Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Chore Lists: Best Parenting Win Ever

I really, really hate that hour or so right before bedtime. It’s not just that bedtime doesn’t come fast enough (although it doesn’t). It’s that the kids are invariably bouncing off the walls. They can be little angels all night long, or little terrors from the moment they walk through the door. It doesn’t matter. Every single day, that hour before bedtime is a cacophony of noise and hyperactivity and me fussing at the kids until I’m blue in the face trying to get them to listen. 

These poop. A lot.
Chores? Yeah. Right. But, somehow, it has to be done. The house needs cleaned. The dishes need to be washed. Cats need to be fed, litter boxes need to be scooped. There’s no getting out of it. So how do you find time to fit it into your day?


No, really. It takes a combination of discipline and rewards to get the kids to do things they don’t want to do, and to get them to do it every single day. They don’t want to. They’d much rather watch tv or play video games than do the dishes and clean the litter box every day after school. They’d much much much rather go to their friends’ houses than scrub down the bathtub or run a vacuum in the kitchen on cleaning day.

So what happens? I ask the kids nicely. The kids ignore me, procrastinate, get distracted. I have to ask a hundred times before something gets done. Eventually, I snap and send them to brush their teeth. The rest will just have to wait until tomorrow, because I’m going to have an aneurysm if it doesn’t.

All I want is a little bit of efficiency, darn it. More importantly, I want to be able to do what I, myself, need to do before bed without having to hover over my kids like some black mother angel of death to make sure they’re doing their jobs.

Flying Free

The solution, for me, was to take a page out of my boss’s book. Every morning, I get to work and get handed an assignment list. My morning isn’t over until that assignment list is done.

So, we created the Chore List. Every night, I sit down out write out a list of chores for each kid. Some of those chores stay the same from day to day. They clean their rooms every night, put away their laundry, take their medicine and brush their teeth.

Other chores rotate around, so unless I need someone for a special project or somebody’s sick no one has to rinse dishes or empty out the litter box two days in a row. If there’s something specific I need them to do, like vacuum the front hallway, I add it to the list.

Before bed, the kids get the lists and a time I expect them to be done. Now they know what they have to do and how much time they have to do it, and they’re responsible for everything else after that. No more telling them what to do, or nagging them to get it done. They’re responsible for themselves, and I can hand them their list and move on to doing the laundry.

Oh! Right. The rewards. Each kid gets a weekly allowance for helping out, which was as much a sanity saver for me as it was to give them some money-“Mom, can you buy this for me?”  is almost never said. It seemed like if I was going to shake up the system, however, I should find something else to add to the bag. Before we started, I sat down and put 63 erasers into a bag. When the kids finish their chore lists, they get to take an eraser out of the bag and put it into a little jar we have sitting on top of the bookshelf in the living room.

Once all of the erasers are in the jar (which is the rough equivalent of three weeks of doing their chores every day), they get to celebrate with a movie night, complete with Chinese for supper. Then we start all over again.

It works because Chinese is a favorite for all three of them, but getting Chinese for the five of us is ridiculously expensive. So it’s something we save for birthdays and special occasions. Doing it once a month as a “thank you” to the kids for stepping up to the plate is worth it, and evenings are much less of a headache these days.

And, every once in a while-not often, but once in a while-the house actually stays clean for a few days in a row. What do you know?

The only real pain in the rear is having to sit down and write (or type and print) the list out every night. I haven’t found a good solution to that, but I’m working on it. I’m thinking some kind of magnetic board…

Anyway. Chore lists. Best sanity saver ever when it comes to kids and housework. How do you keep things sane and efficient at your house?

Parenting with Depression

For those days when things are just a little bit fuzzy...
For those of you who come here for the quirky quips, the offbeat quibbles, the general perkiness of it all…come back tomorrow. I promise, there’ll be more then. In light of recent events, however, I wanted to take today, pull back the curtain and talk about something that really matters. Something I, and thousands, if not millions, of moms all around the world, struggle with every day. 

Parenting with depression.

 Nobody Knows

It doesn’t seem to matter how much publicity depression gets, how much people claim to understand it or who says it doesn’t bother them. At the end of the day, most depression sufferers have something in common.

They don’t want to admit that they have a problem.

Many of the people who read this will be surprised that anyone would use the words “me” and “depression” in the same sentence. Most days, they’d be right. Perky and happy and upbeat and looking at the bright side of life are mottos I try and live by.

Those are the days I’m winning. Those are the days I can look depression in the face and say, “Nyah nyah nyah nyah nyah! I’m taking my life back!” Sometimes, however, I’m not the winner. That’s when things start to get sticky.

What Happens After?

There are many things in life that can cause depression to flare up. The doctor diagnosed it as seasonal, and to an extent he’s right. Winter’s definitely harder for me. I find myself struggling to keep a smile on my face when I’m spending day after day inside these four walls in the middle of winter gray…which is why my living room is currently painted like something straight out of Seuss!

Snow isn’t the big killer for me, however. Stress is. The minute I start to feel overwhelmed I just shut down, starting a cascade of fail that leaves me buried under missed deadlines, late bills, short tempers…and lost time with my kids.

On the days depression wins, I’m not a great mom. I’m not even a particularly good mom. As a matter of fact, if my kids get fed and get to school on time I consider it a job well done. Depression is one of those things that just swallows you whole. You don’t want to play. You don’t want to go places. The chitter chatter and constant bickering of little voices that would normally go in one ear and out the other drives you absolutely…fricking…insane.

I’m sure it’s different for other moms. For me, if I can’t deal with life, I certainly can’t do a bang-up job parenting my kids. We get by. They watch a lot of cartoons. Go into raptures because I lift the limits on their video games just to get us through the day. 

But those days aren’t fair to them, because I know what they really want, what they NEED, is me. There. Connected. Giving them 100% of my undivided attention.

Happy Drugs?

The first thing most people ask me when I tell them I suffer from seasonal and stress-induced depression is whether or not I take anti-depressants. That’s a hard question for me. I have, for limited periods of time, taken baby doses of anti-depressant drugs. They help-some. The side effects inspire me to take them as little as I can possibly get away with.

I’m hoping one day to find a good solution. In the meantime, I have to keep parenting as best I can and hope one day my kids will look back and say, “It was enough.” I have to TRY and keep my stress levels down (yeah, I laughed at that one too) so I can keep my head in the game.

Depression Isn’t a Stigma

…but very few parents are going to step up to the plate and admit that they have a problem. If you find yourself struggling, reach out. If you don’t want to talk to your spouse, talk to your doctor. If you don’t want to talk to your friends, find a good therapist. (Most of them are covered by insurance.)

Most importantly, if you find that depression is making it hard to function, if you find yourself struggling just to get out of bed and missing deadlines and due dates like there was no tomorrow, ask for help. You’re worth it.

The Sandy Hook Shootings and Our Schoolkids

It seems like the past week has been filled with so much, so fast, that I’m having a hard time sitting down today to blog. My mind is reeling. So I’m going to just talk about it all, all at once, and hope somewhere in there it all makes sense! 

Let’s start with Sandy Hook, since that’s what’s on everyone’s minds this morning. I’m sure you’ve already heard the story. A troubled young man stole his mother’s guns, killed her, then went to the school where she’d worked. At last count, 20 elementary students between the ages of 5 and 10 were dead. Parents and siblings throughout the county were mourning children who had barely had time to live. Teachers, the principal and a school psychologist lost their lives, and I still haven’t heard what happened to the heroic janitor credited with giving teachers the heads-up to stay in their rooms and out of the shooter’s way.

I haven’t sat down to discuss this incident with my kids yet. I want to. I need to. But I haven’t figured out how to say it. Here, in the bucolic town we call home, this kind of event is as foreign to them as a visit to an alien planet. But it’s not. We lived in VA when the horrible shootings at Virginia Tech happened-my brother-in-law and his wife were both students there at the time. I was across the street when the sniper shot a woman in the parking lot of a Michael’s in Fredericksburg, VA, and we’d been at the Ponderosa he hit by Richmond just a few nights before.

Random violence isn’t something you get used to, and I pray we never do. I’m not sure how to explain it to my kids without terrifying them. I can only hope that they learn to be careful, to be aware, to understand that there’s risk but they shouldn’t let it run their lives.

There was an interesting post this morning on my Facebook feed talking about letting some of our war veterans step in and act as armed security guards at schools across the nation. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about that. I love the idea of giving our soldiers jobs when they come home-with some additional training in dealing with kids, I think they’d be marvelous. And it would free up our LEOs for jobs elsewhere.

On the other hand, it makes me sad to think that it might be necessary. One of the biggest reasons we left the city and moved to a small town was so the kids could go to a good, safe school, with quality academics and no metal detectors coming in the doors. We had a “school cop” when I was in high school. He kept the brawls in the hallways to a minimum, took the time to take an interest in the kids at lunch, and did a hundred other things none of us delinquent teens knew anything about.

I do remember, very well, him giving me a hard time for being tardy when I stopped in to pick up some paperwork after graduation. (I graduated a semester early.) It was hilarious.

My point is, a single, good-natured officer roaming the hallways is very different from a gun toting, metal detector using guard. Because that’s what it would be. A guard. Protecting an area that needs to be protected, even though it shouldn’t. And…yeah. I got my kids out of the city just to get away from situations like this one, but I guess there really is no escaping it anywhere. So we may as well make the best of it, hug our children tight, and pray for those families who live in areas with so much violence that they take this kind of thing for granted.