Work at home: the after-school shift

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Halloween planning is in full swing at our house. Last night was pumpkin carving. Costumes are at the ready. And candy is comingcandy is comingCANDY IS COMING!* [*scary voice]. The eldest has plans for a two-part evening, involving stopping home mid-route to dump off loot, anticipating of course that his bag will get too heavy to haul. Maybe we should make a rule, however. When your bag gets too heavy to haul, you’re done.

*

I had a small breakdown yesterday evening. I had to go outside and stand on the porch to collect myself, and even then, I wasn’t fully collected. I took note of how many hours of domestic labour I do every day, just to keep our household squeaking along, and it was frightening. By my calculation, I spend five hours every day on chores. Five hours! This work includes: laundry, dishes, cooking, overseeing piano practice and homework and checking backpacks, bedtime, errands, and driving children to and from extra-curriculars. From 4pm until 9pm or later, day in, day out, my energies are consumed by basic household tasks. And Kevin makes the lunches. And only occasionally do I have time, during those hours, to, say, scrub the toilet or vacuum. (I have actually cleaned the shower while showering; do other women do this too? Wash the bathroom sink while brushing one’s teeth? Clean fridge drawers while trying to make supper? This is multitasking at its least pleasurable.)

Far and away the bulk of that 4-9 shift is spent on those first three items: cooking, dishes, and laundry. Cooking from scratch takes time, effort, and advance planning. Cleaning up a day’s worth of dirty dishes and containers from lunch boxes for six people, for three meals plus snacks, is an enormous job. (Sometimes Kevin does the dishes, not me.) It often takes us a full hour, minimum, to clear the kitchen from one end to the other. And I do laundry every day, usually two loads. Sports-related gear does not marinate well, shall we say.

Anyway. Yesterday. Yesterday, at the start of this 4-9 shift, I made a leek and potato soup, and roasted eggplant and zucchini to make a zippy baba ghanoush. I also served children snacks and fielded an endless stream of complaints from the two youngest, who were, frankly, exhausted after school. The complaints got louder and louder the nearer we came to mealtime, until they were a droning background hateful hum. “Garlic? I hate garlic! You always ruin supper. Onions! I hate onions. You promised supper would be done in three minutes! You lied! I’m starving!” Things improved briefly once I’d convinced the two youngest to set the table. Except this turned into a pitched battle over who would do what. By the time Kevin walked in the door after dropping AppleApple at swimming, supper was on the table, and two children were literally weeping and gnashing their teeth (because of the colour of their plates, if you can believe it, and if you have small children, you will).

I’d had it.

Almost two hours of work, a lovely meal prepared from scratch waiting on the table, most of the family present to eat together, and … a household in tears.

True story.

I went outside, leaving behind barking dogs and wailing children, and stood for a few moments in the cool autumn evening. Nearly all the leaves were blown off the trees in Monday’s wind. It’s been raining off and on for days. The world could hardly look more bleak.

But there was no solution for it. I didn’t want to go for an angry stroll in my crocs. I was hungry and tired. I went back inside and sat down in silence at the table, and in silence we ate. Everyone seemed apologetic. One of the after-school complainers was particularly penitent and even tried the garlic-laden baba ghanoush, just to make me feel better. After that we weren’t so silent anymore. Life went on.

We need to find some way to direct that after-school exhaustion and angst elsewhere, because, as I explained last night, I’m a person too, even though I’m Mom, and my feelings get hurt too when people yell at me and say mean things. Sometimes I think I get the yelling and the mean things because I’m the most loved and most trusted person in their lives — know what I mean? If you’re feeling really rotten, you want to get it out, and you direct your unhappiness at the safest target — the one who will understand and love you anyway.

But it’s not ideal.

And it’s not ideal that the daily labour of keeping this house ticking falls largely on one person. My children get a free ride, basically, and that’s been my doing, not theirs. I haven’t trained them to do much in the way of helpful household chores, and have expected little help from them, but good grief. I think it’s time to start. How many chores do your children do? And what chores are they? Do you have tried-and-true methods of assigning chores and splitting up work?

Obscure CanLit anxiety dreams
Our Halloween: the good, the heartwarming, the parenting fail

17 Comments

  1. Short answer: My kids don’t do nearly enough as they should.

    My fault: Craig and I both find that things get done better and faster if we don’t let the kids help, and so even though we’ve gone through phases of making them help out with the after-dinner dishes, say, they really don’t do much besides make sure their own rooms get tidied at regular intervals, clean up the living room when the lego explosion gets to be too much, and occasionally help set the table. But I could easily get Zoe to do her own laundry at this point. And have both of them help with dinner prep (this is especially hard for me as I really do love to cook, and everything gets slowed down tremendously whenever anybody but me is in the kitchen). And have both of them do the dishes (loading the dishwasher is not rocket science!). The path of least resistance is just too easy to follow…

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    • Yup, yup, yup. I am nodding my head along with this. Sounds like our kids do about the same in terms of chores. And for similar reasons — it is easier to do it myself, at least from a very short term outlook.

      I’m wondering about getting a dishwasher … which would be easier for them to learn to operate than to have them wash dishes by hand as we do now.

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  2. That was pretty much EXACTLY the scene at our house yesterday, including the Mom going outside for a while part. The issue wasn’t colours of plates, but aside form that, yup. And I’m with you and Nath on the path of least resistance thing, unfortunately.

    I will say that I resisted getting a dishwasher and when I did I felt it was absolutely the best purchase of my whole life.

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    • I’ve washed dishes by hand my whole life. I just can’t imagine doing it differently. But …

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  3. Wow Carrie that sounded exactly like our house sometimes. Take heart! You must get a dishwasher! That will help. our three clear the plates from the table and the two oldest scrape the refuse into the green bin. They must make their beds daily and keep their room tidy. Bu we have been talking lately about adding some household chores, like laundry folding and vacuuming. I have realized we have got to start training them now when they mostly like to help, otherwise it will be a nightmare when all three are reenagers. It is actually amazing how fast the few chores we do make them do already become second nature to them!

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  4. I am close to tears for that very same reason on more evenings than I like to admit. There is nothing more hurtful than a wonderful home-cooked meal being called ‘gross’…and Pat assuring me that it’s delicious is not completely satisfying.

    The chaos of home responsibilities and work/school/extra curricular/parenting makes me feel that our life is a whirlwind in which I’m doing a lot of things well enough, but nothing really well.

    Not sure how to fix it either. Chores might be a good start. And I don’t know where I’d be without my dishwasher!

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  5. Hate my first comment on your lovely blog to be about a dishwasher. But. I’m in awe that you’ve managed this long without one. Hand-washing dishes for six! Wow. When my husband and I first got a dishwasher, even before having kids, we called it the “relationship-saver”….

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  6. Carrie, I’ve logged in to leave the same comment that I see some other people already have: a dishwasher will help.

    When I first discovered your blog (okay, I’m outing myself as somewhat of a lurker now!) back whenever it was, I was so elated to find someone who blogged so wonderfully and prolifically about so many of my favourite topics (words and literature, childrearing, whole foods, balance, essentially good living! and all sorts of things that I aspire to: buying locally, canning, etc!) that I went back through your archives, and caught myself up to date. And as I read allll those terrific posts about you and your family, one overriding and recurring thought (along with admiration and enjoyment, etc) was: this writer needs a dishwasher! And she needs to sometimes allow herself to use the dryer!

    I say this as someone who has only recently acquired a dishwasher (and a family), and I cannot imagine the superhuman efforts of will (okay, well, I can) that must be involved in having a family of four and writing, too. Not to mention feeding them real food and maintaining a household that doesn’t engender fear of someone calling CAS if they happen to step inside.

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  7. That was my house, too! I said at one point ‘you can cry and say mean things but you can’t do it here and you can’t do it to me. go away.’ And he did, off to his bedroom to shout at the walls. The after school snack-homework-make supper-clean lunchkits-eat supper-make lunches-clean kitchen plus whatever else (Laundry, projects, filling out school forms) drives me to exhaustion. People always say I’m so lucky to work only until 2:30 so I can get the kids after school, but that’s when they don’t think about the day starting at 10 to 5. Our kids are helping more, washing their own lunchkits and loading the dishwasher and they’re now making their own lunches but we’re still not out of the kitchen until they’re both in bed. I think you’re right, Carrie, when you say they take it out on Mum because we’re the most trusted and besides, we take on everything else, why not that, too? I told them yesterday that if they treat me with contempt and fight each other in front of me I’m just going to leave… but I see myself standing on the porch in the snow and I know I’ll come back in for more. Sigh. Drink?

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  8. Well my black hours are usally in the morning!!! There are many days, after my ears begin to sting from the shouting or words when I think longingly of those moms and dads who run away from home. I can’t be one of them, but I understand them.

    On sharing the chores, we have also gone through weeks of more chores and less chores, but generally our older kids do about 1/2 the laundry work, 1/2 the dish work, all the table setting, all the tidying related to their activities, 1/3 of the pet care, some cooking on weekends. They can definately handle more and both Francis and I definately fall victim to “I can do it better myself”. Both Francis and I try to look for areas for them to help us sporadically and they usually like those chores because its something to do together (raking leaves etc.)

    I really believe that our children will benefit from “enough” chores, but find it a challenge to set up the chores as a routine and deal with their desire NOT to do the chores. I grew up in a home where contributing wasn’t a choice, my Dad was single, and there was more work than he could do. My sister and I did a lot of the chores and I know my love of cooking grows from those years. After I left home to go to University, I certainly saw a vast difference in maturity between my friends who had work/household responsibilities and those who didn’t. It played out in how they approached school and ultimately their work. I hope that Francis and I are able to give that maturity to our children, even though I also want to be there and do more of the chores give my kids some freedoms that I didn’t have [and get the chores done right!].

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  9. My children have a story about when they were young that they love to tell other people. It involves Mum unilaterally declaring at about 4pm that the day was over, that they were tired and that everyone had to go to bed. After the children got into pajamas and sat in their bedrooms in the dark for about an hour, I unilaterally declared it was now the morning of a happy brand new day, and that I was making eggs and bacon for breakfast (dinner solved). We can laugh about it now, but it wasn’t very funny at the time.

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  10. My kid is too small to contribute much to household chores, but my friend (also a mum of 4) just created a system that she loves. In her kitchen is a big chart with each family member’s name on it. Every day everyone is assigned 1 of 6 rotating chores. I don’t know what they are, but basic daily maintenance. The expectations are clear, and it’s just one job. “My house is clean! I don’t have to yell!” she said to me, amazed.

    My sister and I were tasked with a fair chunk of housework from age 7 or 8, and I have to say that consequences were very motivational – we’d have ignored our jobs otherwise. For my dad, that meant supervising our vacuuming or dishwashing and making us redo it if we did things poorly. (I’m a really good cleaner now.) For my mum, that meant blithely choosing not to drive us to activity X or friend Y’s house if we shirked. We did not need that lesson repeated often.

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  11. We don’t have a dishwasher either – I didn’t grow up with one, but my siblings and I did the dishes, not my parents. We’re teaching the 7 year old to dry dishes, but she’s dying to wash and play in the water. I’m a little worried about the china.

    My kids have chores. I think kids need chores to teach them how to work and to keep life real. My kids make their beds, set the table, help with vacuuming and dusting every week, fold most of their laundry, sweep sidewalks, and any other job that we think of that they can do. I’ve written about this a number of times on my blog. We don’t have rewards or charts, but I do periodically consider if they’re ready for the next level of difficulty and then it takes concentrated effort to teach that skill – MUCH easier to do the job myself, but I’m trying to keep my eye on the long-term prize.
    You were cooking with your kids for a while – I think that’s awesome, a great way to walk in the cooks’ shoes and shut down the complaining.

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  12. We’ve struggled with getting the girl to help out too. (My favourite complaint? “I’m not your servant, you know…” when I’ve only asked her to help put away HER toys.) But recently, my partner broke down all the things that need to happen when she gets home and wrote them on her easel in the dining room. The list of to-dos ends with “If all of the above done…” and then lists a reward, which they usually agree on when she gets home. Like watching a movie or having a cupcake or something else she wants…it’s working much better. Far less shouting!

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  13. You just about exactly described my day on Monday. How much it helps to know that one is not alone!

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  14. Did you write this blog post after looking in my window!? we have a dishwasher, can’t imagine life without, but even so we are washing lunch containers from 5, and large dinner dishes daily… i’ve been a faithful blog reader and I enjoy reading all your posts and this one had me nodding and saying “that’s me!!”… thank you for sharing your wonderful writing talent with us!

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  15. Thank you all for your comments! I’ll admit that I hesitated pressing publish on this post … and I’m overwhelmed by the response, and glad to know I’m not alone.
    re dishwasher: we’re thinking about it, for serious.

    Reply

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