Question: I am married and have 3 children. One oldest is 19, was born with Spina Bifida and has been a challenge most of his life. Gratefully he is “normal” from the waist up and paralyzed from the waist down. I have a daughter that is 10 and a son that is 9. My 9 year old was diagnosed with diabetes when he was 5.
My greatest issue is trying to manage everyone’s everything and do the chores, clean the house, do the laundry and all of those other things that no one else seems to notice are in disarray. I have tried charts, chores, positive reinforcements, negative consequences and usually find that the amount of time and energy it takes to keep track of who is where and making sure they are doing what they are suppose to, it is just easier to do things myself. So I need advice on how I can keep them on track and responsible when I am on my last nerve and patience is gone!
Anonymous in N.Y.
Answer: Dear Mom,
You are a very busy mom! It’s no wonder you are lacking in patience! I do not know what your current financial situation is but I am wondering if you could hire a house cleaner for once a month or bi-monthly to help keep the house “clean” so that all you need to take care of is the clutter. If a house cleaner is not in the budget I offer some other strategies to help alleviate some of your burden(which you can also implement even if you do get a cleaner):
• Start by having a family meeting and communicate how you are feeling (overwhelmed, worn out, lacking in patience). Tell them you need help and that things have to change around the house. Ask for input in designing and creating some new rules for how everyone is going to pitch in to help out and keep this family functioning.
• Try restricting certain rooms from children’s play – perhaps the dining room or living room will become off limits for toys, school books, sneakers etc. Have designated spots for such things and be diligent in getting the kids to respect this new rule.”No games in the living room! Johnny come and take this down stairs please where the games belong.”
• Don’t “own” every child’s “everything”- start fostering some responsibility and independence which means having to follow through on natural consequences such as: having your children make their own lunches for school. If they don’t make one or forget their lunch, don’t go running out after them and bring it to the school. Once or twice of not eating a lunch should be enough of a reminder to make their own lunch every morning- and no, they will not starve by missing a lunch or two. Have laundry baskets in their rooms, if it doesn’t get into the laundry, it doesn’t get done! Of course there will be situations where you will need to be flexible, like if your child has a big soccer tournament on Saturday and forgot to put her uniform in the wash – but she could owe you back that time later with taking something you have to do (dust, change the cat litter etc.).
• Start prioritizing the things that are most important to you and let go of lesser things. If you can’t live with beds being left unmade then that would be something you insist on being done. If you can live with shoes and boots and coats just dropped at the back door – then ignore it and concentrate on something on your priority list. You have to let go of your need to control everything – I would hazard to guess that this need comes from raising two children with special needs. It’s a typical response; but you will be no good to any of your children if you ware yourself out and become ill yourself!
• You need to sit down and have a conversation with your spouse and ask him to take something off your plate “I am feeling overwhelmed and need you to help alleviate some of my stress. It would be very helpful if you could do the grocery shopping (vacuuming, laundry, whatever) from now on.
• If your spouse is not in a position to help you (works out of town), see if you can elicit support from family members, or neighbors where they could take the kids out for a few hours each week where you can get some stuff done.
• Do something for yourself at least once a week (daily if you can) that promotes relaxation – a bubble bath for a half hour, read a good book to escape at night, go for a walk, take a yoga or fitness class, go the movies with a friend etc.
A while back I wrote an article on Raising Small Souls on Kids and Chores; I pulled out a couple of excerpts here:
I would recommend picking a “cleaning day” where you start the morning with a family meeting and put all the chores needed to be done that day into a hat. Everyone randomly picks what they will be responsible for. It will be a family team effort this way. Regular chores throughout the week could be assigned and a chart could be designed listing chores and ticked off as they are completed so as to keep track of what they have left to do. If chores are not done within a specific time period, clearly stipulated on the chart, consequences should be imposed.
Now I know you said you tried using charts but ask yourself how consistent you were in following through with consequences if their chores were not complete. Children need to rely on parent’s to “keep their word” if they are going to learn that not doing something has negative consequences. Otherwise, there is no reason for children to do what they are asked because they know mom will only do it for them in the long run and it makes no difference to the their life!
The “when/then rule” comes in handy in these situations. “When you have picked up the toys in your room, then you may go out side to play.” “When you have taken your plate over to the sink, then you may watch a half hour of TV.” Saying it this way sounds very different and less threatening than saying “if you don’t pick up your room you won’t be watching TV tonight.” Threats only invite conflict. Just practice saying these “when, then” rules over and over until they become a mantra for how you speak to your children about doing chores. They will come to appreciate and respect that they don’t move on to anything else until they have finished what they were asked to do. And be consistent in following through with consequences if they don’t.
You said your son with spina bifida has full use of his arms – I can see no reason then why he cannot help sort or fold laundry, peel vegetables, or dry dishes. Does he have or is he eligible for an in home assistant that can begin teaching him life skills so he can become more independent, despite his challenges?
Your 9 and 10 year old should be able to help with a wide variety of chores around the house and should be required to do so. Unfortunately your children have come to know that you will manage everything for them. You have to step back and re-evaluate how much you can continue to do and how much they can do for themselves and work to design some new family rules from there.
Answer by Dyan Eybergen, author of Out of the Mouths of Babes: Parenting from a Child’s Perspective. Dyan, a pediatric psychiatric nurse, has more than ten years experience working as a therapist and parent educator.
Dyan and her family were guests on the cable television show “For Kids Sake”, along with parenting expert Barbara Coloroso. Eybergen resides in St. Albert, Alberta, with her husband and three sons.