to lower cupboards so that our tiniest helpers could contribute. Often these kiddos visibly stand taller when they are assigned a job usually reserved for the older kids. I still vividly remember begging my mom to let me do the dishes one night when I was about three years old. (How the times have changed!) My mom let me pull up a chair and scrub a few dishes to humor me. I felt like a million bucks by contributing to our home in a meaningful way.
- Wiping surfaces with a damp or dry rag. Sometimes allowing our kids to help is less about their actual productivity, and more about developing a helping heart. Try to resist the urge to redo your kids’ spotty but honest work if you can. They will get better over time and with practice.
- Rearrange the books on the bookshelf so the spines are in the same direction.
Ages 6 and up:
- Let your oldest child or children take turns as foreman of the chore list. Before we have company over, or on a regular house cleaning day, I will make a list of each specific job that needs completing. My husband and I write our names next to the most difficult jobs, then hand the list over to my oldest child. Her job is to assign chores and help her team complete them. My big kids appreciate being entrusted with the responsibility of being in charge. The first few times I did this, I had to remind the kids to use kind words of encouragement while giving directions. Usually we have a carrot at the end, to sweeten the deal. (For example, we can go swimming/eat Goldfish after we are done.)
- Windex the windows. This is the hardest job for me to not redo, but if you don’t have the Window Police coming to inspect later, just give yourself license to see the streaks and then be like Elsa…Let it go.
- Ask for input. If you need to complete a job that isn’t safe or reasonable for kids to help with, ask your kids what projects they think need completing in the house. Where do they see room for cleaning/reorganizing? Would they want to lead their siblings or one other sibling while they work on the job together?
A clean home that is slightly less-than-perfect—with kids who have learned about endurance and contributing to a shared goal—is better than a sparkling home completed by mom alone. Especially if that means the kids were watching three movies back-to-back in order to get there.
Our kids are capable of so much more than we give them credit for. Next time you are feeling overwhelmed by the mess and the work in front of you, remember: the kids are not an obstacle to your important work, they are your important work. You’ve got this, mama!
Molly DeFrank is a mom and foster mom to five kids under ten. She writes about faith and motherhood—the hilarious and the hard; the fun and the maddening; the beauty and the blunders. She loves to share encouragement and laughter with women just like her. You can find her on Facebook, Instagram, or her website, www.mollydefrank.com.