If you had looked around the main living space in our home this morning, you would never have known that we have a really nifty family chore system set in place: Crusty dinner dishes stacked in the sink from the night before, school papers and library books littering almost every corner of the kitchen and living room, shoes and backpacks spilling over the stairs, and the cute but annoying sofa pillows lumped up on the floor with a wad of fleece blankets. (And don’t get me started on the mud room filled with lockers that ostensibly house each child’s belongings. Disaster!)
How could this be? I grumbled to myself as I spent a good hour cleaning up the messes I was unwilling to leave undone until the kids got home from school. How. Could. This. Be? Each child has an area or “zone” of the house they are responsible for (including the living room, the mudroom, and those stairs . . .), rewards for doing them, and the loss of privileges for not doing them. So why didn’t it get done?
Because I didn’t enforce the system. I didn’t work the plan.
Now, I understand that a good family system shouldn’t require the supervision and nagging of the mother. That’s the whole point, right? But then there’s this nasty little thing called Reality. Only one of my four children is really into the system enough to do it on her own without
nagging reminding (and, no, she’s not the youngest–it’s just her personality), and it was the busiest afternoon/evening of the week with each child having a different extracurricular activity at a different time and place.
The truth is, I was tired and didn’t really feel like corralling my two youngest children to clean up with me at the time we normally do it as a family. My husband was gone with the older kids (the most capable of the bunch), and I still needed to help my youngest with some homework. So I made an unconscious choice to just let it go and give us all a break. (Which was fantastic. Until this morning …)
My point actually has nothing to do with our family system and everything to do with understanding that–for better or for worse–most moms really are the heart of the home. If they work, the family works. If they don’t work, the family usually doesn’t work either. If they’re crabby, it makes the kids crabby. If they’re happy, the kids are (often) happy. If they are really hard on themselves, they are usually hard on their children. If they treat themselves with kindness and mercy, that’s usually how they treat their children (who then treat themselves accordingly). It’s an interesting concept to think about, and a true one in my life.
I say “for better or for worse” because I’m pretty darn human. I have days when I don’t feel like being nice and happy, sticking to a schedule, or working any kind of plan–let alone the super ambitious ones I’ve created for myself. My ambitions and expectations have come back to bite me on more than one occasion when theory has butt up against practice, plans against reality, and goals against human weakness. I don’t like giving in to these things. I want to believe that if it works on paper, it works. Period. That if I just make a really outlined time map for the day, a really fun and motivating chore system, or a super realistic-yet-ambitious goal chart for myself or my kids that *poof* it will magically happen. If it existed, I would be Queen of the Ivory Tower of Motherhood–high above and set apart from actually doing of the dirty work of motivating, enforcing, and working all my highfalutin plans.
But here I am. In the moment and in the mess. Surrounded not only by my children, but by my weakness and my humanity. So I don’t always do it right. I am not always the pillar of strength, wisdom, and selflessness that I could so easily write a chapter about in the parenting manual of the Ivory Tower of Motherhood. But I’m okay with that. I’ve learned to not only forgive, but to embrace the inconsistent, imperfect, and often unbalanced life that belongs to my family, led by me, the inconsistent, imperfect, and often unbalanced mother. The heart of the home.
So maybe no one did their chores yesterday, and maybe it’s because I wasn’t leading the way. But I will tell you what I did do. I snuggled in bed with my youngest after we read together. I hung out and talked in my teenage son’s room while my husband hung the chin up bar I bought at my son’s request. I took a spontaneous trip to the library with another child who really wanted the next book in a series she is reading, and I spent a few minutes posting and bragging on Instagram about one of my oldest daughter’s latest pieces of artwork (the child least likely to call attention to or promote herself). Heck, I even managed to go to bed extra early which resulted in me waking up this morning with plenty of energy to clean up yesterday’s messes after everyone went to school.
I’m not trying to excuse laziness or promote enabling children to be lazy by doing their work for them. I’m just trying to help us all be a little more kind and merciful with both ourselves and our children when it comes to this thing called family life. To realize that as the heart of the home, we aren’t always going to do it right, but if our resources and energy are limited and there’s a choice, it’s almost always better to follow our hearts rather than our own highfalutin’ plans.
QUESTION: Do you feel like you are the heart of the home? Does everyone seem to follow your lead, for better or for worse?
CHALLENGE: If your resources and energy are limited but you still have a choice, follow your heart instead of your highfalutin’ plans.
Stacie D. says
Thank you for this reminder, and thanks also for permission to occasionally abandon the plan in favor of following the heart. And to do it without guilt. As the heart of the home, I want to lead more for better than for worse, and that requires letting things go sometimes, knowing it won’t be that way forever.
Thanks, Allyson! I literally just plopped down, exhausted, in my rocking chair after taking baby out of crib and in the middle of dinner prep for the older 3, to take a little time out from the mess in the kitchen and living room you just described–the one I just had cleaned to near perfection due to routines and systems yesterday at this time, but you wouldn’t be able to tell now. ha! I got on POM to see if there was anything I could find real quick to encourage me to go back down there and gear up to patiently get them back into the systems and routines for the rest of the night–to get back in the game for the hardest 3 hours of the day (dinner time through last tuck-in). I had a 4 min break and read your great article and I’m ready to go at it again. Thanks for your perspective and keeping it real! That is always so much more refreshing than reading about people who claim to have all the answers and seem to always have it all together! It is always good to know we are not alone–in this case, the best systems only work if mom is on top of it, and sometimes mom needs a break! And all will be well. Thanks!