After two blissful years of enjoying a cleaning company’s magic bi-monthly scrub, I let them go in an effort to save money and introduce my children to the reality of what it takes to keep our house clean.
While the cleaners’ spotless job made my life extremely easy, my children had gotten a spoiled idea of how the world works.
When they started constantly whining about picking up the toys in their room and wondering why the cleaners couldn’t “just do it for them,” I decided we needed to adjust our life expectations. I said goodbye to ease and perfection, bought a chore chart from The Container Store and re-introduced dirt into our lives.
Although the 3-year-old is excluded from daily chores, the older four kids have had to learn how to pick up the slack around the house. My motto is, “It takes seven people — and now two dogs — to make this house dirty, so it’s going to take seven people, minus the toddler and pups, to keep this house clean.”
The children groan after every reminder.
But they also get to work. From dishes, daily vacuuming and taking out the trash to wiping down the sliding glass doors, bathrooms and stainless-steel appliances, each kiddo gets assigned a chore that rotates every week. I started small, but soon I’ll be introducing mopping, scrubbing toilets and dusting to the mix. I’m sure they’ll find all the reasons to complain, but I know I’m doing the right thing. They have to know how to do these things. I want to send them into the world with the ability to not just survive as an adult but succeed.
The thing is, they’re kids. And while I can boss them into doing the chore daily, I have a harder time teaching them to do it well. The puppy-smudged glass door doesn’t always get perfectly cleaned. The dishes are never put away in the right spots. And my Roomba does a far better job of vacuuming than the 7-year-old. But I’m learning, that is OK. They’re kids, and these are teachable moments. There must be room for grace and growth.
And not just for the kids. For me, too.
I’ve had to learn to let things go. My OCD tendencies have to be buckled in a five-point harness in the backseat for me to sign off on their attempts at house-cleaning. Of course, I’m doing my best to teach them to be proud of a job well done, but frankly, they don’t see the small details like I do. They don’t notice the fingerprints around the edges of the fridge or that their vacuuming lines aren’t perfectly straight. They don’t see the sticky spots around the sink or even manage to get the bulging trash bag fully inside the bin. The older ones might be better than the younger ones, but they’re all in need of stern performance reviews.
And yet, I find myself learning to get comfortable in this new era of dirty. Two wild pups and the salty winter season aren’t doing the children any favors either. But what I’m most proud of is their willingness to learn and get better at their housekeeping skills. I don’t want them to be perfect; I just want them to try harder than the last time.
In the meantime, to quote my dad after he undoubtedly learned this same lesson with me: "A little dirt never hurt."
Rachel Higginson is a married mom to five kids. She is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author who has received a Utopia Award for Best Contemporary Romance and Penned Con Award for Best Novella Series. She lives in Omaha.