Thursday, January 24, 2013

Keeping It Clean Part II: Keep Keeping It Clean and Consequences

Here's the bad news about yesterday's "Keeping It Clean in 4 Easy (Enough) Steps" post: you have to build about 6 weeks of momentum before the temptation to quit stops stopping you. Oh, and here's worse news: any early successes were a big part of my temptations to quit. Success didn't breed success. If you are anything like me, you will love getting the plan together and enjoy the process of putting your aspirations to paper. You might even get a few days into the implementation of the plan, see neatness and order begin to emerge from the clutter, and find that the little bit of success is so inspiring you will think to yourself, "Wow, would you look at that counter! It's CLEAN! Was this a smart thing for me to do, or what?! I'm AWEsome! AAAAAaaaand I'm done. I never ever want to do this again."

Yes, indeed, that little bit of accomplishment satisfied me just enough that I was ready to move on to something else. Human nature. It's just so annoying sometimes.

Fear not, my friends, I am here to tell you that housework is just like dieting. You are going to clean and reclean the same mess you keep making just like you lose and relose those same 10 pounds!

Yuppers, that's how that's probably going to work. This is where that die to self, pick up your cross, and offer it up Catholic pep talk would come in awfully handy, but I just got tired, demotivated, and uninspired remembering that in a few short hours I have to start cleaning again. Again. 365 days each cyclical year (minus Sundays). Ugh.

There's a reason they call it housework and not something fun like...uh...chores...or, um...drudgery...*scowl*...

(You may quit reading now...)

Really, it's like that. You know it is. Do it anyway. Take one for the team. Be a saint. Yadda yadda. Play the tape. When you mess up, start over. Whatever you do to motivate you when you fall down or quit, do that and get the ball rolling again. And again. It's likely going to stop a few (thousand) times before it's really running well.


Ah, you're back. Okay, then, you've rallied and are ready to read on. So, then, right about here, when you've mustered your resolve and thought, "It'll be hard but I can do this!" you are going to remember that you have to keep those kids of yours motivated, too. But, if you think about it, if YOU don't want to do it, how much less are those semi-socialized little people who live in your house going to be motivated to do it? You're going to have to think of a way to keep you all at it until the routine builds up enough momentum that it starts to become a routine. Then you will have to manage to keep your temper, your perspective, and your sense of humor while doing it.

"She wants a clean house, boys! GET HER!"

It's Tougher Than You Think. In Fact, This Is War!
Remember that virtues are habits of doing good. In this case you are working not on your house but on the Cardinal Virtue of Diligence. Satan hates that. He's going to throw everything at you to keep you from making the effort in the first place. You and all your well known flaws are the first thing he will throw at you. Your kids and their quirks that accuse you of your own shortcomings come flying at you next. Then he'll toss in any flaws in your parenting. After that he'll have to get creative enough to give you the flu. Twice. Just brace yourself because...well, it's warfare. Remember that whole spiritual warfare business they scared you with in Sunday School? Deciding to do this type of thing as a service to your God and your family draws attention. It's like getting a promotion in the field of battle.The enemy can see clearly see your shiny new officer insignia and will aim right at them until they become dull and banged up enough to either kill you and your efforts or to stop attracting so much notice. Why bother then? Why tell you right up front that it's too hard? Because this is good, the less you want to do it the better it is for you and your soul if you do it anyway. Satan is going to thwart you in every step of doing this because he knows that once a habit gets to the auto-pilot stage, most of the battle is over.

Now, you know it, too.

It'll get easier. Can you hang onto that? The first six weeks are the hardest. Then the auto-pilot starts kicking in and success will build on success and you'll get to the point where you will get up off your flu-ridden-deathbed for the 45 minutes it takes to do the house. Why? Because it's just easier that way.

Until then, though, let me help you get around some of the pitfalls that are going to be dug for you.

6 weeks. Remember that. Don't forget to pray. Pray before you open your mouth to address any problems. Pray before you start your day or your timer. Pray a lot. You'll need the backup.

Consequences: You have to have them.

Consequences come in two forms: positive and negative.

Like every system in life, the system works but the people won't. Ah, concupiscence! How we loathe, thee. I have to admit, I'm one of the worst offenders around here for daily malingering.

I'm going to quote myself, "The kids have their list and I have mine and nothing...nothing at all...happens until those things are done. No snacks, no toys, no radio, no games, no TV time. Nothing. Nada. Zip." Not only do we not allow for interruptions of any sort during the 45 minutes, one of the consequences of not doing your work is that...nothing...happens. If my preschooler comes up and says, "I'm thirsty!" during our 45 minutes, I say, "You can get a drink when the timer rings." By the same token, if the 45 minutes are over and the jobs haven't been done, when a child asks for juice, I say in the most sympathetic Mom voice I have managed to cultivate in my 9 years of experience, "Oh, sorry! You didn't do your chores today. You have to have water."

By the way, my kids hate when I apologize and nod at them.

Do you get it, though? Nothing happens. Whatever they ask for, whatever you see them doing that is fun or interesting that isn't school related, that's what gets nixed. "Oh, sorry! You didn't finish in time, so no Legos today" or " wearing pink today" or " music during coloring today." You can just fill in that blank as the opportunity arises.

In addition to that technique, you'll need a few back ups. I have a list of privileges that I've got stuck on my bulletin board, so I don't have to think much on my feet. On it is stuff you wouldn't normally consider a privilege but won't kill anyone to do without for a day or so, like...

  • wearing your favorite color
  • using your favorite cup
  • picking your outfit (yes, I make them change clothes)
  • Legos
  • Computer Time
  • TV
  • dessert (some days the only reason we even had a dessert was just so someone could miss out on it: my husband loves those days)
  • Big Kid bedtime

By the way, have some fun generating this list with your husband when the kids are in bed tonight. "Hey, honey? You want to plan some Godzilla Parenting? Mwhahaha!" (That'll teach those kids not to get out of bed and listen in on Mommy and Daddy time ever again, won't it?)

Okay, so you've drunk a glass of wine with your husband and giggled your way through generating a list of 10 or so privileges to hang on the wall. Now you find yourself three days into the routine, eyeball to eyeball with a rebel who has determined to draw the line at socks. He will never, ever, ever pick up a sock and you are a bad person for even daring to utter that s-word in his presence. What do you do? It's simple enough, you just go to the list and jot little Paul Revere's name down next to #1. That becomes a revoked privilege until something improves.

"Well, the sock gambit backfired. How else can I get out of this mess?"

Oh, and no disrespect allowed. At all. Period. Even a disrespectful gleam in the eye needs to be nipped in the bud. Let's take a metaphor from the blog's garden-related title here: Weeds are easy to yank out when they are seedlings, but allow anything to take root and you are going to need gloves and a shovel. Behavior is the same way. So, while you are working on housecleaning, you can work on nipping backtalk in the bud at the same time. (Really, what else is this woman going to add to her endless lists!!!) It's a simple fix. When they make a face at you over their name going on the list, nod and say sympathetically, "Oh, sorry. A bad attitude loses another privilege," while marking their name next to #2. Easy.

Well, except for the whole Biblical "wailing and gnashing of teeth" routine you are going to get while they test the system. You don't have to be Super Mom for this to work. You just have to be a fraction of a second more stubborn than any one of them. You have the advantage there. Your stubborn has 20 years more experience behind their stubborn. Just remember, nod and say, "Oh, sorry," a lot.

They hate that.

Nip It In the Bud: Their Future Co-Workers and Spouses Will Thank You
We are all responsible for learning how to maintain a clean house and we are all responsible for doing our work without adding to any one else's job by being a pain in the bohonkus, so yes, I hold them and myself responsible for not griping. In fact, I have a phrase, "School your face!" that the kids hear or even say to me (no, they can't say it to each other). It means that they and I must wear either a pleasant or a neutral expression during that 45 minute time frame. That may sound silly or even over-the-top outrageous, but we discovered it was necessary when we spent a week or more of chaos and breakdown when the scowls led to complaints, led to squabbles, led to kids hitting and screaming and mom yelling and reprimanding. This system is based on a "nip it in the bud" philosophy. All the jobs are designed to nip clutter in the bud, and all outward displays of inner attitudes are designed to nip conflict in the bud, too. If any one of us isn't happy, there's 23.25 other hours left in the day to show it, discuss it, and deal with it, so just school it!

Where Were We?
We're getting a little long here, so let's review just a bit. Don't nag, don't beg or plead. (In fact, this whole system works better if you maintain a neutral attitude and don't add the incentive of "getting Mommy's goat" to the temptation to misbehave.) If the work isn't done when the timer rings, nothing happens until it gets done. nothing...nothing at all....

The negative consequences grow out of the situation at hand or a name is simply placed next to a lost privilege, like "Favorite Color" (wearing it or using it to color with) or "Computer Time" (sorry you have to use this heavy and voluminous Encyclopedia for that research today) or "Recess Fun" (your recess is going to have to be dusting the coffee table) or "TV" (while we get to watch the video, you have to finish your job. See you when you're done!). Then, if the job doesn't get done by the end of the day, the next day is a "Blackout" and all privileges from the list are revoked. There's no fuss, no muss, and any undo whining or complaining (the early stages of backtalk and rebellion) gets your name placed further down the list.

Your children will pull together to get the job done:
the job of organized rebellion!
We don't add time to our timer when one particular child (or mom) is feeling particularly naughty and wants to test the system (it happens). It goes off and we move on to our very next thing. For our family it's Homeschool Time, and while everyone is getting their pencils, a malingerer's name goes on the privileges list, sometimes pretty far down the list until their job is done. And after that timer goes off, the job has to be done on their free time because work time ran out. It's a simple system. 

Until the job is done...that phrase brings us to the next category of consequences...

Positive Consequences
Repentance, a return to polite cheerfulness, zealously re-attending to duties earns back a privilege. Reward any steps in the right direction! Hug, smile, and brag on any child who repents. Cheerfully and theatrically erase that name from your privileges list. Make it very clear that you've been waiting, practically hovering, ready to pounce on them with praise and restored goodwill. Get just as creative in giving back imaginary privileges as you are in taking them away. Make as big a deal as possible as you pull a 2 liter bottle of generic root beer out of a bag. "You know, guys, I hadn't planned on getting soda when I ran in to Wal-Mart this afternoon, but I remembered how quickly your brother turned his attitude around this morning. It was so impressive that when I passed the soda aisle, I decided we could all use a little treat in his honor."

You get the picture. I'm talking bribery, here. Bribery and emotional blackmail. If you aren't enough of a snot to enjoy out-thinking your kids on occasion, at least you can enjoy the root beer.

Just like negative consequences flow out of the situation, so do positive ones. With our system we have 45 minutes after breakfast to do the chores that in theory can be done in less than half that time. Any leftover time you have left over is yours to do with as you see fit. The reward for doing a job in a timely manner is...time.

Which brings me back to that 6 week learning curve I mentioned in the beginning. After 6 weeks to train, to rebel, to fail and begin again, your new routine is now routine and you will have everyone playing tea party, reading, or creating Lego masterpieces by the end of 20 minutes. Usually.

Six Weeks, You Say?
You can do this. You really can. I know it's possible because it's happening right here, right now in Amarillo, Texas. It's happening because I'm not shooting for perfection in my house, merely improvement. Any progress toward the goal is counted as progress. If you can keep your sense of perspective and keep your sense of humor, it could be just enough to keep the ball rolling. Besides, six weeks from now puts you smack dab in the middle of Lent. You know how much fun Lent can be. Just consider this a head start on the sackcloth and ashes.

Happy Suffering, y'all!


Next week: The Dice of Doom "dun-dun-duuuuuuuuun!"

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