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So your children are at an age to be of help, but their idea of "helping" is lifting their feet from the floor so you can vacuum beneath them? The temptation is to declare, "New Program!" and institute sweeping, dramatic changes in the life of the house. Most of the time, the new rules only last as long as you are prepared to enforce them. In normal experience: less than a week. Life returns to dull normal, and you're back in the soup.
Instead, remember the glacier. Each year, just a bit more snow falls upon a growing glacier, but over time, the result is powerful enough to grind boulders into pebbles and scour mountain passes to bedrock.
Make changes gradually, involving children in chores slowly. This month, decide that one child will assist with pre-dinner preparation, the other help with clean-up. Next month, begin a Saturday morning family clean-a-thon. By the end of the year, teach the eldest child to do his or her own laundry, and put the younger child in charge of collecting newspapers, bottles and cans for recycling. By the following summer, teach them to help you weed and prune in the yard.
Gradual change has many advantages over the "You will help!" confrontational method. It gives you time to teach a child your household's standard for each cleaning chore. It involves children in housework more naturally, and in tandem with a helping parent. It doesn't require a noisy, angry family shake-up-and stands less chance of triggering a child's natural "I don't wanna!" response.
Gradual change also acknowledges certain human limitations. It takes 21 days to make a habit. It's extremely difficult to form more than one habit at a time. Your child isn't the only one whose habits have to change! You, too, will have the time to revamp your thinking and your practices if you institute change slowly but surely.
One area where a family meeting on the chore issue bears fruit: choice. Children who are given a choice of chores do them better and more happily. While you may have to readjust your thinking on "who should do what", your children's choices may surprise you!
In our household, my children were allowed to select their own chores on cleaning days. Using a tickler file on 3-by-5 cards, I'd lay out cards for the day's jobs, and the kids took turns choosing which tasks they'd do.
One child is the world's finest cleaner of bathrooms (aside from using enough water to fill Lake Michigan) but she hates the noise and boredom of vacuuming. Guess what? The other child loves to push that vacuum across the carpet, but hates getting his hands wet.
This method worked even better when heavy fall or spring cleaning was necessary. The children would be eager to try dirty, rugged tasks like "change the filters on the furnace" or "wash outside patio doors". If I kept an open mind and allowed them to choose their own tasks, the work was finished sooner and far more pleasantly than if I assigned jobs according to my ideas.
Children are naturally immune to "do as I say, not as I do." The best motivator for young people is a chance to work together with an adult.
You'll get more cooperation from children of all ages when the family does housework together.
Resist the temptation to splinter out cleaning chores. From a child's point of view, it's downright lonely to be sentenced to clean a bathroom each afternoon after school.
Better: institute a family Pick Up Time each day, a family Clean Up Time each week.
Even if that same child is alone in that same bathroom, he knows that all the other family members are hard at work, too. Cleaning misery loves company, you might say.