Creating Systems So You Stay Sane (Episode 283)
This week I'm thrilled to have a guest interview with Laura Hernandez of MamaSystems.net.
As her family grew from 4 kids to 10 in a four-year span, she spent hundreds of hours reading numerous books, blogs, and articles and devouring podcasts on organizing, scheduling, and self-care.
When nothing fit her family perfectly, she developed her own systems that were easy to customize and implement and would be life-changing to experience. Now she's having a conversation with me to share a little about the peace she was able to create for herself.
Getting to the point of overwhelm
As mamas, we often can live "reactionary" lives, where we're simply responding to the next demand, putting out the next fire, and reacting to what is thrown our way. What happens is we miss the boat on our top priorities because they just weren't intentionally worked into our schedule. And that "schedule" we might have hoped we had was never fulfilled, as there was always a curveball to react to in the moment.
Take a look at your schedule. What all are you doing that is not necessary? What can you eliminate? What physical things do you need to literally let go of and remove from your house? What is causing you "decision fatigue?"
When there is stuff everywhere, we as parents take on the brunt of this mentally - making decisions on where things go, what to keep, etc. Then you add in all of the relationships and events you're maintaining. What all are you shuttling your kids to that is more of a drain than a relief - for them and/or for you? What relationships are you navigating around that are more draining than fulfilling?
How to create a schedule
Laura and I completely agree that what we're looking to create is a family TEAM. In a team, everyone has their role. It may not carry the same weight for every person, yet each "player" performs a critical part of what is needed for the family to thrive as a whole.
Get specific. What are the things you already noticed do not need to be on your plate? Maybe it's picking out your children's clothes in the morning, or organizing the playroom. Maybe it's feeding animals or folding and putting away their laundry.
For Laura's family, they have a 5pm pickup time and everyone is assigned a job to do based on their age and ability.
Similar to Laura, we picked up working on "zones" as a carry-over from our volunteering with the state parks.
When we are working at Bahia Honda State Park, we're assigned different zone areas, and each zone has its own list of instructions. This was such an easy way to carry over that same theme to our time back at our house.
We're still working through this and how we'll make the assignment - so far we keep one person on a zone until we feel confident they can be trusted to cover it all without reminding - then we switch zones and have someone else do it. With our girls being 10+, we're looking for that personal drive and responsibility to ensure they show up and help out the family on their own - and the zones have been a great way to really cover certain areas of the house thoroughly.
We've played with a variety of ways to have the girls involved in our clean-up and tasks with running the household.
At one point we had a great game going where they paid "rent" with what their contributions where to the household, and what was required to stay for "free" here. It was great for life skills and financial literacy!
Keep in mind this isn't about finding the one concrete system that will work with you with no negotiations. We have shifted our systems as our children have grown as well as what skills we're wanting to work on and encourage in them. And the whole point of Laura's systems she helps you create at MamaSystems.net is about adapting it to your unique situation...and season of life.
Okay, as I'm seeing the list above I'm writing a story of judgement about the kids doing all the chores while we kick back and drink tea. That is pretty nice sounding...I digress. Let me be clear. This is my list I'm always doing. At any point I will do any or all of these things. Nathan is oftentimes making the meals and doing the majority of the cleanup.
Yet now I know I have support and back-up. I have daughters who can walk in a room and see it as I would see it and know what they can do to help out. Sometimes it's needed. Sometimes, it's already been handled...because we are a family team, and we take care of this place where we all live in community.
It's not enough to just assign roles. You have to lay the precedent of what you expect. And that requires checking in and walking with them through the roles until you are clear they fully understand.
We have a daily family meeting in the morning where we check in with what all is expected and needed for that day. Going over the expectations at the beginning of the day sets us all up with a clear plan of action, as well as giving a platform for any of us to be heard. Starting out the day with reading and then meeting has prompted some beautiful conversations, as well as allow the kids to be a part of our plans (and planning).
Make sure you have clearly communicated, clearly shown, AND, you have in writing what you're looking for. If you have young kids, a picture chart can work. It makes it so, so much easier if you aren't depending on them just remembering what you say and you have a "third party" in the form of a paper that literally lays out exactly what their responsibilities are.
Don't assume they get it and see things in the same way you do. If you know exactly what "clean" looks like, walk through it in every detail with your child. If you haven't clearly communicated what clean looks and feels like to you, it can be hard to get them to live up to your expectations.
Everyone is going to have a job. However, that doesn't mean you have to force people into things they hate. Part of the process of a thriving team is to explore what each person is skilled at and put them in a position that really uses that skill. If I have a child who absolutely loathes washing dishes, maybe that's a time to negotiate what they are willing to do instead, and give that assignment to another. There is a balance of life skills (you need to learn this and be able to do it on your own) vs. making this their workload for the whole family.
Dishwashing is something that can be a constant beast that many kids hate. We break it up into gathering dishes, washing dishes, and drying/putting away. There are times we have a kid on each. Other times, when we have a lot of things going on, like right now when company is about to descend for three full weeks, we talk about how we'll all tackle things together. Each person is responsible for cleaning their own dish. And, whoever is in "Zone 2" (the kitchen) is responsible for ensuring the final cleanup after a meal, and picking up whatever might have gotten missed.
Taking it on for a season
This is a key element. We, like Laura, stress seasons for things. Look at chores and family responsibilities as a season for your child to learn how to run a household and live with others. Take on a bit at a time and work with them to build their confidence in it, and your trust in them that they can do it. They can manage even the disliked chores for a season, especially if it's a basic life skill they'll have to figure out anyway.
Additionally, breaking things down into little steps so they aren't overwhelming helps them tackle what an overall clean room looks like, simply by breaking it down to one little step at a time.
Preparing future roomates/partners
The importance of this is the fact that most of us will not be living alone our whole lives. Maybe they'll have roomates, or communal living, or a partner or children. How are they going to live with others?
This is your time to help them figure that out. You are their first opportunity to show them what makes a good roommate and what is frustrating. Doing everything for them not only builds resentment in you; it is a disservice to them as they don't recognize the frustration they may be causing for others.
Help them learn how to be good roommates and partners. Help them to see what adds to a place where multiple people live, and what really takes away and can cause conflict and tension.
Making the shift
Start with you. Laura recommends having a "coffee date." Set a time aside for just you (or you and your partner) to really look at what you want to see in your home. What drains you? What is a constant struggle? What do you get the most frustrated with?
When you can identify what gives you a feeling of calm, and what brings you life, the more you can foster that so you truly do pass that energy on to the rest of your family.
It may be that having the living room and kitchen generally cleaned up is enough to keep your sanity. Then look at what roles you'll assign and systems in place to make it happen. Maybe you just make it a part of your nightly habit to "dummy-proof" your morning by prepping your tea/coffee so it's ready to go, and ensuring the kitchen is clear the night before. Maybe you assign a child the job of ensuring the counter is clean and they do a clean-up sweep before every mealtime to ensure you have a clear countertop to work on for making meals.
If you can't identify what joy and feeling refreshed and calm looks like, it's going to be hard to pinpoint when it happens in your home. Get specific on what clean looks like. Get specific on what calm feels like, and when it happens.
Use time as your friend
Timers, alarms, and simply looking at the clock are your friends. These are great for checkpoints. It's not just for your kids - it can be to anchor yourself. Setting an alarm for when people check in on their tasks, switch to new things, etc.
Time is something that impacts us all, and living in "timelessness" does not make you an easy person to navigate around. Time is what helps us coexist with others, with a common theme on when to make things happen so everyone can stay on the same page. It's hard if everyone wakes up at a different time, eats at a different time, etc. So look for common time check-ins where your family does connect, have family meetings, and assess what they are doing as their contribution to the family team.
If you are constantly running out of time or struggling with checkpoints, it's not that you just give up. Practice. Practice, practice, practice. These are daily functions of running a household, and it's doable. So how do you make it doable for your family? Make it easy. Bring in extra support through an older sibling or you walking them through it until they can master it. And keep on trying.
And, the more you practice and implement the responsibility of the family team for everyone to do their part, the more you'll build a precedent of expectation the whole family understands. And if the goal is on the feeling of calm and togetherness that happens when tasks are handled in the home, it's a beautiful thing to see siblings pitching in to help each other for the common good of the household.
A classic example of this in our home is if there are dishes in the sink, Daddy "can't" (aka won't) cook an amazing meal. So we can scream at and pressure one person to clean it up, or we can all jump in and do what needs to be done to stay on top of it. It's pointless to stare at a wall waiting around while one person does something - we all pitch in to make it happen faster. Even if we assign roles, this doesn't negate the bigger responsibility of looking at our overall family success - and that means we all pitch in where needed.
Motivators and Incentives
We all have different things that motivate us and inspire us to move forward. The more you know how to motivate your child, the more likely they are going to hop on board with what you're asking them to do. Here are some key ways to motivate - there may be one or two that really stand out as a way to get your child on board with helping:
- Make it a challenge: some kids love the challenge of being told "I bet you can't", or setting a stopwatch to beat a time. For some kiddos, they will thrive under pressure, so the more you can make it a challenge for them - something complicated, a short time frame, a challenge on their personal best - the better.
- Make it fun: for others, it's all about making it a game! Can you have a race to tackle their chores, or add in some silly music to dance to? Maybe when they mop the floors, it's in wet socks like Pippi Longstocking (I did this one a bunch when they were little).
- Do it together: Sometimes it can be really overwhelming to be given a task and then left on your own to figure it out and assume you'll get it right. Just being willing to walk with them through it, answer their questions, and help them gain the confidence in what they are responsible for can be a huge shift in their willingness to step up and support, or withdraw/avoid/shut down.
- Make it clear: For the kiddo with a million questions, make it black and white and concrete. Here is a step-by-step list with detailed instructions. Or "here, follow me as I tell you what I'm looking for, and you take notes so you have all your questions answered."
And when it comes to incentives, this isn't giving your child a gold sticker because they picked up their clothes and put them away. This isn't extra rewards for common daily living as a family that takes care of one another and the household. The incentive may be the gratitude you give them for helping you out. Or accolades you say for how much you trust them. It may be the time you acknowledge that is free now that the house is clean where you can play tag as a family. Incentives can be time, appreciation, affection and more.
The incentive is the happy home where everyone plays a part, helps each other out, and takes care to create the environment where everyone can thrive.