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Staying Home

Balancing Time

From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 22, No. 1 January-February 2005 pp. 28-30

"Staying Home" is a regular feature of the magazine NEW BEGINNINGS, published bimonthly by La Leche League International. In this column, suggestions are offered by readers of NEW BEGINNINGS to help parents who choose to stay at home with their children. Various points of view are presented. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's life-style. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.

Mother's Situation

I am happy to be home with my children, but am challenged by balancing the time I spend with them with doing household tasks. It seems that no matter how much time I spend one-on-one with my four-year-old, he always wants more. My three-month-old also occupies a lot of my time. How can I keep from feeling guilty about not getting the laundry done?

Mother's Response

When I read your question, I could sympathize. My almost-three-year-old's famous saying lately is, "This is the really, really, really, really last book." I want to give her all the interaction I can to help her develop to her highest potential, but I also want to accomplish some of my own goals. I don't necessarily feel guilty about household tasks not getting done, but I'd sure like the benefit of a clean and organized household and healthy meals available.

When my daughter was three months old, we were just starting to get back into society and the routine of things. Now you have two little ones, which comes with its own juggling challenges. As a mother, I'm happy if one main thing gets done in a day. When my daughter was a newborn, the accomplishment was taking a bath with her. Now, as she grows in independence, my goals have grown to match the time I have available.

Because this time is valuable, I set priorities and minimize what isn't important. To reduce time in the kitchen, you could cook in bulk once a week. Also recognize the tasks that aren't a must to accomplish. For example, we wear clothes that don't require ironing because I don't do ironing. It's not a "must." Some chores, such as mopping, are my husband's responsibility and I give myself permission not to think about those tasks and when they will get done.

Daily lists of things to do help keep me focused. For example, Monday is laundry day. I also make sure any one activity doesn't take too long. That way, I don't get too bogged down, and I don't get as impatient if I suddenly need to switch gears to attend to my children's needs. Consolidate errands; stop by the store on the way from a weekly function. I do the job that looks like I got a lot done first. I go with my inspiration. I find when I am inspired, I work much more efficiently. I can do some basic tidying for an hour before everyone wakes up. Then I am sleepy early at night, so my husband takes over the nighttime parenting duty.

I find my daughter has different moods, wanting more interaction at times and contented to play by herself at others. I find that if I give her more attention in the morning, I've satisfied a need in her, and she gives me time to do my projects later on during the day.

Perhaps doing something fresh will keep your four-year-old's interest and free up time for you later in the day. He might like going to the library and learning about something new, going to a park, making a craft for grandma, or listening to children's music while playing.

I include my daughter in the tasks, such as folding clothes or rolling yarn while I knit, since she tells us she is a "big girl" now. She seems to enjoy anything (even grocery shopping) if it is a fun learning experience. The tasks might take more time, but it is together time.

I try to be flexible with myself, remembering what is important. I strive to not have this feeling of always being torn between tasks and spending time with my daughter. When I'm with my daughter I try to be fully with her, not being distracted by what I am going to do next. When I say that I will read her a book in 10 minutes, I really do it even if she has forgotten. She is a joy to me, and I want her to know it. We try to laugh together every day, building memories and deepening our relationship.

Sara Browning
Palm Beach Gardens FL USA

Mother's Response

It's great you are making it a priority to be with your children. It can be hard to find a balance between getting necessary household chores done and keeping everyone happy. I have three children, ages six, three, and two, so I have had to work through this issue, too. I once explained to my husband that I was struggling with either playing with the children or getting household chores done and he said, "I'd rather you played with the children." That eliminated a lot of the guilt I was feeling.

A phrase I learned from LLL is "people before things," and that helps me cope. However, it is nice to live in a clean, organized environment—I really believe our surroundings can affect our attitudes. I have worked to create systems so we can enjoy decent meals and live in a home that is "clean enough to be healthy, dirty enough to be happy." There are many great books on the subject of organizing and managing your home. I picked up many tips from Confessions of an Organized Homemaker by Deniece Schofield.

My best laundry solution has been to invest in laundry sorters, which can be found at discount stores. They are simply three bags hanging in a tubular frame. Now when we remove our clothes, they go straight into the proper bag, either whites or darks. I remember laundry being very daunting when I had to sort through piles before I could even start a load. Now, when a bag is full, I just dump it in the washing machine. My system also includes using several laundry baskets, so the clean laundry has a place to wait until it is folded. I discovered my husband enjoys folding clothes. That's another philosophy of mine: Discover which household tasks your husband likes doing and share the work.

I also believe that it is a beneficial skill for children to be able to entertain themselves, so I tend to encourage independent play.

Another tip I picked up is to clean the bathroom while the children are in the tub. When my babies were young, I was able to do some household chores, such as vacuuming or putting things away, with the baby in a sling. I have let my two-year-old play in one side of the sink while I do the dishes.

For the most part, I keep my household tasks to a minimum. Getting rid of clutter can help make cleaning easier (something I still struggle with!). If there are big jobs that really need doing, I may enlist my husband's help on a weekend morning so I can focus on getting a few things done. I like feeling that my home is running smoothly and I'm on top of things, but if I fall behind, I don't let it get me down. A wise friend told me, "Cobwebs wait, babies don't."

I'm a big believer in balance, and I wish you the best as you find the balance that works best for you.

Jan Branham
Houston TX USA

Mother's Response

How wonderful that you are enjoying your career as a stay-at-home mother! I have an almost three-year-old and a 15-month-old, so I can sympathize with your plight. We have adopted a couple of different strategies to accomplish this same goal. One is to keep your cleaning on a weekly schedule. I break down all I want accomplished into daily and weekly chore lists. The daily things are done as needed, and the weekly is divided into a Monday to Friday task, one or two each day. This keeps things "done" and manageable.

I have also started letting my boys "help." Granted, this help usually means that the task takes longer, but most days, that isn't a problem. They are great at helping separate laundry, separating silverware for loading or unloading the dishwasher, picking up their toys from other areas of the house and bringing them to the playroom, holding the dustpan while I sweep and other child-friendly tasks. My goal is to teach my boys how to do household tasks, so their help serves three purposes: It allows me to spend much-needed time picking up and cleaning, allows me to spend time with each of them, and teaches them life skills. Even my 15-month-old is capable of helping with things that require sorting or putting things into a basket or bin.

One thing I have found that helps keep my frustration level at a minimum is to keep my expectations in line with what they are able to accomplish. Though he still needs reminders, my three-year-old can follow more detailed instructions with more than one task, while my 15-month-old needs one task at a time, and to be reminded frequently of what he is doing. Each child is different, but mothers know what their children are capable of!

When I need to do something that is better done without children to "help," I wait until my husband is home and ask him to keep the children occupied in another area of the house so that I can clean undisturbed. Another option is to get the children started on something they like doing, such as coloring, that will keep their attention as I do something they cannot help with.

I hope you find something helpful that you can adjust to fit your family!

Heather Thomas
Beaumont TX USA

Mother's Response

The key for me has been to create a flexible schedule, and involve my children, Grace (two-and-a-half) and Theo (nine months), with household chores.

First of all, I created a very flexible schedule that has times scheduled for fun things together and times for housework. I don't feel as guilty taking time to fold laundry or do other household tasks when I know I have already given my children some quality time. Besides, my children need clean clothes as well as playtime with me. My job is to manage our time so that both happen! I have also found that the laundry and other jobs get done more consistently when there is a time slot reserved for them.

On days we are home all day, I try to set aside the first 30 minutes in the morning to play with both my children. Then the next 30 minutes are devoted to doing dishes, tidying the house, taking out trash, and starting laundry. (I used to try to do all the laundry in one day but found that too overwhelming, so now I try to do one or two loads a day.) When I nurse Theo before his morning nap, I read to Grace and then she and I play for about half an hour. I set aside time after afternoon naps for folding laundry, tidying up the house together, heating dinner (usually something I previously cooked and froze), setting the table, and vacuuming. The schedule changes, of course, if we are out on errands, at a social activity, or as children's needs arise. Nursing happens as needed throughout the day. I have also found that to have much time to play or do housework we can't be out of the house every day.

Secondly, I lightened my housework load by teaching Grace to do some jobs. I taught her to set the table by making place mats that show pictures of where the silverware goes. I taught her to fold washcloths by telling her to have the corners "kiss." She also makes her bed, picks up toys, puts away silverware, takes the bathroom trash to the kitchen, and helps put away laundry. My housework time has also been greatly reduced by learning professional cleaning techniques from Don Aslett's book and video Is There Life after Housework?

Finally, I try to make the necessary housework and errands time together with my children instead of a drain on our time together. For example, when we fold laundry together we take a few minutes to throw laundry at each other first or hide in the laundry baskets. Or when we go grocery shopping, we take time to stop and enjoy the display of live lobsters together. I can get quite a bit of cooking done with Theo happy in the sling and Grace playing with water in the sink or chopping veggies (with a butter knife) next to me. Happy mothering and homemaking!

Hillary Crandall Denver CO USA

Last updated Thursday, October 19, 2006 by njb.
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