Home business, home education and health challenges: what makes us tic?

Posts tagged ‘chores’


“Actually, I can’t have this conversation right now.”

My words drilled little shards of ice into my baby girl’s heart. She left quietly, heading outdoors to find solace in the still of the late afternoon garden.

Even as I said them – even before I said them, really – I knew the pain they’d inflict.

I also knew the devastation I’d wreak if I said what was bubbling through my boiling veins. I chose the lesser of two evils.

Goldilocks is fourteen. This incredible young woman is designing a civilisation from first principles, mapping out the relative migrations of tribes, and the natural development of their invented languages. Her study takes place on a made-up land that has two suns and a desert in the middle. She’s studying what she feels would be the natural results of such phenomena.

She is also teaching herself Japanese, piano, and guitar. By ear. And – despite technically being in Grade 8 – she’s averaging around 70 – 80% in all of her Grade 11 final exams.

She’s a genius.

But she can’t wash a dish.

Not even one.

Not even after instruction. From all of us. Over … and over … and over again.

Realising her inability to do what should (surely?) be a simple and obvious task, she was already on the verge of tears. She felt stupid. I, having well surpassed my capacity for doing all the things, all the time, had no patience or compassion left to give. I simply could not begin to fathom how this bright and capable young woman could so utterly fail to grasp the basics of domestic hygiene.

She was devastated.

And I could only add to it.

So I said the words least likely to cause lasting damage. As I washed the dishes myself (great teaching moment lost, mom), I felt awash with sympathy not for that beautiful and fragile thing I had crushed, but for myself. I would have given anything to head out to the cool of the late afternoon garden, sit under the tress, stare across the valley, and just  …

… be.

But no. I had dishes to wash.

Maybe when I am all grown up, I’ll figure this parenting thing out.

And maybe, until then, my children will survive the second-rate version I am able to offer them in the meantime.

The thing is, it really isn’t all about me. But sometimes it is, ya know? It turns out that, like Goldilocks and Red Riding Hood, I, too, am a work in progress.
parenting is a work in progress


Life hack of the week: dish washing

As I write this, my darling daughters are 9 and 12 years old. It’s a great age for one very special reason: chores. More specifically: incentivised chores.

We have reached an agreement: for every month in which the girls put away the clean, dry dishes every morning before breakfast and every evening before dinner, without being asked, they earn one month’s membership of Animal Jam. So far, it’s working very well (just one week in).

It’s something of a relief to walk into a kitchen and NOT have to put away the dishes. Maybe it’s just me.

As long as I make sure I stay on top of the dish washing chore, the kitchen always looks fresh and ready for action. And seriously, washing a load of dishes takes no more than a minute or two. Really. I timed it. (I know). It doesn’t even take as long as heating something up in the microwave. (If you’re thinking, “I’ll bet she’s heating up another cup of coffee”, you’d be on the money ;). Keeps me sane.)

I have a simple trick for this: I never, EVER, fill the sink with warm soapy water and wash acres of greasy dishes. I run the hot tap, squirt some dish liquid on a scouring sponge, and wash dishes like I’ve got a full bladder and just can’t stick around that long. (Often this is actually true. I try to aggregate all my standing-up-from-the-desk activities into one efficient time slot ;).) The reason this works is because it feels like yo’re just quickly taking care of one or two small items for a friend while you’re on holiday in some fancy-pants resort, rather than actually doing a chore. Genius! You’re welcome.

So that’s my simple life hack: do the dishes as you go, whenever there are a few in the sink, I look the other way, say I won’t do them, then sneakily sneak up on myself and wash the whole lot before my coffee’s even warm enough to drink. Voilà! And the next time I turn around, the Dish Fairies have tidied the results of my efforts away, and everything looks all Stepfordy and ready for use. *Bliss*

The “Uh Oh” Box

Some years ago, I was fantastising about writing an autobiography. The title was inspired by the animal impressions my children were fond of doing at the time, and the tidal wave of toys that seemed to have consumed every available surface, no matter how unlikely it may seem. I am not terribly proud to confess that the proposed title I had in my was “There’s a Lion in the Passage and a Barbie up my Bum”. It had been one of those days.

One problem we face (and I’m sure we’re not alone here) is stuff being left lying around all over the house. It doesn’t take long, if everyone leaves just one thing where it doesn’t belong each day, for the house to degenerate into chaos. I hate chaos. As FlyLady says: CHAOS = Can’t Have Anyone Over Syndrome. If we’re supposed to be hospitable, we need a place in which to be hospitable – a neat, organised, welcoming space.

Microsoft Word - Uh Oh.docxSome incredibly inspired soul (whose link I have sadly lost) recently posted a photo on Pinterest of their “uh oh” box: a big box with a sign on it, explaining that what you’ve left out has been picked up by Mom and put into the box. You can only get it out by doing a chore. It’s a great plan: stuff gets tidied away; lessons get learned; and each chore has it’s own FREE reward: the toy you would otherwise have lost.

In a word: genius.

So now we have an “Uh Oh” box, too. Everything goes into it, including Papa Bear’s slip slops and Goldilocks’ favourite blanket. Nothing is safe from the Uh Oh box unless it’s been safely tidied away where it belongs. If the week ends and the box still has anything in it, on Saturday I take it all to charity. No quibble. No arguing about which treasures (if any) should go to a more needy (or deserving) home. I wish I could say “no tears”, but that’d be stretching things a bit. At least they have a week to prepare for their loss, or take measures to avoid it.

Honestly, it makes me inordinately happy to see the kids tidying up after themselves, willingly doing chores, my house no longer being overrun, and rewards being given freely and fairly – without me actually spending any money. And of course: no more ranting about picking up toys!

I highly recommend the “Uh Oh” box route if toys have taken over your life. What do you use to motivate your family to clean up after themselves? I could do with the inspiration :). 


Chores made simple

Our Family Chore Chart

Our Family Chore Chart

Hard work matters

I believe in the value of hard work. It seems to me that the mystical “work ethic” of ages past is becoming a rarer and rarer commodity. As we strive so hard to inculcate a sense of self-esteem into the next generation, we are missing the mark and, instead, creating a culture of entitlement and laziness.

Parents have a duty to teach their children the value of hard work, and to equip them with the practical skills needed to perform the work. Not only that, studies show that when we have work to do, and the work is valued and achievable, our sense of self worth actually increases. In other words, while we cosset our little ones and “protect” them from the hardship of “real life”, with all it’s responsibilities, demands and work, in a misguided attempt to improve their sense of self esteem, we are in fact doing the very opposite, and creating a vacuum of meaning in their lives.


Chores provide the perfect opportunity to develop a good work ethic. Certain things need to be done every single day in order for a family to function efficiently. If these things are left undone, chaos ensues. If all of these things are done by just one or two people, chaos ensues, and so does burn out and family feuding. But if each person has a job to do, and everyone contributes equally to the smooth running of the home, and is fairly rewarded for their contribution, the result is bliss. A sense of teamwork, harmony and mutual dependency develops which results in everyone feeling like they matter; like they belong.

The problems with chores are fairness and consistency. I usually find that I forget who is supposed to do what, I forget to check up on whether or not it’s been done, and in the end it seems so much simpler for me just to do it all. Until I burn out, of course.

Making it practical

This year, we’re trying something new (although I’m sure all of you already have this brilliant plan in place!). I’ve devised a chore chart. It’s a table broken into 9 columns, and in each row is the name of a chore that needed to be done each day. At the start of every week, we sit with the list and each of us chooses 7 or 8 chores to take of in the week ahead. Our names are written in the columns next to the chores we’ve chosen, and the seven blocks to the right of our names represent the days of the week. Each day, once we’ve completed a chore, we tick it off.


Every weekend we go to the Farmers’ Market. Anyone who has done all their chores all week long gets R50 pocket money to spend on themselves at the market. If they’ve done more than their fair share, they get an extra R5 per additional chore they’ve done, provided they’ve done it all week long. We are all expected to tithe 10% of that, and to save 10% of that. But the rest is ours to spend as we please, or to save if we prefer. This means that the girls get a great grounding in the basics of money management, not to mention a fairly concrete maths lesson each week.

So that’s the economics taken of. However, I also want to foster a sense of teamwork, kindness and generosity. I absolutely don’t think that working for money and money alone will ever create that. Instead, no one will do anything unless they’re paid to do it. So while I believe in the value of earning your keep, and being paid for a job well done, it needs to go beyond that.

Every evening with supper, we either chat, read stories, play board games or, most often, watch movies. Now what we do is vote for the person ho was most kind and generous in a particular day. Each nominee has to make a case for their election (see: a debate lesson), and then the vote is cast. The winner chooses the evening’s entertainment.

So far it’s going very well. The house runs smoothly(ish), and everyone has a sense of participation in that success. We have far fewer grumbles about doing chores, and I have more times for things other than washing the dishes. All-in-all, I’m very satisfied with the results so far.

What about you? Do you use chore charts? How do you incentivise the system, and what works in your house? I’d love to hear your ideas.

Mistakes are simply mislabelled lessons …

…. and the consequences are the school fees.

Sometimes, the fees are expensive.

Until very recently, I was obsessed with getting things right. I really and truly believed that there was a clearly defined right and wrong course of action in every single situation, and that the only path to success was to identify and follow the right course. In retrospect, that is undeniably naive.

Recently, after a run of rather serious and far-reaching mistakes, I have realised something important. Mistakes are lessons. We learn what not to do, how not to respond, who not to be. For the most part, people don’t die from their mistakes. All we do is learn and grow.

In that way, a mistake can be seen to be a good thing, an opportunity to become a better version of ourselves.

Applying what we’ve learned

About eight weeks ago, we decided to do a broad-spectrum experiment in rearing our children. Essentially, we scaled the rules down to the bare minimum:

  • Make sure we’re not late as a result of any of the “adaptations”. For instance, a messy room hiding all the clean clothes is not an excuse for us being late for Church.
  • Supper time is family time.
  • No bed time stories if Mama can’t reach the bed because of the toys.
  • No pocket money if no chores are done.

Based on everything I’d read that led me to give the experiment an honest go, a natural outworking of this experiment would be that everyone would begin to see the value of pitching in and doing their share. After a while, it would just be easier (and more fulfilling) to establish our own sense of order, and then put in the small amount of effort required to maintain it.

The results of our experiment

Just over a week ago, Red had a birthday. Her gift from Grandma was the most beautiful heart-shaped silver locket. It was the perfect “growing up” gift, and she treasured it. For almost three days. By the end of the third day, it had disappeared into the chaos formerly known as “Their Room”. This was about six weeks after our experiment began. In that time, virtually every dish washed, was washed by me. The dogs pretty much only got fed if I fed them. And it goes without saying that meals were prepared and dishes washed by yours truly.

I lost it.

I explained in low, calm, measured tones, that “Fun Mum” was gone. OCD Mama was back. Order and discipline would be restored, and things were going back to the way they’d been before.

Now, we have a tidy house and order reigns. I can breathe again, and I’ve decided that the free-to-be approach to parenting simply isn’t going to work for our family. It was a mistake, and I’ve learnt from it. I’ve learnt that what works for me is at least as important as what works for the rest of the family, If not more so, since I’m the one who has to make it happen.

So we’re going back to what works for us, with the confidence that it really is what works best for us.

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