Disclaimer: if you have a habit of keeping your house picked up all the time, this blog post is probably not for you.
Balancing being a work at home parent, a ballet-dad, a theatre-dad, and an involved husband and parent often means something has got to give. More often than not, it’s more than one something. We will prioritize what is most important to us. For Jessica and I, when life gets particularly busy the first couple of things to go are TV entertainment (movies first, then TV shows) and keeping up with the house.
My kids will never know the kind of house I grew up in; the kind where it’s picked up and cleaned daily. But then again, they will never have the kind of parents I did. My mother was a stay at home mom with few activities outside of the home; her primary responsibilities were to cook and maintain our home, and she was very good at it. Jessica and I both work, just like so many other families today, and it is hard enough having to cook healthy meals every day (Every. Single. Day.) – we just don’t have the time to keep the house picked up. Not regularly anyway. And no, sacrificing yet more of our sleep is not a viable solution.
We don’t always pick up the house, but when we do, we prioritize the shared living spaces.
Which means that our kids’ rooms can get pretty scary. However, we have discovered one way to motivate our family to pick up the house: parties. And they don’t have to be big parties either, though they do work the best to get everyone motivated. No, they can be a simple slumber party. As long as we make it clear from the beginning that the one condition for the party to happen is that the house be presentable, it works pretty well most of the time.
And still, our littlest ones’ room is next-to-last in the cleaning order (mom and dad’s being dead last, of course).
But the other day, I made a discovery. There are lost toys in their room. Seriously, under the layer of clothes (most of them clean) that were scattered all over their floor (most likely from the volcano that exploded in their room making it necessary to have something to walk on lest the hardwood floors burn their feet – you think I’m joking?); under the clothes and random cloth diapers (used as wrapping paper or the inserts rolled up into scrolls for the princess to send messages to queen mommy or king daddy); under the boring layer of clothes and cloth diapers are a collection of precious lost toys.
A couple nights ago, I decided to tackle their room with them. I started with the clothes; Sugarbaby (2) and Smunchie (4) started by laying on their bed. It wasn’t long before the lava-floor was visible again in a growing patch that was slowly making its way toward their little kitchenette. Once the path was clear, I asked them if they would like to organize their kitchen. Their response was like I had announced that we were going to the zoo. Their blue kitchen was the best toy in the world! There was so much excitement over getting their kitchen back in shape. Ten minutes later or so, when I had picked up the last piece of clothing on the floor, it was clear that the lava was gone, and I now stood on the floor of a café, soon-to-be-featuring some amazing sandwiches and soups.
I let them continue on with their kitchen play and found a little time to myself before they enthusiastically announced that their sandwich shop was open and I was invited to stop by to order some food. I thought a sandwich and a bowl of soup sounded reasonable, but that wasn’t going to cut it. Along with my order I was treated to two plates of fruit, a veggie sandwich (Sugarbaby was very proud of it), a full dessert plate, and a cup of tea that was dutifully refilled – every 20 seconds or so. It was a wonderful experience, and when I left their shop, they continued to play until dinnertime, some 30 minutes later, when they came down to the dinner table and served me a colorful felt 5-course meal while they ate the more humble offering I prepared for them.
The excitement didn’t end then. It did cause a bit of trouble for bed time as Sugarbaby felt the need to cook more food instead of laying down for bed, but other than that, the kitchen continued to be a source of entertainment for much of the next day as well.
I should remember that in the future when their room gets bad again, and they don’t know what to do with themselves. “Let’s go clean up your room and see if there are any lost toys hiding in the mess!” Sometimes, 30 minutes invested in cleaning a room, or making a batch of play dough, or setting up some watercolor paints (or crayons), or helping our children find special clothes for a living room dance party, will give us parents a little bit of that space we so desperately need while our children enjoy an activity together.