Hey parents, don’t let your kids treat you like their maid.
I have three kids. We have been in voluntary isolation since the very beginning of March to stop the spread of COVID-19. We are happy to do our part to flatten the curve, but O.M.G. these kids are so freaking messy.
Our typical routine keeps us out and about. My kids go to school. My husband goes to work. I have a zillion places to be. This place gets a break. Well, now all five of us are home 24/7 for the foreseeable future. Our house is never unoccupied, and someone is making a mess All. The. Time.
This place looks like a bomb went off about five times a day—ya know, if bombs were full of toys, clothes and dishes. And snack wrappers. My God, the snack wrappers.
I’m no Martha Stewart, and I’m no Joanna Gaines. I’m not even one of those fancy women who could say things like “system of organization” or “design aesthetic” when describing my home. We live here. I can roll with a few loads of laundry waiting to be put away, or some dishes in the sink.
But utter chaos doesn’t work for me, it stresses me out and exacerbates my anxiety disorder.
We don’t have a maid, which means someone here has to clean it all back up.
I could just clean it all myself or with my husband after the kids are in bed. Cleaning this entire house alone is actually quicker than doing it with my kids.
But being my kids’ personal maid is a terrible idea, so I don’t let it happen like that very often for a few reasons.
I just don’t want to clean the house alone.
Running around cleaning like a headless chicken while the people who made the mess are relaxing in peace makes me ragey. When I am annoyed and resentful, I’m not the mom, wife or person I want to be.
My kids don’t have a maid. They have a mom. If I was their maid, I’d be paid to do this work, but more importantly, I’d have set hours, and I’d get to go home. As a mom, I’m here every minute of every day. If I tried to shoulder the entirety of the household chores on my own, I would never, for one single minute, get to feel like I am “off the clock.”
It’s hard enough trying to find that off-the-clock feeling because of the mental load of motherhood—the physical work absolutely has to be evenly distributed for my mental wellbeing.
My kids need to learn how to clean and care for a home.
I’m not suggesting my kids should be my cleaning crew. I wouldn’t feel good about laying down with my feet up while they did all the work. But we all live here. We should all spend a little time every day making it an enjoyable place to be. They won’t live here forever, and these are necessary skills for adulthood. They won’t know how to do laundry or dishes, sweep and mop, pick up after themselves, organize groceries or any of the rest of things I do every single day if I don’t actively teach them. It would do them a disservice to let them miss out on those lessons.
My children need to learn how to be good citizens.
If I want my kids to know how to co-exist happily with future roommates, partners and even co-workers, they need to know how to be respectful of shared space and pick up after themselves.
If I do everything for them, I’ll blink and they’ll be grown-ups who don’t know how to do their own laundry or load a dishwasher. They will be annoying roommates and terrible partners. The time to teach these skills is now. It does them no good to think clean laundry magically appears in their drawers, meals make themselves, and dishes hop into the dishwasher on their own. They need to see how it’s done and learn to do it.
One thing my mother-in-law did really well was teach my husband how to pick up after himself and do basic household tasks. My mom did the same for me. We both know how to do every chore properly, and my husband does everything I do around here. He doesn’t see housework as “woman’s work” or even “stay-at-home-partner’s work.” He sees it as everyone’s work. He doesn’t expect me to do the work of a paid cleaner. I’m not the maid.
It’s important to us that our kids see that example and understand that taking care of the home is everyone’s job.
Kids need to understand how to work together.
Chores are a good way to establish that this is a home, and we are a family. We are all on the same team.
During the day, everyone has to pick up as we go. It doesn’t matter who left the wrapper on the floor; if you see it, pick it up. Not your pajamas on the bathroom floor? I don’t care. Toss them in the hamper. If a simple task will take you two seconds and make our house more livable, we aren’t getting hung up on who left what where. Obviously, if one of the kids makes a really ridiculous mess, they have to clean it themselves, but for the regular day-to-day things, we are all for one and one for all.
Pitching in builds self-confidence and trust.
My preschooler has been helping us carry groceries in from the car for a few months now. Recently, I asked him to open the boxes of various snacks and put the packages in the snack basket. It took him a little while to get them open, and another few minutes to get them all in the basket. He was so serious the whole time.
When he was done, he took all the boxes outside to the bin, and when he got back, he couldn’t contain his excitement. “I did it, Mommy! All by myself!” He didn’t just learn how to put snacks away that day. He learned that he is capable of new things, and he learned that I trust him.
Those lessons are just as important as actually learning how to put the groceries away.
If you haven’t been expecting the kids to pitch in, it’s not too late. Assign them a task you know they can do, then it’s just a matter of adding tiny amounts of responsibility a little at a time until they learn everything they need to know. Don’t get hung up on exactly what your child “should be doing” according to some other mom or a Pinterest chore chart. Every kid is different, so don’t sweat it if your kid isn’t able to do things someone else thinks they should do. Just assign chores as you see fit, respecting each child’s limits and capabilities.
Letting your kids treat you like their maid isn’t necessary. Expecting our kids to pitch in as they are able is good for us, and it’s good for them, too.