Cleaning the House with Young Children

Note: This column was printed in the Barrow Journal on June 20, 2012.

Mothers of young children often lament how they can’t get anything done.  What they mean by this is how they can’t seem to get the laundry, house cleaning, or cooking done, or, if they do another kind of work, they can’t find time to finish it all at once.  We go from being childless and able to tackle our tasks one at a time to a schedule with no beginning and no end.

It’s more of a mind-shift, and it takes a lot of time to figure out how to navigate our chores amid the needs of the children.  I am still trying to shift my mind.  It’s not an easy thing, but once in a while, I think I’ve almost got it.

The first thing I had to remind myself of is that I am doing something – the most important thing in the world, perhaps – rearing children.  Every mundane task I do at home stacks up as the first blocks in these little people’s lives.  It may not feel like it, but I’m the one there to keep them from falling over.

Mothers put a lot of pressure on themselves to be able to do it all, but all we really need to do is show up and love our children.

I want to tell moms with younger children not to try so hard.  All we can do is prioritize and do what little chores we can.  It’s the kids that come first, and it’s not going to kill them if they crawl through some dust bunnies.  Use frozen food if you have to.  Just take care of yourself – you can’t be a good mom if you don’t – and take care of the children.

Now that my youngest child is almost three, it’s getting easier to find time to clean the house on a regular basis. This past year I started “Monday Cleaning Day.”  I’ve never had a cleaning schedule before, but now that I have kids, I realize schedules are my friends.

Writers say that you should write at the same time everyday, every week, or whenever you can manage it.  What counts is that it’s at a recurring time. If you do this regularly, you’ll train your writing mind or “the muse” to show up.  This is true.

Now I believe this strategy works with everything.  Ever since I started “Monday Cleaning Days” I am in the mood to clean my house every Monday morning.  When in my whole life have I ever been in the mood to clean? The best part about it, however, is that it takes away those frustrating thoughts of “When will I get this done?”

I wouldn’t have been able to do this the year before when I had a one-year-old, but now both my boys are helpful.  They pick up toys and help me mop the floors, and the five-year-old loves to vacuum the sofas.  It’s important to get young children in the habit of helping, but don’t worry about the quality of their work.  If they do anything, it’s great, and you are fostering good habits that will stick with them as they get older.

(I will also make a point that wasn’t in my column: I doubt I could have done “Monday Cleaning Day” when I had only one child.  Having an older brother to direct the play helps me considerably when I’m trying to get things done with a two-year-old.)

After they help me as much as they can, it’s their “job” to play alone while I finish.  I think there’s something about the routine of doing it once a week that helps them and me too. They understand that it’s just one day a week and then we get back to our regular schedule.

Of course, it could also be that I’ve started “Monday Movie Night.”  If they help clean and leave me alone while I finish, they get to watch a movie.  I want them to learn that after we work hard, it’s okay to relax and reward ourselves.  My five-year-old is old enough to recognize when the house gets messy, and I think he is learning to appreciate cleanliness.  He’s proud of himself each time he shows me the clean sofas.

I also don’t consider it a bad bribe because I also give myself permission to take the night off.  With small children, I’ve had to schedule in “veg out time” too, though I admit I don’t always stick to this. It’s too tempting to use the time to pursue some of my creative goals, and next week, I’ll write some ideas on how mamas can schedule creative time into their lives.

How do you get your cleaning done with small children in the house?

You might also be interested in Embracing the Chaos and Embracing the Chaos, Part 2.

8 thoughts on “Cleaning the House with Young Children

  1. I have had to accept that my house will never all be clean at once. This was a big deal for me since I love the feeling of walking through a totally clean house. On the other hand, it takes hours to do and it starts to fall apart as soon as it is done, which makes me crazy. I naturally tend toward being organized and a bit minimalist in my approach to “stuff”, so there is always underlying order but surface chaos most of the time. Right now, I try to do a little bit of cleaning each day. We always (try to) pick up the whole house after dinner and before the bedtime routine begins. Beyond that, I have a 2 week schedule with about 30 minutes of cleaning each day and one long day every other Friday for doing the floors. Everything gets cleaned once every two weeks (though I do some things more frequently as needed — like sweeping, bathrooms, etc). I find 30 minutes to be manageable and it never gets too out of hand. My kids are about the same age as yours (though a little younger) — I absolutely agree that even getting housework done in this way was much much harder last year with a 1 & 3 year old.

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    1. Thank you for the comment and sharing your strategy, Erica! You just reminded me that I was going to add a few points to the column on my blog about how my house is never all clean at once either, and, in fact, the upstairs doesn’t get cleaned very much, but we aren’t up there as much so it doesn’t get as messy. I use Mondays to do the downstairs floors and a more thorough pick up of the toys/clutter. I also have to sweep and do a little maintenance during the week, and EVERY DAY I do laundry and the kitchen…dishes, counters, etc. For the longest time my everyday chores is ALL that got done except when we had company coming and when that happened, my husband had to pitch in and help more or at least watch the children for me. I have always been a neat person but never a neat freak, but when I moved in with my husband, I definitely had to get used to the dirt the dogs bring in everyday and also his clutter. I realized right away that I had to lower my standards or I would be in a constant state of angst. So once I had kids, I was already on the road to being more relaxed about the housekeeping. 🙂

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