Tuesday Tips–Family Scheduling

FAMILY SCHEDULING

Once upon a time, I had six children at home. The older four were in junior high or high school, while the youngest two didn’t have much to schedule. Terry and I had our individual and joint activities as well. To keep track of all our activities, I would buy a calendar with large spaces to write in multiple events. I assigned a different color to each individual and another color to combined Terry/Donna or family activities and wrote them in with fine point markers.

I had already bought the older kids their own towels in their specific colors, which made it easier to assign responsibility for picking them up from inappropriate locations. My oldest son’s wife has gone even further and bought several sets of plastic plates and glasses in different colors, with each color assigned to a specific child. At one glance, it is easy to see whose plate has been left on the table or who has leftovers in the refrigerator which need to be eaten. There are probably five plates per child so that they don’t run out before the dishwasher processes them.

When my kids were old enough to get their own drinks, I noticed that the top rack of the dishwasher always filled up with glasses long before the bottom was filled with plates. I decided that the glasses didn’t need to be washed after one drink of what was often just water, so I set out coasters on the window sill above our sink and assigned each person a location based on age, starting with the oldest (Dad) on the left. Since we had many mugs of different styles, most of also had our own individual mug. When the dishwasher was full enough to wash dishes, usually once a day, all the mugs went in together.

MEAL HELPERS

After repeatedly being asked, “When is dinner?”, I started telling my kids that it would happen faster if they helped. Their willingness to help often depended on what we were having and how hungry they were. I soon decided that I liked having help and they needed to learn how to cook before they left home anyway, so every night I assigned one or two dinner helpers and someone else for cleanup. I discovered that I had one favorite child for dinner helper because he was an instinctive cook who understood that all the different parts of a meal needed to come together at the same time. He would move from his initial task to the next logical activity without wandering off while I wasn’t looking, like his siblings were prone to do. I had to remind them that they weren’t done until we sat down to eat.

A couple years later, I decided that I needed to go back to work so that we would have enough money to send our high schoolers to college in the near future. I also went back to school at the same time, two or three nights a week. Suddenly I had no time to cook, so I assigned the four older kids one night a week to cook whatever they wanted for the whole family to eat. They made some interesting dinners but most were simple and fairly repetitious. I was in charge of the weekend meals, with Terry’s frequent help.

We found out that it was not a particularly good idea to have different people for cooking and cleanup because some cooks tried to clean as they went along while others left everything for the cleanup person. When the cooking person was in charge of cleanup as well, the messes became more manageable. It also meant that the kids were only tasked one night a week instead of two. This idea was a natural outgrowth of a greater philosophy: “You mess it up, you clean it up,” which applies to everything in life.

Whenever we had company, everyone had to help. The kids liked having company because the meals were better and the conversation was more interesting. Before the actual cooking and setting the table, everyone had to help clean the house. One Saturday we told the kids we were all going to work on cleaning the house. The youngest asked, “Who’s coming over?” I told him no one was coming over, but we just thought it would be nice to have a clean house for a change. He wasn’t nearly as happy about helping as he would have been for company. Moral of the story: Have company often. It gives you a good excuse to clean the house and have a really nice meal.

One Christmas, I photocopied many of our favorite recipe cards onto card stock, which I then cut back to 3×5 size along the outlines of the original cards. I gave each child a recipe file box with divider tabs and all the recipes in their appropriate categories. This was partially in my own self interest since they didn’t always file my recipes in the right places after they used them. It was mainly to give them a basic repertoire of the tried and true to use for cooking on their one night a week but it was for the future too. I also wanted them to have a place to add recipes they would find on their own, which started happening almost immediately.

A year or so ago, I apologized to one of my daughters for not having more interesting meals when they were growing up. I think I felt guilty for that period of time when I was so preoccupied with work and school. Since it was just before they started leaving home, that was the part I remembered best. She reassured me that she didn’t feel slighted at all and that she appreciated the variety of foods that she had learned to eat and cook. It’s interesting that all my kids enjoy cooking. Don, my favorite dinner helper, has naturally turned out to be the most skilled and ambitious cook.

PHILOSOPHY OF LIFE (OR AT LEAST MOTHERHOOD)

I feel that the goal of mothers should be to make themselves obsolete, or at least extraneous. This means that children need to be able to fend for themselves when they leave home. They need to be able to cook, do their own laundry, balance a checkbook, change a tire, and so on. My role was to get them to that point, not to care for their every need as long as they lived at home. I bought a book which talked about what kids should know how to do in many different categories. For example, under cooking there was a long list of different kinds of foods. Although I didn’t follow the book’s structure of keeping track of what I taught my children, I agreed with the principle and tried to work on it. Of course, the best way for them to learn how to do something is to practice doing it the right way, often.

I had them observe me do a load of laundry, then I supervised them doing a load, then I watched without talking unless they were about to make a mistake. When they were comfortable with the process, I let them do it without me hovering around. We did have a few laundry disasters with items that shouldn’t be washed, although you’re never too old to have a disaster if you don’t pay attention and read the label, but they learned the basics. It paid off; a couple of my children told me stories of kids in their college dorms who were clueless and used too much detergent or dyed their clothes pink, to their embarrassment and the amusement and disdain of those who knew better. Good moms don’t let their kids go off unprepared.

This has been a rambling trip down memory lane. I hope it’s been interesting and helpful as well.

–Donna

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