Why I don’t do chores when the kids are napping
For the longest, when my kids hunkered down for naps, my body kicked into high gear. A timer goes off in my internal system as I scan my the chore list in my head and try to get as much done as possible… fold the laundry, put away the dishes, make dinner, clean up toys, put away the laundry, clean the bathroom etc. I mean, that’s just what you do right — try to get ahead of the game.
Well, about two years ago, I was chatting with a German colleague; trying to get to know her as a person. I asked her one of my favorite icebreakers, what’s your super power? This was her response.
In my household, my kids get up, clean up, feed themselves, make their own lunch and get themselves to school. I can sleep in whenever I want to. They also pull equal weight with all the chores at home. All without complaining.
Oh - I want that. I asked her what her secret was because I want to get there when my kids are as old as hers. She shrugged, “It’s just what you do. And you start them young”. I kept that at the back of my mind, not really doing anything about it yet. A few months later, I met with our wonderful parenting coach, who again dropped another truth bomb on me.
Instead of reacting in situations, try to take a step back and ask yourself — What do you want your kids to learn from their experiences, conversations, actions? Because, they’re watching. And they are learning everything you say and do.
With those principles in mind, I figured out that I wanted to change some things in our family so that they could actually learn from it. One of them was teaching them about sleep and the other was about chores. This is why we do chores when they’re awake.
Monkey see, monkey do
If I want my kids to know how to even do chores, they first have to see me do them. If I’m always doing it when they’re asleep, they will have no idea what chores even look like. When they were younger, they started with smaller chores like loading the dishwasher, sorting laundry, carting laundry into their rooms using a wagon and putting away the toys. The more they do it, the more it becomes muscle memory. Whenever there is the occasional whine, we just say (to quote Walking Dead), “everyone has a job”. By the time they get older, it’s just what you do. I also started doing this new trick that I learned while observing Emmy’s kindergarten teacher at work. If they whine or have a negative attitude, I ask them to leave the room and try again. It works!!!
It makes the family stronger
When they come to me for help or attention during chore time, I always remind them that chores need to get done. I also say “You can help, if you want to make the family stronger. And we’ll get done faster so we can play sooner”. Oh they so want to help mommy! One of my funniest memories is watching my 2.5 yo help daddy load the costco paper towels into the pantry. They won’t always be actually helpful, but it doesn’t really matter, because you’re teaching a mindset.
Because they shouldn’t be the center of the universe
Being a parent to little kids is tiring. I mean - it’s 100% joy but very little happiness. We should take every opportunity we have to rest, play and have our own me time. When our kids nap, my husband and I take turns to do fun things whether its riding the peloton, going for a manicure (me), going rock climbing (him), or just embracing the very simple pleasure of a family nap before they just don’t fit in our bed anymore. As parents who work really hard, I don’t believe our job is to shelter them from the realities of life. Our job is to prepare them for it. Getting up to go to work, making time for chores, cleaning the house - those are things all hardworking families do.
So am I actually getting ahead of the game?
Not always. Yesterday, I totally had to do chores when they were napping as we had friends coming over to stay. And when they do help, they’re slower, and don’t always do things to the standards we desire (e.g. folding laundry). Sometimes they do come up with novel ideas for improving processes (why don’t we deliver the laundry in the wagon??). But overall, I consider this the long game. Over time, they will improve and by the time they’re old enough to actually help me get ahead of the game; that’s just what they do. Wish us luck!
p.s. Cover photography by the talented Laura Hamilton of Lulujane photography, based in the Bay Area.