Such a Chore Part 2: Getting kids there

I promised a series in a few parts on kids and chores. This second part on how to get kids to perform their assigned chores should come with two caveat.

Parenting advice often come through a bit condescending and when written by parents with real-life children, it often makes the children look perfect. My children are not perfect and they do not enjoy chores more than I do. They sometimes resist or completely ignore my requests. On a bad day, I may even get attitude. I don’t live in chores Wonderland.

The second caveat is, as with every parenting advice, your mileage may vary. Different families have different dynamics and different personalities. No parenting advice is a slam-dunk. Ever. You should read this post as a testimony more than a road-map. This is how I get my toilets cleaned once a week with 8 children and no cleaning service.

(Oh, and I was asked to specify that I would be nothing without my husband. I am neither a neat-freak nor a well-organized person. Paul is the list-maker and the task-assigner and the brain-thrust behind that whole chore business. )

Chores come in different brands and flavours. Some must be performed daily, others weekly. In our family, daily chores include pet maintenance, waste management, meals-related chores such as setting the table and emptying the dishwashers. I should also add “baby-chase” which is the chore that befalls the child responsible for following Sarah’s every step and preventing any inspired-by-Sarah chaos. I won’t get into the kind of trouble Sarah gets into, that would be a post in and of itself (and you wouldn’t believe me anyway). I am not including as chores personal hygiene, lunch-making and any other self-serving tasks that the kids have to perform whether they like it or not. I define chores as “family work”: tasks that must be performed for the family or as part of making the family work.

1. The Set-Up: We (meaning Paul but we’re really big on parental unity here so bear with me.) “We” have a list of daily and weekly chores printed and posted where everyone can see it.

Now it’s been there so long that nobody sees it anymore but whenever a child needs a reminder, we refer  to the list. We also have a trusted white board that has given me much grief and aggravation at work because once you start working with a white board you just. can’t. stop. I have a really nice white board at work and people visit my office just to write stuff on it. On Saturday morning, we <cough> write down the chores list for the day on the white board.

2. The Assignment: Try to choose chores that match your child’s personality and interests. Much has been written about choosing age-appropriate chores but you can also increase your chances of success by asigning chores wisely. For instance, my oldest daughter has more interest in looking after the animals than her brother. It may not always be possible: computer maintenance and upgrade does not need to happen every week and my son has no natural interest in taking out the trash daily. And yet…

2. The Warm-up: Manage your expectations. Children do not see dirt and chaos like we adults do.  If you are only starting to put your children at contribution around the house, you will be disappointed to realize that getting tangible results requires a time investment equal or superior to performing the task yourself, plus some added aggravation and mental strain. You may also be disappointed to realize that children are not born knowing how to sanitize a toilet. “Thorough cleaning” is in the eye of the beholder.

3. The Execution: 3.1 Show them how it’s done. Children are not born knowing how to clean a toilet or operate a washing machine. We often tend to leave children with a chore (clean-up the bathroom) without telling them what it means. If you expect your 12 year-old son to know he must wipe the inside of the toilet seat, you will be sorely disappointed. When I introduce a new chore, I do it once or twice with the children. Then they do it once or twice with me. Then I write it down and post it. Some children don’t need the list, others have fights over it (“It says clean tub before clean sink!!!”; “It doesn’t matter as long as we don’t clean the toilet first!!!”; “We can clean the toilet first if we don’t re-use the rag to clean the sink!” ; “I cleaned the toilet with your toothbrush!!!”) but it does the job.

3.2 Don’t do it for them but make sure they do it. Children are masters of passive resistance.  They also have a knack for finding the shortest route between A and B. Add the two, multiply by the number of children and you’ve got yourself doing your children’s chores for them (or dealing with a public health disaster).

3.3 Make them come back to finish it. That’s important so they know you mean it. It seals it for the next time and makes sure there is no erosion of quality over time: kids, especially teenagers, will naturally revert to the path of least resistance. So make sure you apply resistance consistently.

3.4 Nothing happens until the chores are done. This is counter-intuitive for busy women because whether we are a stay-at-home mom or a working-for-a-paycheque mom, we are constantly reminded by advice columns to take time for ourselves and that work won’t run away. But your children need to learn how to work before they can learn how to take a break. This may take more discipline from the parent than the children. Case in point: my daughters needed to go to the shopping centre to pick-up a birthday gift for a birthday party later that day. We warned them that chores had to be finished before we could leave the house. As the morning went by, it became increasingly likely that they would have to go to the birthday party gift-less. Now, do I want to be the mom whose kids show-up at a birthday party empty-handed? No. I really had to sit on my hands that day. But the chores were done and we had time to pick-up a gift.

Family is where children learn work ethics and the value of a job well-done. Chores are one way to get them there.


Atchoum! Sneeze!

(English below)

Il y a plusieurs fonctions corporelles qui sont contagieuses. On pense au baillement de toute évidence. Puis il y a aussi le pleur de sympathie dans une garderie. Mes jumeaux pètent, rotent et toussent en même temps. Mais l’éternument de sympathie est sans doute le plus comique. Voici sans doute ma photo préférée:

Many body functions are contagious. Yawning obviously; and daycare providers are also familiar with the sympathy cry. My twins fart, burp and cough in unison. But the sympathy sneeze is the funniest. This is probably my favorite picture yet:


(English below)

Il y a plusieurs fonctions corporelles qui sont contagieuses. On pense au baillement de toute évidence. Puis il y a aussi le pleur de sympathie dans une garderie. Mes jumeaux pètent, rotent et toussent en même temps. Mais l’éternument de sympathie est sans doute le plus comique. Voici sans doute ma photo préférée:

Many body functions are contagious. Yawning obviously; and daycare providers are also familiar with the sympathy cry. My twins fart, burp and cough in unison. But the sympathy sneeze is the funniest. This is probably my favorite picture yet:

DSC_0473 by véronique5
DSC_0473, a photo by véronique5 on Flickr.


On me dit souvent que je devrais avoir une émission de télé-réalité à la “Kate + 8” ce à quoi je réponds vous savez ce serait beaucoup moins intéressant que vous le pensez: je passerais la moitié de l’émission à conduire, l’autre moitié dans la cuisine. Pas de “Famille Nombreuse visite Disney” pour nous. C’est plutôt “Famille Nombreuse visite Costco” et avec un peu de chance, c’est sans les enfants.

J’ai croisé une amie qui attend son huitième enfant ce weekend. Elle m’a demandé c’était comment avec 8. “Pas vraiment différent qu’avec 7 j’imagine… ” Quoique je n’ai eu 7 enfants que pendant 5 minutes entre 21:07 et 21:12 le 18 septembre. “Tu cours sans arrêt comme une poule sans tête, tu pètes ta coche de temps à autre. Et dans 6 semaines tu feras la même chose mais avec le bébé dans les bras.” Mes amis peuvent toujours compter sur moi pour les encourager.

Mais comment ça se passe vraiment? S’il y avait une équipe de tournage chez moi, que verrait-elle? Commençons par le commencement. Ma journée commence vers 05:30. Je dois commencer quelque part mais avec des jumeaux, il est difficile de décider quand commence la journée puisqu’il n’y pas de nuit. Vers 05:30, je suis parfois réveillée depuis 2 ou 3 heures mais cette fois-ci, c’est pour de bon.

05:00 – Les bébés se réveillent entre 05:00 et 05:30. Je les change, les nourris au sein puis je les termine au biberon. Souvent, leur pleurs réveillent Sarah qui se met à hurler “Papaaaaa!!” de plus en plus fort pour qu’on vienne la chercher dans sa chambre. Vers 06:00 , les bébés retournent au lit et Sarah, maman et papa se lèvent pour la journée. J’habille Sarah et je descends sortir le chien et chercher le journal.

06:00 – 07:00 – Dans la cuisine. Je déjeûne et je fais le lunch de David. Etc. Etc. J’aide à gauche et à droite.  J’empêche Sarah de se faire un grilled-cheese et de vider le garde-manger. David se lève et fait une crise de nerfs. Sarah fait un dégât ou deux. Ou trois.

Entre 07:00-08:00 on fini de s’habiller et de se brosser les dents et je dois nourrir les bébés. J’ai commencé à leur donner une bouteille le matin parceque je peux les nourrir en tandem (au sein, je dois les nourir tour à tour du côté droit car c’est le seul qui produit du lait.) Sarah en profite pour vider quelques tiroirs et David fait une crise de nerfs. Éloïse et Marie se lèvent, s’habillent, déjeûnent, font leur lunch et préparent leurs choses d’école. Je finis de nourir les bébés et avec un peu de chance je peux prendre une douche et ranger la cuisine. Vers 08:30 je sors le chien et j’attends l’autobus avec les enfants. Lorsque les enfants partent, je vais conduire Sarah chez Mélanie, gardienne extraordinaire.

09:00 – Je rentre à la maison pour… nourrir les bébés! Je mets un épisode de la première saison de The Wire en allaitant et je cultive mon vocabulaire de drugs & gangs. À partir de 09:00-10:00, les bébés sont réveillés pour la journée, c’est-à-dire qu’ils ne dormiront plus en même temps à moins que je sois très chanceuse. Je les change, je leur donne leur biberon. Ensuite, je fais quelques sourires à Ève et je lui dis qu’elle est mignonne. Au bout de 5 minutes, Ève baille. Je l’enmaillote et je la couche. Elle s’endort. Lucas, lui, préfère jaser plus longtemps. Il se fatigue et refuse de dormir. Il pleure. Je le promène dans le sling et faisant du ménage léger. J’essaie de coucher Lucas. Il dort seul pour 15 minutes. Il chiâle, a des gaz. Il se rendort poour 15 minutes. Etc. Jusqu’au prochain boire.

12:00 – Prochain boire. J’allaite les bébés et je donne le biberon à celui ou celle qui en a besoin. La routine de boire prend environ 1 heure. Je zigonne sur mon iPhone pendant que les bébés boivent. Je vous dit, ça n’attire pas les grosse cotes d’écoute ici!

13:00 – Ève se rendort. Pas Lucas. S’il est de bonne humeur, je peux préparer le souper. Sinon, j’écris quelque chose sur le blogue (comme cette publication, composée entièrement dans la fonction “notes” de mon iPhone avec Lucas dans les bras). Je regarde autour de moi et je remarque que la place ne souffrirait pas d’un bon coup d’aspirateur. Je met Lucas dans le sling. Lucas ne veut pas être dans le sling et régurgite la moitié de sa formule dans mon t-shirt.Bah, il fallait que je prenne une douche de toute façon…

14:00 – Je commence à avoir faim. Je réalise que je n’ai pas lunché. Je me fait une tartine de Nutella ou deux. Ou trois. Et un café. Un rapide calcul mental m’informe que j’ai pris trois cafés et zéro verres d’eau aujourd’hui. Mon prochain café sera un cappucino avec du lait 1% (le 1% c’est presque comme de l’eau ça, non?)

14:55 – Lundi et vendredi, mes grands reviennent de l’école en autobus. Je peux leur passer un bébé et faire quelque chose d’utile jusqu’au prochain boire. Comme prendre un autre café.

15:00 – Prochain boire. Celui-là sera bref parceque je dois partir à 15:30 pour chercher Sarah et/ou conduire/chercher les autres enfants à l’école/la gymnastique/l’harmonie.

16:30 – Je reviens à la maison avec 6 à 8 enfants selon la journée. Je mets le souper en marche.

17:00 – Les jumeaux entament leur festival du bébé malheureux pendant que j’essaie de nourir le reste de la famille. Les enfants se disputent l’ordinateur et commencent leurs devoirs. Je demande à un enfant de surveiller Sarah mais tout le monde est trop occupé à faire ses devoirs. Je demande aux enfants de venir mettre le couvert et tout le monde se porte volontaire pour surveiller Sarah. David termine son lunch d’école pendant que Sarah raid les boîtes à lunch de ses soeurs.

17:30 – Le souper est servi. David et Sarah n’ont plus faim. Les jumeaux ont faim et passent à table.

17:30-19:00 – La période du souper, bains, coucher ne peut être adéquatement décrite par mon talent limité. C’est bruyant, enfumé, parfois nauséabond. Certains crient, d’autres se bousculent. Éloïse déchiffre Someone Like You  par oreille au piano. C’est comme ce que j’ai vu du marché de Kabul. Pendant le souper Paul essaie d’expliquer la crise de l’Euro aux plus vieux pendant que David s’énerve. Sarah, tranquille,  trempe des kleenex dans sa purée. Bref, éventuellement tout le monde est propre avec les dents brossées et les deux plus jeunes se couchent.

20:00 – Je baigne, change et allaite les jumeaux avant de les coucher pour la “nuit.”Jusqu’à 22:00, les plus vieux vont et viennent. Vers 22:00 quand je suis finalement prête à me coucher, Clara se pointe dans ma chambre pour me demander de lui expliquer la privatisation d’Internet et ses implications.

0:00 – 1:15 – J’allaite les bébés

02:05 – Lucas ne se rendort pas. Je lui donne une bouteille.

04:00 – J’allaite Ève

05:00 – J’allaite Lucas

06:00 – Biberon. Finalement, les bébés dorment! Je me lève…

The Pits of Post-Partum

Let’s make one thing clear: the only reason why my posts on Facebook and Twitter are upbeat and positive is because I am generally upbeat and positive and I don’t want to be seen as a whiner. But the other day, when I asked my husband “The people who do it all well, how do they do it?” and he answered, wisely, “Maybe they aren’t”, I thought how social media is great at making us look exactly how we want to be seen.

It’s an interesting paradox in that we can reveal as little or as much as we want over social media. Some people are open books and others appear completely one-dimensional. Some are always whiny, others always rant-y, some always SHOUT and other pepper everything with  exclamation marks!!!! I realized, while reading over some of my Facebook Friends’ posts, that I could be equally guilty —  if guilty is the appropriate word because I don’t think that posting too little is a sin — of making life with newborn twins in a large family look like a walk in the park.

Let me preface what I am about to write by saying that I am not looking for advice (unless you want to provide it). This post is not meant to make you feel bad for not helping more. It is not meant as a pity party and I don’t need you to write to let me know that I am not fat, lazy and stupid (unless you really want to). But looking back at the last 2 months, I get the impression, confirmed by every mother of twins I have met, that I won’t remember much from the first 6 months of my babies’ lives. And so this post is as much to let you know how it really goes down around here as a personal chronicle of the good, the bad and, yes, the ugly, of those infamous first 6 months.

In the last 2 weeks, I have really hit the wall. The twins are 6 to 8 weeks and our family life has to return to a semblance of normalcy. In the last 2 months, I have barely slept. This is a true fact. With a singleton, you don’t sleep a lot. With twins, you don’t sleep at all. On the rare occasion when I get-up in a controlled mood – not even good, but not flying-off-the-handle – I realize how much parents influence the mood of the family as a whole. These days, it seems like everyone is barking at everyone and I can’t escape the fact that this is the tone I am setting. Each member of my family needs so much more than I am able to give right now, extreme fatigue and the relentlessness of caring for twin infants are limiting me physically and emotionally. My youngest children need more of me. My oldest children need more from me.

Every book will tell you that housework can wait but what about the things that can’t wait? Like keeping my toddler from killing herself, teaching my son that he doesn’t have to whine all the time or trying to understand why my teens or pre-teens are in a funk? In the Pits of Post-Partum, it’s not the dirty toilet that overwhelms me. While housework does make me feel like I’m not quite keeping up, it’s all the missed and messed-up opportunities to be an adequate parent that grab me by the throat. The more tired I get, the more help I need but the more tired I get, the more uncooperative my children become. It’s a vicious circle that I won’t break without investing more time in forming the children; not only correcting their lack of cooperation but also giving something in return, like gratefulness, understanding and appreciation.

There is literally 100 important things competing for every minute of time when I am not  caring for the babies. And the more time goes by, the more things don’t get done. The constant gasping for more time is the biggest challenge of our large family. At any given moment, there are two kinds of stuff: stuff that needs to be done and stuff that isn’t getting done. I have developed a quasi-allergic reaction to idle time. Angst washes over me whenever I find myself idle with apparently nothing to do because it means that I’m forgetting something: a load of laundry, some boiling water for the bottles, a kid’s lunch.

In the Pits of Post-Partum, I don’t only anguish over the things I’m not doing now, I’m also worried about the things I should be doing soon, like exercise and lose the 20 extra pounds the twins have left behind. But right now, I can’t imagine having the physical energy to exercise or the mental energy to diet. I keep snacking on high-energy food while doing a double-take every time I see myself in a mirror. I still look 5 months pregnant for goodness sake!

And yet, even in the Pits of Post-Partum my beautiful family is what I am the most proud of. When we go out as a family I just want to yell “LOOK PEOPLE! 8 KIDS! I have 8 KIDS!” And maybe therein lies the rub: in the Pits of Post-Partum, I feel in short cycles tremendously blessed and terrified that I may be coming-up short.

It says we only live once. There is no second chance.

Baptism Pictures / Photos du baptême

Pour ma famille (et les amis qui pourraient être intéressés), j’ai mis les photos du baptême de Lucas et Ève sur Flickr. Vous pouvez y accéder à partir du blogue. Le lien Flickr est sur la droite en bas.

For my family (and any friend who might be interested), I uploaded Lucas and Ève’s Baptism pictures on Flickr. You can access them from the blog. The link to my Flickr photostream is on the right hand side near the bottom.