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

Posts tagged ‘housework’

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*

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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.

The ebb and flow of peace

We live in a cottage (not in a wood, unfortunately). It’s quaint. I think that’s the best way to describe it. Apart from a suffusion of yellow, it’s fairly featureless. However, it meets our needs (close to amenities and affordable), and it’s home. For now.

When we moved here, we were in the middle of an economic crisis. Our kids were in school all day. We spent all day in an office. All we needed a house for was a place to cook meals once in a while, and a place to sleep.

Then things changed.

“School” became the dining room table. “The Office” became our bedroom. Our bedroom moved into the en suite bathroom space, and our lives became compressed. As our business has grown, we’ve taken on staff, as one does. First we had a flexible and understanding lady two days a week. Then three. Finally, five. Then another lady – also flexible and understanding. Also two days a week, then three … Pretty soon she’ll be full time, too. I work with freelancers, who come in to the “office” from time to time to work – often with home schooled kids in tow. Friends come over for play dates with my children. And we still need a PFY (pimply-faced youth, aka tech assistant) for Papa Bear!

In other words, our cottage’s ability to meet our space requirements is being tried. Sorely.

A side effect of this is that we occasionally devolve into chaos. In theory, a small space is easier to maintain, but in practice, sometimes there just isn’t a place to put stuff! We’ve debated various options (moving, storage, rearranging), and finally settled on a combination of a space rearrangement, and a brutal clean up. Then we spent about a month psyching ourselves up for the task at hand. For some reason, yesterday, Papa Bear and I both woke up raring to go. There was nothing for it but to get stuck in. We gave our staff the day off, loaded the station wagon to the gills with junk, and moved things around. We raised a lot of dust, and we all still feel as if we’re encased in a light coat of cement. Not to mention the hayfever everyone is battling. But that’ll be over soon, and for now we seem to have a working solution. We have also managed to achieve a modicum of privacy (did I mention that until yesterday the office was in our bedroom – and we have no interior doors?).

So, to the title. It seems that I manage to instill and maintain order relatively well in my space. I have a sense of peace as things find and stay in (or return to) their  places easily and regularly. Timetables are established and maintained. Dishes are done – all the time. I feel good about myself as domestic diva, and happy to entertain stragglers.

Then I get busy. I finally realise that I need to actually work for a living. I get involved in clients and meetings and deadlines and late nights and early mornings. Before I know it, it’s been a week since the girls received focused education. The dishes are done on an “as needed” basis, and meals consist of frying whatever happens to be closest to the door of the fridge. Papers pile up, toys accumulate in flotsam eddies around the driftwood of disorganised furniture, and it’s hard to believe we haven’t just been the victims of a robbery. (Actually, I’m sure this acts as a deterrent to would-be thieves. They think we’ve already been hit!).

At the back of my mind is a persistent belief that there is some kind of balance to be found here. I am sure that it must be possible to achieve a reasonable degree of personal organisation AND a reasonable degree of business organisation at the same time. Surely I can do half as much of each as I ever do of just the one or the other, on an ongoing basis, and manage to maintain an orderly home and an efficient business, with happy, educated, adjusted kids? Is there anyone out there who is doing this successfully? Or do we all do what I do, swinging from one extreme to the other, with only intermittent applications of peace in isolated areas of our lives?

I’d love to know. But in the mean time, I am putting off the billing so that I can tackle this severely overdue pile of filing. Wish me luck!

Lesson #16: If God brings you to it, He’ll bring you through it.

I’m sure you’ve heard the saying before, but that doesn’t make it any less true. I have been struggling with my workload and time management. I felt resentful that I had to do so much of the housework, the home education, and earn a living on top of that. My beleaguered soul cried out, over and over, “It’s too much! I can’t do it!” I started to notice, more and more, that the refrain was changing to, “I shouldn’t have to do it.”

Angry and bitter, I poured my heart out to the Lord. I apologised for my attitude and asked Him to change it. I explained the predicament and promised that I would do as He told me, since I was already learning that feeling like doing something often follows actually doing something in faith.

I was led to two key passages. The first one is in Titus 2:3-5, where women are encouraged to be “keepers at home.” I prayed about this and understood that the Lord has a clear role for me in my house. It is my job to keep things health, clean and in order. What’s more, I love to do it and feel fulfilled when I do. I do need to train my children to keep their own spaces neat and tidy (that’s part of my job as their mother, educator and mentor), and I can lovingly encourage Papa Bear to do the same. But ultimately, it really is my job and I need to “do it all to the glory of God.” 1 Cor. 10:31

The second passage which keeps coming to mind is Proverbs 31. We all know the story of a virtuous woman – so hard to find. She does her husband good and not evil all the days of his life. His heart safely trusts in her. I have been such a failure in these areas and I confessed that to God. My continual prayer is that He will bring this passage to mind before I cross the line and sin against my man, and so far He has. Not that I’ve always heeded His gentle admonitions …

The other thing about this virtuous woman is that she has a number of enterprises on the go. She buys and sells cloth and land. She plants and harvests. She makes clothes. She sells the goods she’s made and she gives generously to the poor. She works late and rises early. She makes sure her staff have work to do, and that her family have food and clothing. Because of her industry, her husband is well respected and confident to appear in public, in a role of importance. He knows he will never be ashamed by his wife’s actions, words or tales. In fact, he blesses her and teaches his children to do the same.

I have a lot to do but I am in no way as accomplished or enterprising as this lady. And my attitude to it all stinks. I was behaving like a spoiled child, and I realised that we have the assurance from God that “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” 1 Cor. 10:13

The things I have to do at the moment are all things that I really do have to do. It’s not a matter of poor time management or an unfair allocation of roles and responsibilities. This verse (above) means, in essence, that if I have to do it, then I can do it, because “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Phil 4:13

Realising this truth (on a daily basis) has encouraged me enormously. I have come to see each challenge as an opportunity … but more on that later.

Lesson #15: Expectations vs expectancy

When we live a life filled with expectations, we create a pressure cookie for disappointment.

I know that this statement is a broad generalisation and not always true. For instance, if we expect nothing from ourselves, we’ll achieve it. Not great. We need to set reasonable expectations for ourselves. Furthermore, if we expect nothing from those that matter to us, we can make them feel worthless and insignificant – the last thing we ever want!

My problem was (and still is, to some extent), expecting too much. I expect myself to achieve too much, and fail hopelessly every time. This disappoints me and leads me to feel that, since every effort is an inevitable failure, I shouldn’t try at all.

I expect myself to not have to do as much as I do have to do. I feel that I should only have to do half of everything that needs to be done, and that I should be able to have some “me” time. Since that’s not really practical or reasonable right now, I get frustrated and start to “steal” time from other place. I spend a few more minutes on Facebook than I can reasonably justify for work. I spend a few more minutes cloistered in the bathroom, reading my book. I take longer in the bath and put off doing the dishes. After a week of this, I have a heap of dishes, a laundry FULL of dirty clothes, and the screaming, wooshing sound of deadlines flying by. I also have a pair of grumpy, understimulated children and a bewildered husband.

I expect my husband to love me the way that I love him. I’ve spoken in the past about Love Languages, and while I know that the way he receives and shows love is not the same as mine, I expect it to be. I expect him to process stress the way that I do (find the problem and fix it at any cost), not the way he does (go to bed till the fit passes). I become disappointed in what I see as his lack of delivery, and frustrated by his lack of action.

I expect my children to magically achieve their potential now that I a) home educate and, b) have overhauled their diets. They should instantly be free of head aches, mood swings, concentration challenges and sore tummies. Somehow all of this should also address their low muscle tone and make them strong. When they aren’t instantly perfect, or when they have one of those days – you know the ones, where a single English worksheet takes four hours! – I become despondent and doubt my decision to home educate. In fact, I doubt all my life choices and dissolve into an unproductive puddle.

It is true that I’m an extremist, and that should be borne in mind.

However, the gift of expectancy breathes life into our family.

When I face the new day with expectancy, excited about the possibility of achieving my Three Important Tasks for the day, eagerly anticipating my morning run or pilates session, I can’t be disappointed. The anticipation adds to the joy of the action itself, and makes the day a landscape punctuated by eager expectation and fulfilled goals. In a nutshell: satisfaction.

When I enjoy Papa Bear’s differentness and realise that I can learn so much from his view of life and approach to challenges, each day becomes a classroom, or better yet, an adventure, a mystery waiting to be uncovered. What will I learn today? What will I become? How will my perspective change and grow, making me a better person? It becomes almost impossible to stay in bed when faced with a whole day where I can meet my beloved’s needs, help him to achieve his potential, and learn about him and from him along the way.

When I see each moment with my children as a moment for all of us to learn, when I realise that whatever I say is absorbed into their growing self awareness like water into a sponge, when I understand that English and Maths serve a limited purpose and are not the final point of lifelong learning, I can seize each opportunity, each window into my children’s souls, capitalise on it, and help them become the best that they can be. I can teach them balance, self-discipline, acceptance, generosity, hard work, sensitivity, strength and so much more. I can comfort them when the work is hard, and rejoice with them when they master it. It’s a journey, with maturity as the end product, not a university degree.

This lesson is far from over, but writing it down helps to remind me of these truths and fills me with awe at God’s grace and mercy that He would take the time to teach these truths to a hard heart like mine. I wondered how a Christian could truly know the joy of the Lord, and here I see it so clearly. Stop expecting things to be different and start anticipating the joy of what already is.

Hebrews 13:5 “Be content with such things as you have.”

Here we go …

It’s been an awesome hiatus since Christmas, and such fun easing into the year with almost nothing but school and good books. But now the time has come to get this old nose back to that old grindstone. Work must be worked! I feel a strange, clawing reluctance to even get started, and as I compiled my “To Do” list this evening in preparation for the week ahead, I was struck forcibly by the sensation of sleepless nights and seemingly endless stress. I realise the great irony, of course: if I’d gotten back into the groove a little earlier, I’d have less to do right now. However, I’m assuring myself that this has been a much needed and well-deserved break, and hoping that I can make up the lost ground without too serious an impact on the lovely family routine we have going – especially now that the house has been restored to wonderful order.

Please hold thumbs!

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