I don’t want to fail my kids with the “work of life,” and I don’t want an argument every time I ask them to do something. Before we get back to a life that exists outside of our home, I’d like to get us all used to a routine where we all take care of the house. They are also stressed and sad during this time of isolation, and my 14-year-old is very driven at school and is putting a lot of pressure on herself.
A: You had me until the end of your note. Yes to chores! Yes to routine and structure! Yes to less arguments and bossing kids around! However, we also have your own attention and organizational issues, as well as teen stress, sadness, isolation and perfectionism, all during the pandemic. Yikes.
You are not alone in spending a year with your children, only to realize there’s a lack of chores and routine. But remember: Pandemic family life doesn’t reflect regular life. From going to school to having activities, your children were probably busy, so the opportunity and need for chores and routine were probably not as apparent. And when they go back to school (fingers crossed), the chores and routines will change again.
But I’m also reluctant to throw too many routines into a home with this much stress. I get the sense that we may need to take a peek at you first before we begin applying routine for your children.
Are you a person with ADD or ADHD, undiagnosed? You say you have an “ad hoc nature,” so I’m guessing your lack of attention predates the pandemic. It could be wonderfully freeing to see a specialist and learn that it’s not a lack of willpower you suffer from; instead, it’s an issue with your brain that needs support.
Anxiety and depression can also show up as attention issues, so please talk with your doctor about any long-standing concerns.
While we’re at it, I’m wondering about any anxiety and depression with the 14-year-old. Is her perfection new, or has it been going on for a while? It’s worth looking at.
As you support your own mental health and well-being, you can begin implementing simple chores and routines for your family. Yes, there are high levels of stress, especially with your 14-year-old, but completing small, achievable tasks can feel good to the mind of a stressed-out teen. The trick is not to go from one extreme to another. You admit to not running a tight ship for the better part of a decade, so we cannot suddenly reverse course. (At least, not without total dissent from the family.) So let’s go super easy.
Announce that you are beginning an apprenticeship, and the children can each choose one chore to learn. Call a family meeting, list the daily and weekly chores, and have each child choose one. They may be impressed to learn how much it takes to run a household, or they may roll their eyes; I don’t know how discouraged your family is.
In any case, let the children know that an apprentice requires training, so if the 10-year-old chooses trash and recycling, you will walk them through the steps, show them the bags and the cans, and say when the trash is picked up. You’ll praise all efforts, firmly and gently correct mistakes, and keep it moving.
Remember: There is no expertise in an apprenticeship; there are only mistakes and learning. As a family, you can decide whether you want one-week, two-week or one-month apprenticeships. It’s whatever you decide. You are simply starting small and doable habits.
And do yourself all a favor: When the week is over, celebrate the children’s efforts. Yes, it sounds a little “golf clappy” for doing the least, but life is such a grind right now that I’m promoting joy whenever and wherever you can create it. Practicing laundry, trash and dishes is an excellent place to begin.
Whatever you decide, the plan of routine and chores must work for you, the parent. (I don’t know whether you have a partner, but if so, please bring them on for support.) We are, after all, in a pandemic, and there’s much to be said about just making it through. Structure and routine are worthy goals and can bring a feeling of safety and calm to a family, but please frame this work as practice.
Keep it light, keep it positive, keep it moving. And above all, get the support you need for yourself. Good luck.
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