Johanna's choice of topic for her guest series definitely strikes a chord with me, my quest for balance sometimes feels like the quest for the holy grail. As I type right now, for instance, I nurse one babe to sleep while my little girl Claire is 'doing my hair'. Our cat is patiently staring me down to change her litterbox. Never a dull moment here. On my blog, you'll often hear of my search for balance between motherhood and career. Motherhood is something you want to give your best, and career so often tries to take over. Part of our balancing has involved moving from one province to another to my rural hometown area, where our dream house fits our income. We're not each working forty to sixty hours a week with long commutes just to get by anymore. It was a bold move that has paid off well, especially for our kids.
What I was thinking you might be most interested in is the balancing I'm finding myself very immersed in right now. I'm currently a stay-at-home mom for the year while on maternity leave following the birth of our new addition, our little man Max. And my current, most pressing balancing act?
How in the world can I keep a house somewhat presentable while feeding these four insatiable little beasts, and more importantly, giving them each the face time they need and deserve? Oh, and squeezing myself, my husband, friends, family, and the kids school, homework and activities in, my projects I just want to do, holidays, trips, birthdays and seasonal events, and the crazy renovation projects we've taken on as well. Really, I'm not sure. The sad truth of the matter is that the house usually comes dead last.
But even though we're busy playing, I want to not panic when people pop in to visit. I want to be a good role model for the kids in all things cleanliness and order. Mostly, I want to be able to sit down without having to clear a space.
It seems that we've had one big life changing event after another the past few years ~ university, pregnancy, babies, moving, new jobs ~ that I've allowed to be my messy house excuses. So I've really taken it upon myself this maternity leave, after the few months of grace I gave myself for sleeplessness, to get it in order as head of this business of housework, and make it happen. Because no one else is going to make ithappen for me! It was time for us to balance play with... work. Ugh.
Recently, I stumbled across inspiration named Flylady , through Johanna's partner in her Tuesday diptych series actually. Her site is lovely for those of us SHE's (sidetracked home executives), as she puts it, who did not receive the clean gene. It's been very helpful! Flylady somehow managed to lay out for me exactly what I didn't realize my mother has always known and operated by. She has reintroduced me to the importance of routine. When you gradually change one small habit at a time, it becomes routine. We changed our eating to a cleaner palette this way, gradually ditching one bad habit at a time and introducing better ones, one at a time, of course it would work for my housekeeping!
I now get up in the morning and make my bed. Imagine. More importantly, I tidy the bathroom while I'm in there and give the mirror and toilet a really quick clean (a swish and swipe she calls it). My favorite Flylady quote, "There's nothing that says I love you like a clean toilet to be sick in!". Then I round up and put in a load of laundry. My morning routine gives me the impetus to power through these few quick things, and keep ahead of the CHAOS ~ aka Can't Have Anyone Over Syndrome! I'm still working on getting better at my after supper routine, to set myself up to begin the next day on the right foot. I find the hours after supper and before bed to be so busy. Bedtime and stories, especially bathnights, can hijack a few hours in our house, just for pure quantity of kids. Flylady also gave me a few tools I've found really useful with the kids, like the 5 minute room rescue. We set the timer and go at the worst room in the house as a family. And nobody minds at all, it's actually quite fun! Along with writing down routines to help myself have a plan, I also reworked and posted one I had for the kids.
We've also finally managed to find a reasonable rule around screentime for our school-agers. TV, video games, computer time; I feel they have their place and wasn't willing to enforce an all or nothing ban (I like these things too!), but they can become so all consuming and block the way to the imaginative, creative, active and outdoor play, let alone the responsibilities of homework and housework. Following one of my favorite mother friends plan, ten years ahead of me on the parenting road, we now operate on a Monday to Thursday no screentime rule, and it's been working great. We paired the timing with our new PVR, so we can record favorite shows and play them at a time convenient for us over the weekend. The kids are happy with the arrangement knowing there will be tv later. Best of all, there's been no more momma drama, when I get fed up with couch-potato-ism and yell at them to turn the tv off and move their butts! This has definitely fueled our chore balance as well, opening up time during the weekdays to do our have-to's.
We've included the kids in everyday chores their whole lives, but never in an organized way on the bigger items. We also wanted to introduce allowances, as money experience rather than a reward for chores, but hadn't decided how. I picked up a book at the library recently that was full of good tips on the topic, Mrs. Clean Jeans Housekeeping with Kids by Tara Aronson. From her, we got the idea for our handy-dandy corkboard and cards on which I drew different chores that need done. Some are more difficult once-a-week chores (like dusting), some are easier everyday things (like feed the cat). On Sunday evenings (along with my nail inspection for the troups), the kids choose which chores they would like to be responsible for that week. Having their own choice in the matter has made a huge difference! These are above and beyond their daily expected chores. Half their age is the amount of chores they need to pick, so Thane, at 8 years old, picks four. Claire, at 2, gets one handed her way. She is a great plant waterer. We round up for odd ages, and our Seth, at 5, has three chores. Half their age is also the allowance we've decided on. $4 for Thane, $2.50 for Seth. Not doing a chore means an extra chore or loss of their weekend tv. That's just for major offenses though, hasn't happened so far.
All in all, these little efforts have allowed me to find guilt free time for the fun stuff. Painting with Claire is more fun when I'm not looking at the messiest kitchen ever. Taking on a sewing project is more fun when I have an uncluttered spot to spread it out. The proof in the pudding? This month has been my record for blog posts. The most posts ever for me! I guess there is more time for play when I make the time for work first. I'm sure there will be constant tweaks and changes over the years, evaluating what is working and what is not for our house and family, but for now I think we've made more good steps towards finding that elusive balance!