Our chores rotate through our four kids, with two assigned to kitchen clean-up weekly (Dinner Dishes and Clear Table). The other two have before-dinner tasks: Table Setter and Dinner Helper.
What I realized this week is that although we eat dinner as a family most nights, there are many nights—even most nights, this past week—when the two assigned Kitchen Cleaners are Unable to Fulfill Their Duties. Meaning, I suppose, that we need some sort of runner-up sash.
In the past, I’ve worn that banner—which ultimately means I did the cleaning, as the remaining child seizes the opportunity to slow down while I just get it all done.
Not so this time, my friends. New rule—if one member of team clean-up is absent, all remaining kids step in. The first night, second night and third night one member of team Clean Up either wasn’t at dinner, or had an immediate appointment (genuine and unavoidable) fifteen minutes after I got dinner on the table, and so had just enough time to eat.
The complaints from the kids who would be stepping up were immediate. I’ll never not be here at dinner, wailed one. I’ll always have to do this! I have homework, hollered the other! I’ll be up until ten o’clock! I’ll fail!
You still have to do it, I said. Kids clean the kitchen. “Mommy cooked,” said the unaffected child, already on team clean-up, helpfully.
After dinner, while “Dinner Dishes” stood at the dishwasher, “Clear Table Substitute #1” continued her protest, carrying as little as possible and carrying on as loudly as possible while she did it. “That’s only going to take longer,” said Clear Table Substitute #2.
It was tempting to help. I was standing right there. They’d be so much faster—but they also wouldn’t really do the job. With the table cleared, Sub#1 disappeared instantly—but #2 hung out. When he found out that Dinner Dishes had one final job—take out trash, which Dinner Dishes had never done before—he helped (while heaping on a little scorn at her squeamishness).
And that was it—ten minutes of whining or so, yes, but it did get done.
Every night that we had dinner involved a reminder. And every night involved some diversion from what I would have considered the usual routine—clear table, do dishes, clean kitchen, take out trash. One night it was packaging leftovers. Another night, packing up the remaining take-out. Yet another, putting aside meat for the dogs. All would once have been occasion for me to “just do it.” I stood back, I directed, I did not do. It took just short of forever, frankly. I think some part of me is still standing there unto eternity.
Five days in, dinner dragged on, with different family members trailing in at different times for their baked potatoes. It had been a long afternoon, and I was through parenting for the day. I got up, reminded Dinner Dishes that she’d have to clean the kitchen and take out the trash; reminded the other kids to clear up (Table Clearer being out sick), and retired to the bedroom. I could hear the distant noise of conflict. I heard Dinner Dishes get sent to her room, with a parting shriek of “But I have HOMEWORK!” (Yes, the chores rotated, and Dinner Dishes is recognizably last week’s Clear Table Subst. #1.)
When I came out at bedtime the kitchen was uncleaned. Hey! I said. She’s doing homework, said her father, resentfully. “YOU SENT ME TO MY ROOM!” Dinner Dishes shouted.
“YOU WERE RUDE AND DISRESPECTFUL!” replied her dad. “NOW COME CLEAN THIS UP!”
She did. Pretty much without comment. I admit, when she’d gone back upstairs, I realized she hadn’t wiped the counter. Or taken out the trash.
And it was so late.
And I was so tired of children in general and these children in particular.
I wiped the counter. I knew I should call her. I told myself the trash wasn’t even that full.
Then she reappeared, in search of some homework-related thing.
“You forgot the trash,” I said.
“I’ll do it now.”
There’s been a lot of moaning, overall (especially when I made it clear to Table Clearer that that is not just a matter of taking the stuff off the table, dumping it on the counter, and running—nope, the job is to stick around until it’s done). There’s also been a lot of cleaning.
- Deal with roadblocks. If it goes wrong once, it will go wrong again, so decide what happens instead.
- There will always be some unusual element to the chore. Shirts that aren’t dried, a dog that needs medicine, a dripping trash bag. Don’t take over, teach how to deal with it.
- It would still be much easier to just clean the kitchen myself.
How was your week?
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