Cleaning With Kids

Many of us never imagined we’d be single parents. I know a surprising number of single dads who have primary custody, and a greater number who have their children a great deal (the majority of the time) yet do not have primary residential responsibility on paper.

Many of us find ourselves at a certain age looking back on our lives. We were bachelors once and maintained a certain standard of living. Most of use were not raised learning to cook, clean or keep house. Most of us were certainly not raised with the assumption that we would one day be solely responsible for the care of children.

I remember, long ago, in a condo far, far away – I was single. I never once apologized for the state of my living quarters. Everything was exactly where it was supposed to be. My standard 15 minutes of cleaning per day was usually more than enough to keep the place looking perfect.

My closet had clothes that were ironed, on hangers and sorted by color and style. My socks matched.

My truck was three years old and looked brand new.

I was well-dressed, shaved and well fed.

Then I had a child. My Spawn.

He vomited, pooped, he left friggin MYSTERY FRUIT in my truck. In the summer. Didn’t find it until it started to smell. By the time I found it (under the seat) it was tough to tell what it was originally.

Spawn left towels and clothes on the floor.

He lives with me, and has become a responsible young man who is learning to clean up after himself. Now, so many years later, we are still working to improve things, but they are far better than they were. He is always willing to do the work and never complains about doing it.

I have another child who stays with us a large part of the year. We shall call him Houseguest. His mom works out of town a great deal, and is sometimes gone for months at a time. I have been taking care of Houseguest for ten years. He is extremely helpful and very neat at this point.

Houseguest is about two years older than Spawn, and they get along great. At this point, they are very much like brothers. God help anyone who messes with Spawn, for he shall incur the wrath of Houseguest.

Spawn and Houseguest have the same set of rules, and have for years. Other children who stay over are held to a certain invariable standard of behavior. I have never really had a problem.

Why Should They Learn to Clean?

Messes build upon themselves. Dust bunnies multiply. Without cleaning at least twice a week, a house begins to look (and sometimes smell) awful.

Children who grow up not learning how to clean live like pigs. This will prevent them from living in a healthy environment and perhaps attracting a mate at some point in the future.

Cleaning is not something I enjoy. Quite the opposite. I just don’t like living in a pigsty. I don’t think most people ENJOY wiping their ass, but the same principle applies.

There is a modern idea that we are somehow indentured servants for our children. They are often permitted to roll their eyes, huff and stomp when asked to do simple chores around the house.

Dealing With Protest

A friend of mine asked his daughter and son to fold the laundry. This was met with pouting and protest. He turned on the XBox and started playing Halo. In about an hour she asked, “Where’s dinner?” The father’s response was that dinner was still in the refrigerator, unmade. Other parts of dinner could be found in the cupboards.

When children protest, it is often unnecessary to scream at them. Eventually they need or want something from you – examples include food, a ride to the mall, or a cell phone that has service activated. Some of them want to watch TV and play video games. Sooner or later, they also get hungry.

We provide a great deal for our children. It is important for them to learn that they should, as soon as they are able, become responsible for chores around the house.

We have not achieved a technological level of self-cleaning dishes or laundry that washes, irons and folds itself. Even if a cleaning service is affordable, this should in no way excuse children from helping to clean up. My mother always had us “pre-clean” the night before the cleaning lady came. This saved her time, improved the quality of the cleaning that the pro did, and saved my parents money. It taught us how to clean, to appreciate having a clean house, and to absolutely despise Wednesday nights.

My view is that little princes or princesses who feel this sort of “manual labor” is somehow beneath them need to learn that sooner or later they are going to have to do it, so they may as well learn to do it sooner.

Age Appropriate Chores

Younger children are often more willing to help. The catch to all of this is that they are frighteningly clumsy. DO NOT take the rag from their hand and “do it for them.” Tolerate the best that they can do and call it good enough. As they get older, their work will improve.

Sweeping the floors is a job even the youngest children can learn to do. Complementing them on the good job they did.

Even the smallest children should never be allowed to play with toys until they have cleaned up the mess they made previously. Children should, as a minimum, take their plate to the sink and clean it off. Why would they not?

In my house I’m fine on cooking. But once the meal is made, I’m done with the kitchen. Cleaning up is someone else’s problem. No one objects to this arrangement, and at this point it’s expected. However, years ago, I bought Wal Mart Plates and used plastic cups until I stopped hearing things fall on the kitchen floor while they were being rinsed.

As I type this, Houseguest and Spawn are cleaning up the kitchen. No one asked them to do this, we were done with a meal.

What happens in many households is children who are as tall or taller than their parents don’t help out. This is both ridiculous and intolerable. Even a child staying over one night a week and on weekends CAN pick up the towel off the floor and clean up after themselves. Don’t let some imagined guilt turn you into your child’s slave. Set standards of behavior and respect and you will raise a respectful, well-behaved child.

Take Your Time

Teaching your child to do household chores can take weeks or months. During this time, it really will be faster for you to do it yourself. Don’t. Teach them. Coach them. Work with them. Persist no matter what until they get it. When they do it right, thank them and praise them. Never forget to do this.

You wanted a kid. Do what it takes to raise the kid.

Start Simply

Rome was not built in a day. Children suddenly deprived of their indentured servant may revolt when this manual labor that is clearly beneath them cuts into their PlayStation time. Dont’ blame them or their mother. You’re the one who let them sit on the couch for years.

Once they get past the initial objections (and if you start young enough these objections will not exist), and these things become habit, plan on adding new privileges to their lives every year as well as new household responsibilities.

By the time they want to drive, my standard of behavior is that they are doing the chores they are supposed to do without being reminded. Being reminded for five or seven years to wash dishes or do laundry is simply ridiculous.

Establish a Routine

Weekly routines are vital. If they KNOW that Saturday morning is bathroom cleaning and Sunday night is laundry, no questions asked, and that is the way it is, the vast majority of kids will eventually fall into line and do what they need to do.

Don’t try to get them to do everything at once. You will end up with nothing done. Link their “job performance” to their privileges (video games, cell phones, time at the mall , keys to the car). If they have done what they are supposed to do, then they get what they want. If not, they don’t. That’s how life works.

If you are consistent and stand your ground, you’ll be fine.

Very often, children will complain that their mother takes care of everything. Mom MAY even make you out to be lazy for not doing it all for them. She may make you out to be incapable of housework. Let her. You will possibly be told that other parents don’t make THEIR kids do their own laundry. How nice.

Teach your kids the value of contributing to the household. They may or may not thank you for it later on. Don’t expect a lot of thanks from your kids. Hope to be remembered fondly as a great parent.


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