THE PROBLEM: I feel like a bad mom. I can never keep up with things—school lunches, laundry, getting dinner on the table—all the normal stuff I should be able to take care of. To look at my household, you would think I had a bunch of kids, but I only have three (twelve, nine, and six). And to top everything off, they’re squabbling all the time, so there’s always a bit of chaos in my home. My neighbor has eight children, and her house runs like a top. My husband works and I stay home with the kids, so I know I SHOULD be able to get everything done. My mom says I should have the kids help out more (and she’s right), but it’s always a battle to get them to do anything, and I don’t have time to fool with it. What’s wrong with me?
MARY SAYS: Would you believe me if I told you there was nothing wrong with you? I didn’t think so, so let’s start somewhere else. Consider that you’re not just a mom. Let’s pretend you’re all this: a mom, a daughter, a wife, a bowler, a writer, and a dog-lover. And let’s throw in a yellow belt in karate for fun.
Who says you’re supposed to be perfect at any of these? Do you really want to sit at the top of the mountain by yourself, high and mighty, watching the rest of us make mistakes day in and day out?
Go easy on yourself. Relax your self-imposed standards for filling your role as ‘mother,’ since you have many roles in your life to keep growing in.
And speaking of roles, I wonder if roles are defined too rigidly in your home? Why are you making all the lunches, doing the laundry, getting dinner on the table every night? Is it because you’re ‘Mom,’ or because you’re taller than everybody else? Love zinnias? Or because you listen to Neil Diamond when no one’s looking?
Is there really a good reason for this?
Roles can be a lot more fluid than you might imagine, and you have three children who want to expand theirs but don’t know it yet.
Perhaps your experience with assigning chores looks like this: you nag the kids until they do them. I’m also guessing these chores are “selfie” chores: clean your room, do your homework, clean up after dirtying a dish. Even household chores are quick, right? Empty the dishwasher, set the table, take out the trash. After all, you don’t want your children to feel burdened or anything.
Let’s not do that anymore.
What you need in your home is a chore chart. Assign each child age-appropriate tasks that actually contribute to a smoother-running household. The oldest can make lunches for all of them, the nine-year-old can do the family laundry, and even the youngest can set the table, clear it, and get dishes into the sink. Expect the children to check the chart and take ownership of their assignments. If they can’t do it on their own before four o’clock, four bells is their cue to drop everything and get busy.
Children need to be needed. If you want your children to thrive and grow into contributing members of their community, they must become a contributing member of yours. And, Mom, ask your friend for advice. Managing eight kids the way she does, she could be great resource for you.
ERIKA SAYS: First, I’m sending you all the hugs because I hear you, deep in my soul. This pep talk is for you, me, and all the moms riding one-way on the struggle bus. Allow me to be vulnerable for a moment, because I’m struggling too. I can’t keep up with work, chores, laundry, dinner, friendships; you name it, I can’t keep up with it.
I don’t know why we put pressure on ourselves to uphold the “I’ve got it ALL together” image, but we do, and we do it well. Throughout my short journey as a mother of one, I have learned that comparison is a thief; it will rob you of your joy and sanity, sending you straight down the rabbit hole of shame.
Someone else will always seem perfect if we look at them through the lens of comparison. You don’t know if your neighbor is losing her mind, keeping her home the way she does. She might lie in bed at night wishing she were more relaxed like you. I once heard someone say we always see the glory, but don’t know the story. Your neighbor may have been where you were one year ago, and she’s finally figured out a routine that works for her family.
If things need to flow better than they currently do, adjust accordingly. Tasks like school lunches, laundry, and other household chores are all things your twelve, nine, and six-year-old can handle. Get them involved!
Here’s a list of duties you can give them:
- Sorting laundry
- Putting laundry away
- Sorting clean socks
- Loading and unloading the dishwasher
- Taking out the trash
- Sweeping or vacuuming rooms
- Making their beds
- Put away groceries
- Set the table for dinner
- Assisting with dinner preparation
Assigning your children household chores will teach them responsibility. It will also give them something to take ownership of and to be proud of.
If you have to supervise, you may as well do it yourself, so be prepared to do some training. Children are more intelligent than we give them credit for. Take a day or two and teach your children how you want those tasks done. After showing them a couple of times, allow them to do it independently. A leader knows how to step back and empower others.
Schedule everything! My new habit? Everything goes on my calendar. If it doesn’t go on my calendar, it will be late, I’ll forget about it, or it simply won’t get done.
Creating a routine, allowing your children to contribute more at home, and giving yourself grace during this season of motherhood will bring you the freedom you desperately need. There is no rule book stating you must be the keeper of all things. Whether you work, stay home, or do both, your lifestyle is yours to live. Yes, there should be an order in your home, but when that order is disrupted, it doesn’t mean you’re a terrible mom. It means you’re an overwhelmed mom; something isn’t working and needs to be changed, or you need to ask for help.
You won’t always have it together, but in some seasons, you’ll be on your A-game. The awesome mom that is you doesn’t change when seasons do. Your children will always remember how you made them feel, not how long the laundry piled up or dishes sat in the sink.
ASK MOM offers parents two perspectives on today’s child-rearing issues—one from a mom with grown children (Mary), the other from a mom raising a small child (Erika). If you’re looking for creative solutions, or your mom isn’t around to ask, drop in!
If you have a question for Mary and Erika, we’d love to hear from you! email@example.com
Read more ASK MOM advice.
Mary Follin is author of the award-winning children’s book ETHYR and Teach Your Child to Read™, an online phonics program for children ages 3-6. She is mom to two grown kids. Follow Mary on Instagram at @advice_mom.
Erika Guerrero is a freelance hair and makeup artist, Erika K. Beauty, single-mama to one amazing boy, and author of She’s Not Shaken, a blog offering hope and encouragement to women in all walks of life.