Try this: Family team chores

It's a truth universally acknowledged that big kids (as in pre-teens, teens, and young adults) don't love to be cross examined, eyeball to eyeball. But get them in a car or sitting shoulder-to-shoulder and they're more likely to open up. A good road trip--or even a long errand together--will likely yield way more information and connection than 100 face-to-face sitdowns.

With that in mind, here's an idea: make a few chores family ones where you all pitch in together on the same task as a group. Make a plan--a pact, even--to all show up in the yard at the same time and put in 30 minutes of work. Or have a night where you all make dinner together and all clean up rather than divvying up the chores individually. Sure, individual assignments are efficient and teach responsibility and accountability, which is great, but collaborative chores have their strengths, too--including that shoulder-to-shoulder dynamic that invites conversation and (dare I say it?) maybe even teamwork.

And there's another benefit: In his recent book, When, Daniel Pink makes the point that there's a particular magic to doing something together and syncing as a group. As I read his book, it occurred to me that group chores cultivate a sense of belonging and provide the opportunity to synch on all three of the levels Pink describes: boss syncing (where we benefit from picking up cues about expectations), tribe syncing (where we learn to coordinate alongside others), and heart syncing (where a common purpose brings meaning and connection).

As Daniel James Brown wrote in The Boys in the Boat the book about the rowing team from Washington that won the gold medal at the 1936 Olympics:

"...he came to understand that those almost mystical bonds of trust and affection, if nurtured correctly, might lift a crew above the ordinary sphere, transport it to a place where nine boys somehow became one thing--a thing that could not quite be defined, a thing that was so in tune with the water and the earth and the sky above that, as they rowed, effort was replaced by ecstasy."

I'm not promising ecstasy, mind you! I'd settle for a response somewhere between reluctant, foot-dragging presence and somewhat cheerful achievement, ha!  Let us know if you give this a try--we'd love to hear where your experience lands on that spectrum.

p.s. By the way, the same goes for doing things as a couple. PItching in on household tasks together can turn chores into practically-dates. (Cue charming video montage of playful dinner making and splashy collaborative car washing etcetera.)

Laundry & launching

Monday is typically laundry day at our house and today our dryer is suddenly, inexplicably broken. Ugh. It will dry for 11 minutes and then can't be bothered to finish the job and gives up. While I can certainly commiserate with that inclination, it's pretty inconvenient in a dryer.  Anyway, I've got laundry on the brain (and everywhere else, for that matter) so let's talk laundering and the mid-stage family. 


I think laundry is a life skill everyone should learn. One professor friend related the following question that was asked of her by some parents dropping of their freshman at college: "Who does his laundry and when do they come pick it up from him? Weekly? Bi-weekly?" Um, your 18-year-old young adult does, as often as he wants in the basement laundry room. Leave him some quarters if you want. 

Having said that, though, I have to admit that in practice I do most of the laundry around here. We do teach our kids how to do their own by around age 12 but, truth is, I don't really mind it and it makes more environmental sense for the four of us to do our clothes all at once since that way, after sorting for color, I end up doing just about five loads a week (whites, lights, brights, and two loads of darks) not counting sheets and towels. [I know it's a completely different story for families with more kids, more sports playing, or if kids don't wear uniforms to school (somehow that's cut down immensely on laundry).]

But I do have my limits. Here are my iron-clad laundry rules:

  1. I don't pick up clothes from the floor (which, after all, amounts to more work and essentially means cleaning their bedrooms) so I only do laundry that is in the dirty clothes basket.
  2. If you end up doing your own laundry, you have to work around my use of the laundry room (with a dose of: next time put your clothes in your hamper and you won't have this problem). 
  3. There is no faster way to the wrath of mom than to put clearly clean (sometimes still folded!) clothes back in the dirty clothes. Just no. 
  4. I'll probably fold (especially if I treat myself to a movie or tv show catch-up in the process) but when it comes to putting away the piles of clothes, all bets are off. Everybody gets their own clothes and (ideally; see #3) puts them away.  

I'm definitely willing to change things up in the laundry room, though, and turn more of the process over to someone else for a while. I'd love to hear how other families do it. Do chime in!  What's your laundry philosophy?  Do your kids do their own laundry? If so, when did they start and what's your system? 


Martyr avoidance system

We love to host a party or have people over for dinner now and then. For years I was usually the one dashing around in preparation--stirring things, spiffing up the bathroom, getting things all set. Occasionally someone would cruise through the kitchen and vaguely offer help but more often than not I foolishly waved them off, preferring a bit of martyr-flavored control even while the tidewater of resentment rose within me. 


A few years ago I wised up and looked around me. There were four able-bodied people around, now old enough to be perfectly capable and at least semi-willing to dive into the preparations! The epiphany was obvious and overdue: it was time to share the load.

Eventually we devised a simple system that's worked for us. First I brainstorm all of the prep tasks that are crazily swimming around in my brain and put each one on a post-it note (sometimes color coded for longer tasks and quicker ones); they are then stuck to the door or the cupboard. 


I let everyone know the jobs are out and let them know how many to choose. We all--G and I and the kids--come in and initial the jobs that we'll do (sometimes you might want to put a deadline on some time-sensitive ones). Since the early bird usually gets the best selections, I usually don't have a hard time convincing everyone to come and sign off. As we complete each job, we take the corresponding note off the wall. It's worked like a charm every time. Even early helpful guests can join in if there are still some lingering post-its.


If you're stuck in party-martyr* mode, I beseech you. Involve the whole crew in getting ready. It's no fun for anyone if you are harried and sweaty and grumpy by the time people arrive, angrily banging around pans and feeling unsupported and Little-Red-Hen-like, alone in prepping the party. Not that that's ever been a behavior I have indulged in, mind you.

* "Party martyr," fun to spell and say! Come to think of it, Party Martyr would be an excellent name for an all-mom punk band. Any takers?