Kids. Housework. And chores.

My house usually starts out in the morning fairly clean.  But by the end of the school morning, the living room is always a mess:  schoolbooks and pencils and Barbies and blocks, all in a mish-mash.  The mess might drive me nuts except that I know right after lunch, everyone will spring into action and pull the whole place back together:  my 16 year old son cleans the kitchen.  Our 15 year old daughter sweeps.  And so on down the line.  Even the 6yo helps by spot-mopping the kitchen floor with a wet rag.

Within an hour, the main part of the house looks great, which is a huge morale-booster for me.  And it sets the tone for a peaceful afternoon.  It seems obvious that most moms would like a system that works as well as that.  But when you’ve got a bunch of teeny ones, how do you GET to that point?


It can be really tempting to tell yourself that if you just get organized you could keep your house nice looking all the time.  Nope.  Not if you’ve got a few kids and a desire to do something besides cleaning all day.  You’ve got to keep your expectations reasonable.  If you have only preschoolers, you are probably going to need to let some household tasks slide, and if you’ve got a young infant, your standards need to be even more relaxed.

Decide on your minimal level of household cleanliness.

This is not about doing it ALL!   This is about finding your own minimum standards for happy living. Everyone is different.

For me it’s three things:

  • Living room vacuumed every day
  • Dishes done after every meal
  • Three loads of laundry a day.

That’s my absolute bare minimum.   My DON’T DO list is longer.  I don’t care too much about made beds, or spotless kitchen floors, or perfect windows. I dust once a month, iron three times a year, and I don’t knock myself out doing yard work.

My list may work for you, or it may not. Every family is different.  Remember to take your husband’s wishes into consideration here too.  The point is to decide what is really important, and what you can let go, so that your expectations are more reasonable.

Involving Kids

The next key to housework is to involve your kids.  Most moms like that idea in theory.  But often we have to get past some mental barriers — and some resistance from the kids — to make it really happen regularly.

Barrier #1.  It’s easiest to do it myself.

At first kids are sooo inefficient at those chores.  And especially if you’ve got a stubborn kid who seems intent on proving he can’t do a job well, it really is easier in the short term to do it yourself.   But we moms have to look long term.  Will it benefit our kids to be able to manage household chores efficiently?  Will it benefit them to learn to work without complaint?  Will it benefit you to have teens who can plow through a chore efficiently. You bet!

The only way they learn this stuff is by doing. Your persistence will pay off.

Barrier #2.  But it’s really mom’s work.

Lots of moms hesitate to work their kids because it gives them guilt.  They feel like if only they were better organized, they’d be able to do it themselves.  And shouldn’t kids be outside playing after school, not inside working?   But look at it logically:  who’s making a lot of those dishes?  Who’s leaving toys all over the living room?  Who’s wearing 3 outfits in one day and sticking them all in the laundry bin while they’re still clean?  NOT mom, right?  Giving kids ownership of the mess TRAINS them to clean up after themselves.  Kids who work now are much better prepared for adulthood.  Remember, our goal as parents is to work ourselves out of a job—to raise kids who can DO for themselves, and for others.


When it comes to job training, be really deliberate. Start young so they will see it as a normal part of life.  Work alongside them.  Give them real jobs that really help. A two year old can pick up toys, sort silverware, or use a rag to wipe up dirty spots on the kitchen floor.  A 3 year old can fold pants or towels. A 7 year old can empty most of the dishwasher with a stepstool if someone else removes sharp things first.

Break each job down into steps and spell out the requirements of each.  A 10 year old can do an excellent job at bathroom cleaning if you give him two things: careful instruction and a checklist. And require obedience. If a kid knows lunch (or a sleepover) isn’t happening until he scrubs the toilet, he’s most likely going to get it done.  And it is highly unlikely that he’ll actually need to miss the meal or the sleepover more than once to learn the lesson.

Divide and Conquer.  When I ask a pair of kids to clean their room, instead of dividing the room into sides, I usually assign kids categories of items.  For example, one child puts away toys and shoes, and another clothes and books.  That makes it more likely that both kids will work, and it also breaks the task down into more doable segments for the kids.

Ask for Re-Do’s.  Always inspect the work. Always. Even teens need the accountability of knowing that mom is actually going to look over their work.  And remember, inspection give you a chance to PRAISE, not just fault-find.   When my kids do a job unusually well, I try to make a REALLY big deal about it.  Sometimes I’ll even fall down pretending I fainted in shock at the sight of a beautifully clean room.  Little kids LOVE that kind of drama.

Teaching kids to help around the house is definitely work.   It takes a lot of persistence, and more than a little faith.  But it is work that pays off, both in older childhood and in your kids’ adult lives!




  1. Looking forward to implement this. Today was a stormy day (both inside and out) and my 18 month old daughter was driving me nuts until I started folding laundry and she started to, very patiently, hand me clean clothes out of the dryer. Saved me bending over (I’m 30 wks pregnant) and she enjoyed helping out. Then after dinner she used the potty twice in a row and mama’s day was good again! 🙂

  2. I totally agree with you. I have also found that if my kids know that they have to clean up the kitchen, their messes aren’t as bad.

    You are so right about having realistic expectations–for ourselve and our kids. For a few years my daughter just could not handle folding her brother’s underwear when she was asked to fold clothes. I was going to really push it with her when her brother said it was not a big deal–he didn’t need his underwear folded. He was right–but I also think he said it because it made him look good, being so understanding of his sister :).

  3. It seems that every blog I have visited today has had something I needed that would help me. (Divine Intervention? 😉 ) Thanks for this. Things have been overwhelming for me lately, and I don’t get much outside help or support, and it helps me so much to read encouraging words from other ladies who have been there.

  4. I just purchased “The Sane Womans…” for my girlfriend with 7 kids and counting. The story about the pacifier stuck to the baby’s face had me crying, I was laughing so hard! I loved the book and your ideas are so practical and useful! God bless!

  5. So true! Kids doing housework is incredibly important because it teaches them so many things, from actually performing the actions to the lessons and reasons behind performing them. I incorporate housework into our homeschooling program. Everyday we have scheduled chores we do together and I occasionally throw in a new or fun chore to shake things up.

  6. This was a great post and I love the fact that you included the line/comfort about a houseful of preschoolers! Were you thinking of me? 🙂

  7. I just have to chime in to agree wholeheartedly with you! This summer I have been making a huge effort to have my kids do chores consistently, and I have learned firsthand some of your tips under “job training.” I have made my oldest son, who is 8, my bathroom apprentice. Everything Thursday he cleans the bathrooms, top to bottom, with me. It has only been four or five weeks, but he could already do the whole job quite well by himself. He knows that nothing else happens until we finish, so he really doesn’t complain, and sometimes when I have to stop for a few minutes to tend to the baby, he continues on without me. While he helps, it is my five year old son’s “chore” to play with the almost 3 year old son. Whatever the three year old wants to play, they play. On Tuesdays, the boys switch and the five year old is my kitchen apprentice. He is much more limited than his big brother and does complain, but I have found that as long as I engage him in conversation that interests him, he sticks with me. I am so thrilled by this little system I have cooked up and plan to use it in many different ways for a long time.

  8. Oh my goodness this is timely! I have been trying to work on this with my kids (10, 7, 7, and 6). Just yesterday I sent three of the four upstairs to their rooms while one and I finished off cleaning of the downstairs living areas. I was so frustrated with having to ask again and again for cooperation. Believe it or not, it wasn’t my oldest that was the most helpful by one of my 7 yr old sons. He is my rock star cleaner once I get him going. He said to me, “Mommy, I don’t like cleaning but once I get going and do the stuff I like, then I can even do the stuff I don’t like.” He is my one kid that really appreciates a clean, calm, decluttered room. The others would have no problem living in a pig sty. 😉

    I am encouraged to keep at it now that I have read your post! Thank you!!

  9. I pinned this on Pinterest, because this doesn’t yet apply (10 1/2 mo old), but I hope to start him early and hope to one day have a brood of my own. That’s how Pinterest has helped me (I just started ‘pinning’ on Sunday)… Now I’ve found a holding place for all the posts I’ve read over the years of blogging where I think, “Oh I’ll definitely remember where I read that…”

    All that to say, thanks for the tips!

  10. This was really helpful! As a new mom, the transition for staying home with our baby was tough in the house cleaning aspect. I thought that being home would mean my house would be cleaner…HAH! I’ve really struggled with wanting it to be perfect and feeling like a failure because it never is, even with just one baby. I really like the idea of a “minimums” list, because I think it would make me feel more accomplished at the end of the day to know I completed a list of things. And I’m tucking the chores ideas away for later!

  11. Heather H says:

    a friend mentioned your book to me and also your blog, so i have been reading thru it. i have to say i TOTALLY agree about having kids help with housework. i believe our home is like a community and a community works best with everyone working together. i have spent YEARS upon years doing 99% of everything because i felt bad asking for help, only to end up frustrated and overwhelmed. i would read parenting books only to be told that i brought these kids into the world and if i wanted a clean house then it was totally my job. now there is the sort of “rush” to get the older two kids (17 and 13) housework smart. I hate to send them out into the world not knowing how to do the wash, clean a toilet or mop a floor. thankfully they don’t complain too much. the 4 little ones (well except the baby) are also learning the joys of housework. i know it sounds weird, but there is something about a house all put together. lol

  12. {PlainJane} says:

    Thank you for this encouragement! I needed to be reminded of these truths. 🙂 We do almost all of what you suggest, but this week, I had let much of that slip…the house got messy, I was overwhelmed and my kids had poor attitudes as a result.

    I’ve been pleasantly surprised to discover that my children have better attitudes and are more thankful when they are involved in the daily keeping of our home. Chores make them happier! I suspect it’s because the effort they expend makes them appreciate the efforts of others…and because they feel like they are needed and appreciated.