I am sure we have all seen those commercials where the kids are making a horrendous mess in the kitchen and mom laughingly comes along and joins in. This can happen but is not the norm in most homes. Most of us are too tired to make a game out of chaos and mess; quite frankly we do not have the energy to clean it up. Immediately upon seeing a mess of this magnitude (at least the majority of us) and our brains signal a melt down because we know exactly who will be cleaning it up. And because we are all overworked and tired even if the mess is not of gargantuan proportions it triggers our anxiety level and we end up overreacting.
As my children were growing up I found myself in this situation. I am normally a light hearted individual who loves to have fun. I hated when I got upset and irritable and found myself taking all the fun out of life. All because there was too much work! As I watched my children I found that they too were losing their lightheartedness and I decided I did not want that to happen. One of my children was a serious child by nature and needed my help in overcoming introversion anyway. The other child did not take anything too seriously but was becoming negative and grumpy. This was no good and had to change.
There is a balance between the commercials that show mom getting into a food fight with the kids and the mom who comes apart at the seams because of it. I was determined to find this middle ground. One way I tried to find this was to not sweat the small things. I was determined not to overreact when it came to accidents. All children spill their drinks, drop their food, or make a mess in the tub. I decided not to take these things so seriously and to be light hearted when these things happened. The kids and I would clean up the mess together and be done with it.
I made a decision to try and not take all the responsibility on myself. The kids and I started sharing chores, not only sharing but doing them at the same time, together, as a team. This made it easier on all of us. During the week days we just did the necessary, every day things that needed doing like picking up, feeding the pets, cooking, setting the table, dishes, a couple loads of laundry, baths, and homework. On Saturdays we made a chore bowl. I would write down all the things that needed done around the house like vacuuming, dusting, cleaning the bathrooms, mopping, more laundry, changing out the bedding, etc., and put them in a bowl. I tried to make an even amount of chores between my two kids and I, like twelve. We would then draw four chores apiece. My daughter was seven years older than my son so we made an agreement; if he drew a chore too hard for him he could swap out one with either of us. And if someone drew a chore they particularly hated then they could ask if someone would swap, if they could trade it out it was fine, if not it was theirs.Many times when I or my oldest got done with our chores we would come along and help the younger one finish up (unless they were just dawdling waiting for help).
We made a game out of chores, all of us working at the same time. Sometimes we would sing a happy working tune like on Cinderella or dance about the house with our dust rags. It is so much easier, just the Cinderella says when you sing a happy tune and make it fun.
Having fun picking up toys is another way I tried to lighten it up with my kids. The stuffed animals became animated and started talking to each other which was perfect for both my kids. My daughter has a great imagination and she would look at the animals as if they were talking to her, she never even looked at me, as if I was not in control. My son on the other hand hated it when you tried to hide the fact that you were the “puppeteer” and stated quite clearly that he knew it was you talking. But as long as he knew that you knew that he knew then we were good. Makes me laugh thinking about it now. The stuffed animals would talk about how they wanted a nap and they needed to get into the toy chest now. The cars and trucks would ask to go to the garage for repairs, etc, and a whole scenario of other toys becoming animated.
Because I was a working mother that was another added stress that caused me to get a bit too serious with my children. I was blessed to have my mom as a sitter for the kids. This allowed me a little leeway in that I could take a fifteen to twenty minute nap when I got home. That one short little cat nap did a world of good for everyone. I felt rejuvenated and I was able to draw from the lighthearted side of my brain again! If I did not have this short little nap I would not be able to make it through the evening, at least not pleasantly.
The evenings meant cooking, dishes, homework, and baths. I did not want to make my children’s lives miserable in the small amount of time I actually got to spend with them. If I did not have to work I sure would not, but many of us, especially single mothers have no other choice. For those of us who do work it is so important to keep those times with our kids happy. During the evening meal preparation my children would be helping or playing close by so we could talk about the day. We talked all through the meal as well. Meal time is a time to talk about positive things that happened all day and not bring up the more serious issues that can cause a meal to sour. I would share my day with them as well. I am a bit of a type A personality and I would embellish just a bit to make everything a little funnier, the kids loved to hear my stories from work. It helps them to know what you are doing during your day as well as sharing theirs with you.
Homework time is a good time to bond with the children as well. Many days the kids would sit at the table while I was cooking dinner working on their homework. My oldest would help my youngest because she was smarter than I was but sometimes we ran into a brick wall with my son because he refused to do his work at all. He would slide down into his chair and moan, what should have taken ten minutes turned into an hour. This is where my patience wore thin as well as everyone else in the house. When it got too much for us we asked for help. We did not have a lot of money to hire tutors but we asked for prayer at church and told our Sunday school class our need. There was a wonderful teacher at our church that offered to tutor for what we could afford. She was actually a reading specialist which was what my son needed! God is so good and met our need. As you can imagine I was so relieved and this helped so much with the stress at home. Do not be afraid to ask for help, if you are involved in church that is a great place to get help. If you are not there are so many great agencies and programs, the United Way can lead you to someone that can help. Sometimes struggling with a child who needs extra help can get too much for any family, don’t do it to yourself and your family, get extra help, it is so worth it.
Look for ways in your life that you can lighten it up a little; it will help you and your kids. If something is too hard then sit down and look at your schedule and see if you can cut something out. If you do not have time to have fun with your kids and get some peace and laughter together things will only get worse. You have to stop the cycle before it ends up ruining your happy home. You children will only be yours for just a little while. They are worth making changes for.
Rachel is an ex-babysitting pro as well as a professional writer and blogger. She is a graduate from Iowa State University and currently writes for www.babysitting.net. She welcomes questions/comments which can be sent to rachelthomas.author @ gmail.com.