Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Book Review: Cleaning House, by Kay Wills Wyma


How appropriate that when I started listening to the audiobook of Cleaning House, I was taking advantage of my kids' having gone to the pool to properly clean up the living room. It was one of those times where it was just so much easier to do it myself rather than have them do it when they got home.

In my defense, this particular clean-up job came on the heels of the severe end-of-school paper/artwork vomit that had spewed forth from their backpacks for a week straight. If they cleaned up, I knew they would argue for keeping each shred or scrap of their work. If I cleaned up, I would be able to sift through and keep only the very best, without having to defend each decision to each girl.

But the subtitle of Cleaning House is A Mom's Twelve-month Experiment to Rid Her Home of Youth Entitlement. And wow, did I ever want to learn more about that. I am absolutely guilty of "enabling" (the author's term) my kids' occasional attitudes of entitlement. You know, those times where you ask your kid to do x task and she says, "but that's all the way upstaaaaairs! And I don't want to go alllll the way up there and come allllll the way back downstaaaaairs!" The unstated subtext, of course, is, "Mom, you go do it for me."

Ooooooooh, that attitude really gets me. It is a surefire way to me losing my patience almost immediately. And yet, in situations less egregious or obvious than the one above, I give in. I'm pretty sure we all do. Because we're running late and we need to get going, or because standing your ground takes so much energy and you're exhausted, or because you know the kid is just grumpy from a long day or a late night. There's always a reason to give in.

Kay Wills Wyma would have us buck up and treat our kids like the capable human beings they are. This book covers her successes and failures at teaching her kids to tidy their rooms, cook and clean up after meals, do gardening work, clean bathrooms, do laundry, grocery shop and run other errands, and more. This is not an earth-shattering book with careful theories to take notes on and lots of erudite research to sift through. It's just a book about (and written by) a mom who decided to change the way she ran her home. It is clear, honest, insightful, and very relatable, even if the ages of her kids (3-17ish) or the size of her family (five children) don't quite match up with mine.

Furthermore, the lessons she learns are applicable to almost any household situation. There is nothing in this book that a working mom or student mom can't do as well as a SAHM, though some modifications might be required. But actually, modifications of what? Like I said, there is no checklist or method to follow - the book is more about an attitude shift toward the work that needs to be done in the home, rather than a detailed instruction list for how to (as is stated in the title) end youth entitlement.

And my attitude has definitely shifted. I am already asking my kids to do more around the house and take more responsibility for their actions and possessions. Yes, our housekeeper still does all the heavy cleaning but there is plenty left over for the kids to do. For example, I am making a more conscious effort to teach basic cooking skills to Miriam and ask both girls to "help" me in the kitchen even though (who's with me??) it makes more of a mess and takes longer. That alone is a huge step forward for me. In some ways, I feel like we've been running on survival mode for the past 2+ years with me studying for my MA and working part-time. In these busy times, it's usually, "I need to cook dinner right now, and I only have 25 minutes to do it." That doesn't allow for much homey gather-around-the-kitchen-counter learning time for the girls and me. But this book has opened my eyes to smaller ways of teaching, and I'm taking advantage of less-busy times to show the girls how to contribute more and be less reliant on me.

I have other ideas of things to teach them over the next few months and I am - this is so weird - actually excited about it. This book has given me just the kick-start and the energy I needed to really make a change in the expectations I have of my children.

5 comments:

Sarah Familia said...

I feel like my response to child entitlement is spotty at times. Like you said, there are so many reasons it's easier to give in. It always makes me think of Little House on the Prairie and other older books where it's normal for the kids do so much work, and I feel like an incompetent modern parent. So thanks for the review! I just requested the book from my library.

Glenda The Good said...

I think about this topic all the time! I mean all the time. Probably because my house is often a disaster and my children can be crazy demanding :) I feel it is important for them to work in our home but have struggled in deciding how to make that happen. I've tried different chore charts, some that paid some that didn't. Recently I've completely given up on the charts. We now do a small monthly allowance just to teach money management. Cleaning is entirely seperate and for the most part done together, or by request, or when something is wanted. For example...you want to watch TV, Is you bed made? Is your floor picked up? Do you have shoes laying around anywhere? Once a week we do a cleanathon and get all the bathrooms, vacuuming, mopping, and scrubbing done. We go from room to room working together. Each person picks a chore and we get to it. Mom does some instruction. It can be exhaustively slow and try my patience but like the author I'm trying to let the kids learn how to do things. Picking up happens more randomly. Maybe I'm making dinner and I say to the kids, "If you can get the living room and family rooms picked up in five minutes I'll tell you a secret or I have a special treat for you." Examples of secrets, "I love you." "Your dad is ticklish on his feet." "There are M & M's hidden on the fridge". Examples of treats. A cookie or Popsicle outside. It can be a lot of work teaching your kids to work but it is worth it right, after all we are making people here ;)

Susanne said...

Maybe do a follow-up to this sometime and let us know what you are teaching your girls and how it's going. I enjoyed the review - thank you!

Alyson Poundstone said...

I just listened to the audiobook too! I liked it and want to try some of her ideas too.

Liz Johnson said...

Sweet! And available on Kindle at my library, which is a requirement these days (ha).

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