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The delicate balance of parenting & housework

Reader Kristen wrote me and asked, “I have so much housework to do all day, but I know I need to spend time with my three kids. How do I juggle doing both? Is there any chance I can have a simple life and show them the simple life?”

Kristen, I don’t pretend to be an expert at this, because I’m still learning. In fact, I was thinking of your question today as my three-year-old and I folded laundry. She was helping me with the dishtowels, and quite frankly, she was doing a horrible job. Nothing was even, the pile of folded towels was toppling over, and I knew I’d have to fold some of them again.

But you know what? Through this mama’s eyes, those folded dishtowels were sparkling rubies and diamonds. They were beautiful.

At three years old, I’m teaching her a small lesson in the value of work. And I’m teaching her that she’s an important contributor to this family.

Here are four important reminders as you juggle parenting and home management.

1. Let go of perfection.

I’ve written already about how perfectionism ultimately makes you more unproductivebut it also makes you more of a control freak. If the towels, the dishes, and the table setting has to be just so, then no one in your home will want to do it. Which means you’ll have to do it. When imperfect people live together in a home, the home will be imperfect.

2. Let them help.

Let your children put their special touch on housework, and they’ll better understand that they matter in the home. They’ll take more pride in the work if you’re patient and forgiving with their final results. Plus, when they’re young, they actually think chores are fun. Take advantage of that.

You know what? My daughter’s towel-folding chore has improved drastically since she first started helping about six months ago. I know she’ll get the hang of it. In the meantime, the perfectionist in me has to show her grace and be satisfied with wonky towels. I cringe, trust me, but when I think about the big picture of things, I’d rather her develop a good work ethic at a young age than have stacked towels worthy of Martha Stewart.

3. Let them wait.

As important as it is that they help, there are also tasks that must be done by a competent adult. It won’t kill children to learn to wait. When you’re paying bills, and they want to play Candy Land with you, teach them the value of patience. It’s hard for kids, but the sooner they learn that they are not the center of the universe, the better.

It’s also good for kids to learn how to play alone. My children are not good at this, being the social butterflies they are – but they still have alone time during the day. The same three-year-old who helped me with today’s laundry also has a one to two-hour quiet time every day. She doesn’t have to sleep, but she has to play quietly by herself in her playroom. This is when I try to get a good portion of my chores done that require concentration. There are plenty of “Is my quiet time over?” shouts from down the hall, but at least it’s a bit calmer than the rest of the day. A timer helps.

4. Let them have your utmost attention.

Ultimately, there are unique times when we, as the parent, need to let go of our agendas and focus fully on our children. My eight-month-old son has a cold at the moment, and he was wailing as I worked on the laundry. I had a mounting pile of clothes before me, but I stopped and played with him on my lap for awhile instead. That was more important.

My to-do list might barely get checked off on those days, but I have to stop and ask myself – how do I define a successful day? Is it getting a lot done? Or is it pouring into the lives that matter for eternity? Sometimes it’s hard to remember.

I don’t know a parent out there who doesn’t struggle daily with the balance of managing the home and investing in their children. How do you deal with this dilemma?

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  1. Beth Young

    This was great. There really isn’t a balance per se, you just go with the flow and try to be productive where you can be. For me, I feel just as or more productive the days that I spend more time playing and interacting with my three children than the days I crossed everything off of the to-do list ๐Ÿ™‚
    .-= Beth Young´s last blog ..And so itโ€™s time for a Budget. A real Budget! =-.

  2. Shannon

    I think you hit on the most important things: teach them to work alongside of you and teach them to play on their own. Our almost 3 year old astounds me every day with his creative play while I’m washing dishes, folding laundry, etc. I think it has really helped that he knows he either helps or plays on his own. There is no watch the TV option.

    That said it is a daily struggle and reminding ourselves that those little souls have to come first in training and nurturing is the most important. Thanks for the reminder, Tsh.
    .-= Shannon´s last blog ..Menu Plan – August 31 =-.

  3. Deb

    Thanks for this! It was a MUCH needed reminder for me… the whole thing, but especially seeing anything they do to help as a great accomplishment, and not striving for perfectionism. I have been loaded with most of the work because of this already, especially laundry. I don’t want to lead my children down this path… thanks again!

    I will now breathe and try to remember your post when the going gets tough! ๐Ÿ˜€

  4. Lanie

    I too have been mulling this over lately. It is plain fact that I have a husband that doesn’t do a single thing regarding the house, it is fully my responsibility. It has come time to relax a little about it and focus more on my children…listening, playing, teaching etc.

    Thanks for the great post!
    .-= Lanie´s last blog ..Monday Musings on Creativity =-.

  5. steadymom

    Our daily routine helps me and my three kiddos to know which times are play times and which times are work times. The key for success, to me, is having the discipline to do what I need to do at the right time, while also being flexible when my kids have needs.

    It’s not a perfect system, but it does work well for us!

    .-= steadymom´s last blog ..Sponsor Giveaway :: Orange Lola =-.

  6. Jaimie

    When thinking about this, I would often mull over the saying “The laundry can wait! My children are only young once!” I understand the spirit of this, but yet, the laundry DOES have to be done, and on a fairly regular basis. It seems like such a delicate balance that probably it’s something that needs to be constantly evaluated and renegotiated. I do want my child to have memories of playing with me, but I also want him to have the comfortable grounding in a (relatively) tidy and organized home.

    I like the other Jamie’s approach above about having work times and play times. That seems like a sensible way to approach things.

  7. Shannon @ AnchorMommy

    I struggle the most with bathroom cleanings. I hate to do it, so I don’t want to waste precious naptime hours on those cleanings, but I don’t want to have my toddler around while I do it — just don’t want hands in the toilet! It’s hard, but my boy has to play in the other room, with the promise that he can Swiffer the house when I’m done. That helps.

    These are wonderfully important reminders on how to keep it all in balance — thank you!
    .-= Shannon @ AnchorMommy´s last blog ..The Mommy Bag =-.

  8. tacy

    my answer to your question… my (lofty) goal is gentle, loving and positive reinforcement that trains her to play by herself. the room boundary is probably the missing key for us right now. thanks for your thoughts!

  9. Melissa

    When mine were littler, just not too little, I would clean the bathroom everyday when they were in the tub. (Except for the tub, of course.) The bathroom never looked better!

    • JulieO

      I do this too. It makes me feel like I’m not wasting precious time doing something I really don’t enjoy.

  10. lisa in texas

    I spent LOTS of time with my 4 children when they were young. We homeschooled, played, drew, painted, play-doh’d, cooked…but I didn’t think of having them work with me!
    Wisdom came with the 5th child! We played and worked. He knew he was a valuable asset and it made him proud to be doing laundry,etc. 4yo. {KEY: Kids need to feel NEEDED, being loved is just not enough.}
    Enjoy those little ones – and teach them to work – because, before too long, they’ll be grown and gone – and we want to send them out with our blessings, thankful for time spent, and prepared for the real world.

    you visit me at

  11. lisa in texas

    one more thing…
    it is so much easier to spend time with your children if you don’t have tv. We went without for over 9 yrs – on purpose! Was one of the best decisions my husband ever made.

  12. smilinggreenmom

    Thanks so much for this amazing and important reminder of what really matters! There will always be housework, but our children are only little once!

  13. JulieO

    Your timing with this post couldn’t have been better. I carry around a lot of mom guilt especially when I feel I haven’t spent enough time with my 4-year old (like yesterday…). He is learning to have 30 minutes of quiet time everyday (I was amazed that your little one does 1 to 2 hours). And I am learning that he needs mommy time everyday too. I’ve also implemented your chore chart and have added “quiet time” onto it. He loves the sticker rewards! Thanks for this blog!

  14. Karen

    My favourite word is serendipity. Synchronicity is a close second. I often get the meaning of the two confused which is probably why they come in the order they do. Having looked them up tonight – again! I feel both are apt. Soulemama’s post today struck a chord and from it came the link to this blog. Someone up there is looking out for me because the timing is uncanny. As I dive into soothing waters – thank you.

  15. Carrie

    My five chicklets are spread out, ages 6 yrs. to 20 yrs. old. I’ve had my share of days of being unbalanced in this area. I’m a perfectionist and homeschooling mixed with five kids can make me really…unattractive. I’m still learning. “Good enough!” “Something is better than nothing.” “The people are more important than the house.” “Laugh!!!” These are all things I repeat to myself…a lot!
    .-= Carrie´s last blog ..Rum Cake =-.

  16. Maria

    It’s very true that the youngsters like being helpful and doing chores. I printed out your chore chart, and we don’t even really need to offer rewards, he’s just happy to do these things.

    What I’ve found for myself, is building housework habits, and that’s how I approach it with my son. I have some pretty poor habits, and I’ve a high tolerance for mess (so a little perfectionism would probably help things around here). By creating a bed-making habit in my son, he will son automatically do it – like putting on one’s seat belt…who thinks of that? I certainly don’t, I just do it. The same goes for my own habits. A little bit here, a little there. Sure, initially the habit training requires more attention and work, but it’s worth it in the end.
    .-= Maria´s last blog ..The Richest Man in Babylon: Lesson 2 =-.

  17. Lisa

    Maybe I was blessed with a really helpful child, or maybe I just started early enough turning chores into fun. My four year old is almost ecstatic to see me coming with warm laundry, or a few paper towels and some window cleaner, or the feather duster. I think the key is to make it less about work, and more about fun. And, yes…restructure your concept of perfection. Think, best effort, instead. Thanks for the great tips.
    .-= Lisa´s last blog ..chill out with watermelon salad =-.

  18. Elaine Power

    Thanks for that some times you just need some one to put it all into perspective I can be so perticular at times (I annoy myself) I know I have to stop, I do the folding as I know its the right way!! but then what is the right way? as long as they are folded & clean does it matter? Thanks for getting me to stop & think I know I have to chill more & when getting my daughter to put the laundry away now I will just be greatfull she is helping ๐Ÿ™‚
    .-= Elaine Power´s last blog ..Flea Market Style =-.

  19. becky@oursweetpeas

    Great post! This line is awesome and true ” Iโ€™d rather her develop a good work ethic at a young age than have stacked towels worthy of Martha Stewart”. Love it!

    My twins are almost two and a half and they take their dishes from the table to the sink, “make” (throw their blanket on their bed along with their stuffed animals) their bed, put wet diapers in the trash and their clothes in the laundry when dirty. They are small tasks but I am determined to raise helpful men. I am so glad that my mother in law did.
    .-= becky@oursweetpeas´s last blog ..10 Reasons…… =-.

  20. Kristie

    This is such good advice! It goes for your husband also. Mine fills the dishwasher and cleans the counters every morning. I adore him for it. Sometimes he puts things in places I wouldn’t, but I leave it alone and don’t complain. If he doesn’t know where it goes, he set it on the counter and I put it away without a word. My daughter (11) and son (10) are also big helps and have been since they were toddlers. I have a full time job and we live on a farm 20 miels out with horses, dogs, and cats. I have always explained that when they help me around the house it allows me more time to do things with them. So when they have gotten older and chores are not so much fun, they understand that their help is a big contribution to our family and having things run smoothly. I have also replaced being grounded from TV (which they never watch anyway) with “That’s so sad, but since you choose to eat in the living room and made a mess, I will need to ckean it up. So you will have to take over my laundry chores for the week.” I believe in finding useful things that will help our family. I also try to tie it to the behavior I want to discourage. “If you can’t remember to make your bed before school, I’ll remind you, but then you have to make my bed also.”

  21. Myrrh

    Add homeschooling to the mix, and we domestically challenged folk have to come up with even more creative strategies to juggle what are essentially three full-time jobs (and on-the-job training), though they do overlap, and in fact, the key is making them flow into each other. I’ve a long way to go with that (while keeping in mind these great basic principles you share), but I think it will help that my children are more assertive and better at teamwork than I am!
    .-= Myrrh´s last blog ..Me =-.

  22. Paula @ Organizing Tips 4 Moms

    Another wonderful post! #1 is a great reminder that we are teaching our children and helping them be independent people when we ask them to do tasks and chores. I agree, some days it’s hard to find that balance of getting tasks done and focusing on our real priorities, like our children. I try to keep my major life priorities (God and family) at the front of my mind during busy and stressful time. The rest is extra.
    .-= Paula @ Organizing Tips 4 Moms´s last blog ..Organizing Ideas for Laundry Duty =-.

  23. MLI

    Two things have helped me in great ways in regards to this:
    1) I had an honest talk of what my husband of what he expected of me, he said, read your Bible, take care our kids, and get good sleep. That released a silent expectation I had been trying to live up to. And there has been many and mostly days of him coming home to laundry not done, dinner not ready and toys everywhere….and he smiles. The second encouragement is I often have friends who remind me that they love my heart not my house! I have a fabulous husband and great friends!

  24. se7en

    This is such a great post – I totally love it! Just lately I have been writing on chores quite a bit and I found what really helped me was to think of chores as learning life-skills to equip our kids for the big wide world than as jobs that need to get done daily or else… Somehow “kids in training” is an easier concept for me to hold onto and not get grumpy when we forget or make (many!!!) mistakes…

  25. Liz

    My son is only 2 but he loves to help. Lately he has been given the opportunity to clean up his spills and is so proud when he cleans up the mess. He is also responsible for helping pick up his toys a couple of times a day since space is limited.
    .-= Liz´s last blog ..Checking in with the 2009 goals. =-.

  26. Angelita

    That’s true, I remember before when I was a child, I really wanted to do some cleaning sometimes, but all I do is mess. And my mom gets angry every time I’m helping her, but I just to help, that’s all. I think being able to appreciating their intention and work at the same time, suggesting them some sort of little work things will be great for them.

  27. Katie @ Kitchen Stewardship

    My challenge is to (1) accept that teaching patience by making children wait is a good thing – it IS, I know! but (2) figuring out how much waiting is too much and when I’m just being selfish. Always a struggle!
    .-= Katie @ Kitchen Stewardship´s last blog ..Analyzing Aluminum in Vaccines =-.

  28. The Parent Fairy

    My 4 year old is a little task master, and loves to help with just about anything. It does require some patience sometimes so let them finish their small task, and then not to fix it just after they have finished so they don’t feel that their performance wasn’t good enough – but I find it actually adds character and fun to the tasks at hand. Great article!

    .-= The Parent Fairy´s last blog ..Live Stress Free At Home – 14 Stress Reducers =-.

  29. Meaghan

    Great post! I definitely agree with letting everyone else in the house help- kids and your spouse!

  30. Minnesotamom

    Great reminder! I am SOOOOOOOOO busy these days, but even my just-turned-two-year-old like to help with laundry and watch me cook. And if I plan ahead to have activities ready for her while I do other chores or work (I have a photography business from home), she can entertain herself very well for up to a half hour sometimes! I am looking forward to the day when I can have more time to spend doing those activities WITH her, but it works for now.
    .-= Minnesotamom´s last blog ..Sunday Sunshine 09.13.09 =-.

  31. Hydrofloss Oral Irrigator

    I see truth in this post. Although it sometimes goes as if you have to do the tasks really fast, it is always important to include the kids in doing the chores, to make them feel important. They are part of the family and you have to make them fell that. You have to start teaching them the value of responsibility, little by little, while actually bonding with them.
    .-= Hydrofloss Oral Irrigator´s last blog ..Heroin Addiction =-.

  32. Katie @ Cheep Ideas

    I just now stumbled upon this post, but boy did I need it! I’m going to start having my 4-year old help out with chores, I think he’d love it! I’ll have to put aside my perfectionistic ways, but in reality, our home is far from perfect anyway, so what’s a couple messy dishtowels in a drawer?

    Thanks for the reminder, really put things into perspective!!
    .-= Katie @ Cheep Ideas´s last blog ..Green Cleaning! =-.

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