While closing out the month of May for my team's digital magazine, where we've featured multitasking career mothers, I began mulling over what might be my top two 'best practices' tips that I could share with other mothers. The tips that came to mind, however, seemed so insignificant in light of the fact that these women raised four to five children while holding down a business career or scaled an entrepreneurial startup.
I only had three children and the luxury of staying home and spending 17 hours every three months scrubbing meters upon meters of tiled floor and grout -- a very healthful exercise for one's sanity (that's a joke, really). But this very 'luxury' of being able to stay home made me realize that this is what may make my best practices more valuable to a mother in need of tips!
So, here we go. Coming from a mother who had all the trappings of the middle-class suburban housewife: a nearly 3,000 sq. ft. home, community pool, tennis courts and a top elementary school within walking distance, the minivan (the days of the minivan), the soccer and ballet lessons, community parent volunteer, oh, and one mustn't forget the pets -- the Barbie life with Ken working until 11 p.m. -- I have to say, the No. 1 tip I can give a mother is The House does not have a brain: The House will not go insane!
There is some psychotic belief that staying home in isolation from adults, cleaning, mopping, washing and keeping the house spotless is truly a luxury. Don't buy into it. You will be on medication faster than you can say, "Boo!" So, on those days when you think of beating yourself over the head to clean a disastrous, child-terrorized house, sit down, read a magazine, read HuffPost or turn on music and dance and say aloud: "The House does not have a brain: The House will not go insane!" But you must say this with the assuredness of Miranda Priestly stating, "That's all." And when you finish swathing in your celebration of life and self-sustainability, if and only if you have time, then, clean the house -- which brings me to tip No. 2!
To keep my sanity, until my spouse finally realized that there was a purpose for the Yellow Pages and cleaning teams, I employed my children in a timed game of beat the clock. We called it, The Ten-Minute Tidy (unbeknownst to us, we were not alone in coining this title). This tip requires you to really know your children. Your technique of approach will depend on their ages. If you try this with older children, they will look at you as though you just arrived from Mars.
So, for success, here are the basic parameters for all ages:
- A Time Angel. One of my classroom students renamed this 'A Time Demon.' Whatever works...
- An Audible designated timer. This is Pavlov's dog's bell -- do not use the Ten Minute Tidy Timer for anything else. (By the way, a get-rich-idea: make a just-for-fun-timer for kids cleaning the house; when I get a job, I'll be your first backer!)*
- Have a Safety Monitor/Helper. Have this person alert everyone to attack the Lego-Zone so you don't kill the bottom of your feet walking on carpet-hidden Legos! No running!
- A Designer List. You know how fast or slow your children move. Give them each only what you know they can accomplish cleaning in ten-minutes.
- There has to be a reward. Ours was listening to StarDate! The kids loved it. It has just the right magical sound of completion and relaxation after whipping through a house in ten minutes. This was the great Mary-Poppins-like treat with 'mommy' before bedtime. It sparked the neurons, the thoughts, the questions and the immediate dismissal of the grunt work of cleaning!
- Depending on your children and your suburban life taxi-schedule, make this a 'doable' routine. If you can only do it once every two-weeks, so be it! Daily, weekly, monthly is your call, but make it a known routine and known 'game.'
- This may not be necessary, but it helped: We created a team name and characters with t-shirts. We were The Bubblehead Crew.
Note, the house will not look like a professional crew cleaned it. That is not the ultimate goal. There are four outcomes to this 'game' of cleaning: 1) Stabilizing your sanity. 2) Teaching an otherwise combative sibling cohort about collaboration. 3) Teaching your children the responsibility of cleaning up without yelling or going nuts when everything is a mess. 4) Knowing that this 'routine' over the years turns into a respectful habit and self-initiated cleaning.
Thankfully, my children are now 24, 21 and 18. I no longer have the suburban insanity trap or timer, but when I say to any of them, "Okay crew, let's go!" They know: Let's kick it and let's get it done!
So, as we close this month of May and motherhood, these are my two best-practice tips from The Bubblehead Crew to you. Enjoy motherhood!
*And, thank you, Sandy Wood. Maybe StarDate should make that magical sounding child-friendly timer (sales going towards contributions)!