With my desire to have a more happy home Monday through Friday and my husband’s desire for us to try something new before I moved us to a remote cabin in the woods, we have made some BIG changes around our home.
I debated whether or not BIG was the appropriate word because maybe (okay, probably) the changes we made every other household with school age children are already doing. They figured this out long ago and have perfected the rhythm of school, work and family life over time.
Regardless, I spent most of the fall not liking how our lives were unfolding since enrolling the kids in school and returning to Washington. I gained ten pounds thanks to chocolate, alcohol, lack of sleep and stress.
I went from learning and playing and living a life together with my kids and husband to managing their lives and providing chauffeur services.
I’m sticking with my word choice. BIG.
And I’m hoping this new rhythm will continue to be big. That we will be able to cherish more family time during the week, not just on the weekends and holidays. And if not, there is always that cabin the woods I can go looking for.
After much brainstorming and with only two days left until our Christmas vacation was over, we jumped into making big changes.
The first change was to install a large white board schedule of the week so that each child knew what was happening each day, what was coming that week and what chores needed to be accomplished.
Over the years, we’ve tried various rewards and incentives to try to make the days run more smoothly and encourage our kids to be helpful and productive family members. And I’m going admit, I never followed through. I could never remember to give out the stickers or move the velcro stars and it inevitably fell apart within the month. So when my husband had initially suggested using chalk board paint or magnetic paint, I was a bit of a Debbie Downer and instead suggested we use something less permanet and less involved from the get-go.
We debated the location of our board for quite some time. It needed to be prominent but I also didn’t want to take up too much wall space, make our home look cluttered or have it in their bedroom. Ultimately, we decided upon a small wall next to the dining room table and kitchen entry way. Prominent but not overbearing.
My husband purchased shower board from the local big box home store and went to work. His
obsessive precise nature was perfectly suited for measuring out grid lines and creating a symmetrical schedule. I’m more of a “good-enough” DIYer. It drives him more than a little loco.
He used his DeWalt drill to hang the shower board – our new epicenter of change and electrical tape to mark off the grid lines. I had purposely wanted a tape option that we could pull up and move if we needed to tweak our board in the coming months. Turns out that the tape will ruin the board if you try to lift it up and re position it; so permanent markers would have served the same purpose. Although, I like the nice thick bold grid lines of the electrical tape.
We decided on give each child a vertical column with the week days on the horizontal rows. We also included numbered spaces around 3 of the 4 edges of the board in order that our incentive game be visual for the kids.
So what did I write on my new white board?
Each child’s specialty class at school, deadlines for school or special events at school. Their Girl Scout meetings or other classes they may be doing are posted. I wrote what day each child should be bathing or showering. Because well to air our dirty laundry, with the chaos that had consumed me in the fall it was not unusual for a entire week to pass without my children bathing. Even once.
In a deliberate attempt for many reasons, I write down their daily chore. When we were homeschooling they were quite involved with the logistics of family life. They routinely helped unload the dishwasher, wipe the table, sweep the floor, fold laundry, take out the recycling but somehow all of that devolved into me taking on all of these tasks as I deemed their homework or their downtime more important than contributing to the family household. I also write the chores down to head off the arguments of who did which chore last and who does one specific chore more than another. As a mom of three anytime I can head off arguments is a win.
The second change was to make a visual “game-board” of the morning and night time routines. We call it the morning and night-time race but we’ve had to explain that they are each racing the clock. Not each other.
They have an individual magnets that they move from one game space to the next as they progress through the morning routines. I needed some way for the kids to be able to develop more independence in their morning routines and visually see how they were doing at reaching the “finish” line. Which is out the door on time with minimal nagging and yelling from mom.
I have been trying to ask each child where they are in their game rather than reminding them what they should be working on.
For the race board itself we made use of yellow, electrical tape and index cards. It’s located on the front door and I hope to have the kids make some a fun magnet for themselves but for now it’s only their initial attached to a magnet. Yes, it certainly could have been made to be more aesthetically pleasing but we waited until two days before break was over and I NEEDED something to be implemented. Since I’m not spending my meals looking at it, I find it to be good enough. And that’s okay with me!
The third change we made was to not only schedule the entire week’s worth of meals but also cook and/or prep the entire week’s meals on Sunday.
Again, truth be told my husband has suggested this many times over the years and I’ve seen lots of very compelling Pinterest pinners who make meals for an entire month but I always assumed that making meals in advance meant having creamy, pasta based casseroles every night of the week.
But my desire for life to change was strong and as such I waited until the last minute and then dove right in! To pracrastinate the actual shopping and cooking portion of the plan, I spent a day looking through all my old and new copies of Cooking Light. I tore out every recipe that looked good, seemed like someone in my family would like and could either be frozen or at least cooked ahead.
The next day I made my shopping list, complete with coupons and multiple store ads. Yes, in addition to making a weeks worth of food I was also attempting to do it while on a budget. After an hour scouring ads, referencing websites (my favorite is Queen Bee Coupons), cutting coupons and printing coupons I was ready to leave the house!
I laughed when my husband suggested I take one child with me!
Shopping concluded at 3pm and I started right in on cooking for the week. Aannnnddddd…. I finished at 10pm. Was it worth it? Yes, I had very little dinner prep for an entire week! Which if you break it down, I cooked for about five hours and if I look at weeknights alone it’s likely that I would have spent an hour each evening making dinner as well. For the time factor of my first time around the time may have been fairly equal but the stress of not cooking on weeknights was …. wait for it….priceless!
Interested in knowing what was the menu? I’ll list our two weeks of menus next week on my Connecting Family.Weekend Links !
The fourth change was to implement a reward system that built upon the chores they are required to do that are written on the white schedule board and their successful (or not) completion of the morning and nighttime routine race.
The reward system is still a work in progress but essentially the kids earn points to make it around the white board schedule and then their progress translates into family “bucks” that will they will be able to spend for various rewards. While the kids would like nothing more than to be able to purchase “stuff” we will not be making stuff available for purchase.
This part of our system is not yet up and running yet…. so you’ll have to stay tuned to hear how it ends up going. However, we did brainstorm some great reward ideas such as date night with a parent, Redbox rental, pass to skip a chore, chose a dinner for the family, play date with a friend, ice skating, popcorn maker, candy bar and yes, cold, hard, real, cash.
Our final change was to turn off the t.v. during our night time routines. While I do miss catching up on the news, it’s simply too distracting for the little people in our lives. Even commercials are all engrossing. Instead, we stream Pandora through bedtime or sometimes we catch an episode of Chopped together.
I like the evening without t.v. It keeps the mood calm.
Overall, I’m happy with the changes we’ve implemented. The kids have had more free time, my house is cleaner and I enjoy the more relaxed atmosphere throughout our evenings. The kids enjoy a more stress-free evening as well.
I’m remaining cautiously hopeful that we can make these changes into routine!