dirty dishesby Lindsey Lambert

Are you like me, and you do not live in a self-cleaning house? You cannot afford a maid?  Are you having trouble keeping your housework under control while you add teaching school to all the many other jobs you have, like cooking, taxiing, nursing, etc.?

Did you know that, as a homeschooling family, you have a secret weapon to help you battle the housework monster?  You may not be able to afford a maid, but you have assets that you may not know you have which, by taking advantage of said assets, can give you added benefits that you may not expect.

So just what is the secret weapon that all home schooling families have?  Children.

“What?” you say, “My children are no secret, nor are they any weapon!  In fact, THEY are the major reason that I cannot get on top of the housework.  THEY create most of the mess!”

I totally sympathize with you on this point.  When our children were younger, my husband would often come home to a pretty chaotic house.  I would be working on putting supper on the table, while trying to calm two babies and keep the older two children from killing each other. Keeping things picked up and dusted were nowhere close to the top of the priority list at that time.  He would be discouraged by this until he would remind himself of the verse in Proverbs, “Where no oxen are, the crib is clean: but much increase is by the strength of the ox.” (14:4) I was not exactly sure then about the increase that our children were bringing to us, but I remember thinking, “The difference is that oxen can’t clean up after themselves!”

When we began to homeschool our children, we realized that we were going to have to have some help.  I just could not do it all.  However, we could not afford to hire a maid.  My mother had paid for a maid to come to our house every other week after our twins were born (and my other children were barely five and barely two), but that money had long-since run out, and my mother was not supportive enough of our homeschooling to be willing to fund even a part of it.  So, what to do?

We decided that it was time to release the secret weapon—we began to train our children to help.  In fact, often my husband was heard telling our children that their mother was sacrificing to teach them at home; they were going to help her with work around the house.

We tried different systems.  First, we tried a card system.  All the jobs in the house were written on 3×5” cards. (I already had the cards completed because of an effort at organization, which had failed.)  I spread them out on the table, and everyone, including Mom, picked what jobs they wanted to do.  I learned two lessons from this experiment: first, do not let them pick. The two older children were smart enough to pick the easiest jobs. Second, Mom is not assigned jobs.  For some reason, I was always the last one finished.  I became the project manager and began to oversee the work.

Finally, after several tries, we found a system that worked for us.  The children were assigned rooms to clean, and the assignment rotated each week.  I took the number of children I had and divided the number of rooms to clean into the same number as children, trying to make them somewhat even in the amount of work required.  (You would not want to be unfair, right?)  For example, one week a child would clean the living room, the next the kitchen.  After that came the hall and the laundry room, and last was their bathroom.  Every child was required to clean his own room, and sometimes I would pay one of them to clean my bedroom and bathroom—the only way that usually happened.

The beauty of this system was that, if I saw something had not been cleaned well, I knew exactly to whom I needed to speak; the child would be required to do the job again until it was done well.  Likewise, it is important to know which child to praise for a job well done.

Let me just say here, secret weapons do not just happen.  In An American Tail, from which this article’s title is taken, the mice worked day and night to create their secret weapon; it was hard work.  Trust me; developing our secret weapon was also not easy.  Especially in the beginning, it would have taken me much less time to do the work myself.  We cleaned house on Fridays, and I used to call that my witch day, because I often felt that I acted like one.

First there was the training.  Then I had to follow them around, making sure they were working and making them redo jobs that had not been done correctly the first time.  It was so tempting to tell them what they needed to do and accept their report of finished work.  However, Tim would often remind me, “Lyndsay, you get what you INSPECT, not what you EXPECT!” and he was right.

We also developed some other systems of handling chores that helped us with the daily work.  They all had personal chores they had to do each day, such as making their beds, combing their hair, and brushing their teeth.  Added to that were daily chores which rotated weekly.  Some of these chores were things like fixing lunch, helping Mom fix supper, collecting the trash and taking it out.

Sometimes to motivate and add a little spice to life, we sponsored contests or offered rewards.  For example, I might write a goal, such as TEXAS WATER RAMPAGE, a local water park, at the top of a piece of poster board.  (Notice that it is not a short name!) Every day, in which a child finished his personal chores before breakfast, he was able to put a sticker on the board.  Ten stickers on the board earned a letter in the name of the goal.  When they completed the name of the goal, we all participated in the reward. The contests were not competitive but cooperative.  When one lagged behind, the others encouraged them to do better.  (Just a caution:  the type of “encouragement” may need to be monitored.)

Housecleaning was done on Friday mornings.  Our local support group had skating on Friday afternoons.  As a reward for a job well done, I took the children to skating.  Also notice the carrot in this; they did not get to go to skating until all the housework was done. That was a good encouragement to not dawdle.  “What about school?” you may ask.  Of course we had school on Fridays.  In the morning we studied home economics, and in the afternoon they participated in P.E.

I was once asked about the priority level of a clean house while homeschooling.  The man who asked mentioned that his children were doing very well academically, but he was somewhat afraid that he might be raising well-educated slobs.  I believe that, while academics are important, godly character is also important, and that a strong work ethic is a big part of that.  Have you ever wondered how you are going to help your children have a good work ethic?  Most of us do not have chickens to feed, eggs to gather, cows to milk, etc.; we live in the middle of Suburbia, U.S.A.  However, we do have houses that need to be cleaned at least once a week. Because of this need, my children learned how to work and how to do a good job.

The biggest drawback that I am now seeing in this system is that as your children get older, people notice that they are good workers and want to hire them away from you —and they are willing to pay.  My four-person system had to be changed to a three-person system and finally fell apart altogether.  That housework monster has reared its ugly head again.  Maybe it is time to look into getting that self-cleaning house.  

Copyright 2003. Used by permission of the author. Originally published in Texas Home School Coalition REVIEW, August 2003.

Lyndsay, a graduate of Texas Tech University, homeschooled her four now-grown children for sixteen years. She has assisted Tim, her husband of more than forty years, in serving the homeschool community, first in helping to start and lead their local support group and then, from 1990 to 2013, in running the Texas Home School Coalition, the statewide organization committed to serving and protecting Texas home schoolers. She “retired” in 2013 to have more time to be a grandmother to her five grandchildren and to be the “older woman” that she believes God has called her to be.