I spend the whole day running. From 5am-10pm, I’m on the move. Shuffling kids off to school, working 9 hours and then coming home to run some more. The evenings are the hardest. I run room to room picking up toys and folding laundry and washing dishes and wiping up dog prints. I run to help one kid to the potty or change a diaper. I run to bandage a scrape or scrounge for the missing board game piece before it gets eaten by a toddler or the Roomba. I run to the bathroom because somehow I just can’t manage to go when the urge first hits. I run to be all things to these four amazing children because that’s what I’m supposed to do … right? Wrong.
Time for Change
When I ask my kids to do something, more often than not, they act as though I’m taking away the very breath from their bodies. They have very few chores because I know they love their playtime and after a long day, I’ve always felt like they should just be allowed to play. After a completely ridiculous day of scrambling and fighting and deciding right then and there I just wanted to quit motherhood, the idea hit me like a ton of bricks. I have four able-bodied, capable, smart children. I spend every waking hour DOING for them. So I made a change.
The first day was a disaster. My requests for help were met with whining, tantrums, negotiations and straight up fights. I implemented consequences and rewards. The new rules: arrive home; while Mom fixes dinner, you wash your hands, hang your own jacket, put your own shoes in your bin, set out your lunch kit and folder for me to sign, empty the dishwasher as a team, feed the dog and ask if there is anything else I need help with. On Wednesdays, add put their laundry away. On Fridays, add clean up dog poo in the yard. That’s it. The whole thing takes them no longer than 15-20 minutes. Their reward? PLAY.
Creating a Functional Household
This is what I realized: playtime is not owed to them. Does it help them to develop into well-rounded, creative, happy people? Indeed it does. Do you know what else helps them grow up into well-rounded, creative, happy people? A happy mother. This particular mother birthed four children and darn it, they will be helpful. They could even develop a few life-skills. Here’s what else happened: what takes them 15 minutes as a team took me closer to 45 minutes alone. Those glorious 45 minutes that I now have every single evening are incredible. Sometimes we play board games. Sometimes we ride bikes or play basketball. Sometimes I even sit on the couch under a blanket and just watch them play.
Lose the Guilt
I don’t even pretend to have this parenting thing down. I may never get there, and that’s okay. Each time I realize I should have been doing this the whole time, I feel pangs of guilt. I want to help my kids grow up to be amazing human beings and so far, so good. So I’m leaving the guilt behind and replacing it with the gratefulness that only comes with an empty dishwasher and three empty laundry baskets that I didn’t have to touch.