Sunday, March 1, 2009

Clueless or Creative: Continued

Excited by the success of “On the Rug”, I contemplated another parenting challenge, an even bigger one: CHORES. As much as I disliked the role of referee, I hated playing commandant even more. Short of Captain Von Trapp’s whistle, I had tried just about everything known to mom to get my kids to do their chores, to do them well, and to do them on time (which in mommy-tongue means: when I wanted it done.) It was going to take a HUGE “burst” of inventiveness to construct a solution...but I knew I could, using the “creativity” formula I’d discovered. (See post “Clueless or Creative”)

The problem: Kiddos' chores undone.
The truth: Children need to grow into capable, responsible adults.
The beauty: They DO grow into capable, responsible adults.

On paper, the creative connection between this "truth" and this "beauty" was the Grand Canyon. I didn’t even know where to begin. Inspired by Janice Kapp Perry (prolific LDS songwriter) who says that she gets her ideas from first, praying, and second, engaging in a mindless activity; I knelt down and asked for help, and then---did my kid’s chores.

They were definitely mindless: shining the mirror, sweeping the entryway, dusting the living room. And right in the middle of a squirt of Clorox into the toilet – sure enough, a hint of an idea bubbled up. I hurried to my files in the office and shuffled through the indexed folders.

At last I found it, a newspaper article I’d clipped some time ago, detailing a study of children who were given a complicated task to complete, Researchers saw two very different reactions from their participants. Some of the kids just starred at the task, either daunted or uninterested, saying, “I’m not good at that” and went no further. Other children however, proactively analyzed the task, asked questions, and triumphantly, if not predictably, solved the problem.

I had archived that bit of news because I knew as soon as I read it that I wanted my kids to fit into the second bunch. The refrain, “I’m not good at math…” or “I can’t do a cartwheel…” became clarion calls to me: “Mother –" they said – “teach your children they can learn ANYthing with instruction, time, patience and practice.”

I had a GREAT opportunity to kill a whole flock of birds with one stone: chores could be done, done well, and done on time WHILE my kiddos were assimilating a lot of character. Instead of looking at chores as an unpleasant or annoying assignment, or worse, cruel and unusual punishment –

we would view chores as an opportunity to learn and become really accomplished at something of worth.

With my creative river running like springtime, it was easy now to draft up a document that we continued to use every Saturday all the way into the kids’ young adulthood (we just made LOTS of copies.) It looked like this:

1. Chore ___Student Apprentice Professional Expert Teacher
2. Chore___Student Apprentice Professional Expert Teacher
3. Chore___
Student Apprentice Professional Expert Teacher
4. Chore___Student Apprentice Professional Expert

Here’s how it worked…

I wrote out a chore list for each kid. The worker-bees understood that the list had to be completed THAT day, however, they also knew they could decide when and in what order. Remarkably, this blend of expectation, agency, and trust bred far more self-determination than all my nagging ever had. The chores were usually finished by lunch. That’s Part I of the scheme.

Part II (their favorite part) was about the “ratings”. When each chore was completed, I and the worker-bee would decide which rating the job fit under. For instance, if the child watched ME scrub the toilet as I explained the ins and outs of the job (no pun intended), he/she was, for that day, a “STUDENT”.

If, on the other hand, it was me who watched the CHILD scrub the toilet, offering helpful suggestions as needed, then, for that job that day, he/she was an “APPRENTICE”.

When the child eventually got to the point where he/she could do the job as well as Mom without any assistance whatsoever, he/she was a “PROFESSIONAL” (this was a BIG day). But if the child eventually took the initiative to go one step further, and experimented with ways of doing the job even better than Mom, he/she was an “EXPERT”.

Lastly, and ultimately, if our worker-bee had been something of an “EXPERT” or “PROFESSIONAL” for a while, he/she had the prerogative of “graduating” from that particular assignment; passing it onto a sibling by becoming their “TEACHER” (the sibling the “STUDENT”). I wanted the kids to assimilate my conviction that sharing your experience and knowledge with others so they can achieve, was the highest and noblest of the rankings.

I do not discount the effectiveness of paying kids for chores. I know it works well in some families. But our kids never received anything for their labors but a sense of accomplishment which came from a sense of ownership.

This approach pleased not only our own children, but their friends as well. The worker-bees often had visiting bees from other hives at their side, finishing things off even sooner. By the time they were teenagers, it was a piece of cake to round up the usual suspects for a yard project.

Of course the idea of progressive attainment as it pertains to the gospel, isn’t new to any of us:

D&C 50:24: …he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day.

2 Nephi 28:30: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little...

D&C 93:13: And he received not of the fulness at first, but continued from grace to grace, until he received a fulness...

I realize in retrospect that the ideas which "stuck"--the ones our family used for years and years because they worked--were patterned after “heavenly” parenting, or parenting after the manner of heaven. In the book Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, the authors captured this whole concept with: “You want to invent new ideas, not new rules.”

Keep your creative parenting ideas rolling in! Read the comments from last week’s post to be edified and entertained by moms and dads. (Anyone can comment, or email me -- you don’t have to be a follower! And if you're new to commenting, check the box next to "Email me follow-up comments" - its fun.)

Watch this: One minute = biiiiig smile!


Elisabeth said...

Wonderful post! While my first thought is that those ideas are too advanced for my 2 and 3 year old girls, I know that they are not. If I start early it will be easier as they progress and get older. And I know they will feel more joy and satisfaction as they learn and gain confidence in the things they can do and accomplish. Thanks for the ideas. I am going to start implementing them tomorrow!

Mona said...

Wow! I think overall adults underestimate what even the littlest people can assimilate. They could, for example, learn any number of languages they were presented with in the home (if native speakers were around) AND keep them all straight in their heads. They can do LOTS more than we give them credit for - PLUS they are that much more willing when that much more tiny. Good luck! Return and report!

Grant said...
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Grant said...

For those who don't know me, I'm the son this wonderful woman Mona, and I can "testify" that the chore list idea really worked. I came to love it in fact. On my mission to Japan, I used a very similar system as our family's chore system to help my newbie companion learn to teach the missionary lessons in Japanese. He loved the feeling of moving up in his skill level in teaching the lessons and passing them off to me. He learned the language faster than any missionary I had seen.

I think that the effectiveness of these kinds of systems do not lie in the system themselves, but in the principles behind them of accountability, progression, accomplishment, etc... That's the beauty of it all! As long as we understand the principles, we can just be creative from then on using them as the base of our "creations".

Thanks for reading. Love you Mom!!!

Grant said...

Oh, and by the way... that's one of the best videos I've ever seen. It's the horn music in the background that makes it. So perfect!

Mona said...

Oh Grant-o! I agree! I LOVE the horn!

Mona said...

It's clearly because they see that MAMA enjoys housework and because they love you so much they WANT to be with you and do what you do. I believe that is why we all chose Father's Plan, because we so loved him, we wanted to emulate him and help in his work. Good job Mommy!

pcNut said...

Along the lines of other parenting ideas…

Ten years ago I took a child development class at BYU. The professor taught a principle I never forgot. He shared a frustrating experience his wife had at the grocery store with their four little children (sound familiar to anyone?). He suggested to his wife that they take a practice run to the store without purchasing anything. The wife later talked with her little ones about what she expected, what would happen, and then executed the plan. Due to their success, they went home and celebrated afterwards. It never occurred to me what kind of effect communicating expectations and “practicing” could have on children.

That same professor went on to describe the night one of his daughters went on her first date. They discussed the desire to share a relationship of trust rather than one of rules and off she went only to arrive home late. When she walked in the door, her father greeted her with a request. Due to her tardiness, she was to get another date for the very next night and “practice” coming home on time. She came home earlier than expected.

Applying that to my life a decade later, I have thought about the idea of having a special family home evening where we talk about reverence, dress our little ones, and go to the church house to “practice” what is appropriate for the chapel on Sundays. Our oldest is three and a half with his younger brother only nineteen months. I can see it being a lesson we may repeat, but we’re “practicing.”

Mona said...

WOWOWOWOWOWOW. What a fantabulous idea! Just a little effort - proactive effort - saves us and our children from so much frustration and aggravation...we can apply this principle to almost anything!!! Let us know how it goes PLEASE!

In The Doghouse said...

What great ideas. Certainly creative parenting is the only way to survive! lol Thanks for the awesome post!

Ashlee said...

I'm new to your blog, but I will definitely stick around! I REALLY enjoyed your post and will remember it for when my kids are older. I just have one now and one on the way, and my little 21 month old guy now LOVES to help me. It's hard at times, when I just want to get it done, but I remember that if I brush him off now it'll be more of a fight later, so I patiently teach and work with him. I told my husband that is why I want a lot of help do the chores!=)..but I remember too, when my mother would jump in and help us do the chores, we would see her in action and it didn't seem so bad! Thanks again for the post!

Mona said...

I'm so tickled you've joined Mona's Musings! It is my great pleasure to offer the 2 CD set of "With Mine Own Hand: The Musical Account of Nephi" to new followers. All I need is a mailing address which you can email to:
Thank you for your comment and I look forward to getting to know you better -- as do all of us -- through your comments!!!!

Trina said...

I love this blog. I read a couple of your entries. I'm going to try a chore chart or idea like this. I think this would've worked years ago. I can't imagine my 17 year old sitting down together with someone he's mad at if I told him to. Maybe I'll try it any way. Heaven knows we need this. It could work on the rest of them if nothing else. I somehow missed that I have the power to be creative. I've prayed for two years (literally) for answers to this contention problem. We really didn't have problems before that.

Lois Brown said...

Wow, I can't believe I finally found you know how many christmases I wished for an address to send you a letter and to keep in touch! I saw your play on BYU TV....awesome! I can't believe you have married children and I still don't I do worry it will never happen. Allison is at BYU majoring in music theatre btw! I'm so gald to have your blog to follow now and keep up with what is going on in your life again! I miss you....Ashlee who told me about this really great blog is one of my past seminary students...RM, married in the Temple making all really good choices in her life and having her second child! She is such an amazing girl/woman now I guess I can't call her a girl any longer! Please keep in touch. I would love to hear about who and when your kids got married, do you have a grandchild/children...I really will be jealous of is ashlee? Is she well? Aileen really helped me not feel the empty-nest...what a blessing for me!

Boy have I missed you and love you! You are in my presonal history by the way...and it is all written and current and none of my children or husband will read it...isn't that funny!

Is this blog about your family? or is there another place for that? you look great!

Elisabeth said...

Oh my goodness! I just found this video on youtube by Elder Uchtdorf that goes PERFECTLY with your last two posts. You must see it!

I did not know the church has a youtube channel until I saw it on today. I made it a favorite so I can check it often. Here is the link to the channel

Sara Lyn said...

I agree that little children can learn a lot more than we give them credit for. For example, agency. Someone said something which I don't actually remember, but a concept stuck with me and that is to teach children to use their agency wisely by giving them choices from the beginning. So I stopped asking questions like, "Are you ready for lunch now?" when I was ready to feed whatever child I was watching lunch. I would ask, "Do you want a sandwich or macaroni and cheese?" (or whatever.) Instead of asking if they wanted to go outside when it was time to leave, I ask, "Do you want to wear sandals or shoes?" They have lots of practice choosing even when they don't have a choice about other things. (I don't know if this is coming out well.)

The other "creative" idea I had actually came from my sister-in-law. When her kids were grumpy, she would ask if all their "happy energy" was gone and if it was, they would have to go lay down until they got some more. My niece once tearfully said to me, "I need a nap! I don't have any happy energy." I've found this to be very effective in dealing with upset children. They put less of a fight up to lay down because they're not being "punished" by being sent to bed, but just helped in getting more energy to be happy.

Mona said...

Writing you all from Provo where I'm visiting my BYU kiddos this week!

Trina! Welcome to Mona's Musings! Hope you'll hop on as a follower and I'll send you a CD set of With Mine Own Hand.

And LOIS -- this is too remarkable! To find each other after 16 years! The remarkable part is that you've been popping into my brain off and on for the past two weeks!!!!!!!!

Elisabeth -- I'll watch the video today! Thank you so much for being on your toes...and NO! I didn't know of the LDS You Tube!!!

SaraLyn -- What GREAT ideas and sooooooo true. Every word. I LOVE the "happy energy" idea. That's tops.

I love you all so much,


pcNut said...

Aunt Mona,
I was just curious how you handled cyclical moments where the chore chart or other creative parenting skills kind of wore off for a bit? Just wondering.
Love you

Mona said...

You know what PC? I wouldn't say they "wore off" -- just "wore IN" meaning, the behaviors and attitudes they were supposed to teach became habitual - part of the kids' make-up -- which is the whole point. Both of those tactics modified with teen years - but we still said, "On the rug"" and knew what it MEANT without getting ON THE RUG. And the chore chart was used right up until Grant left on his mission. It was just too practical. The only difference is that they "rated" themselves. I'm sure many an idea will eventually lose its usefulness and run its course, but that is WHY we need to stay close to the Spirit and dedicated to creativity!!

pcNut said...

Thank you Aunt Mona! :)

DeNae said...

The best thing about this MMB nomination thing is that I found your blog, Mona. My kids aren't little any more, but they're all still home (until fall, when I'll have 2 away at school and 2 at home) but I can see already this is a great resource for moms like me.

My blog is silly and goofy; this is substantive and helpful. And as you can well attest, this parenting gig doesn't get easier when they're finally out of diapers!

So sign me up as a follower. Great to meet you.

~DeNae (The Backordered Life gal)

Mona said...

DaNae!!!! Welcome! I'm just so thrilled to have you join us. I hope you'll get involved in our discussions each week. Your "experience" (I did NOT say AGE) can give my younger mom-friends who frequent this blog, desired perspective.

Mona said...
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Mona said...
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Mona said...

Hey! PC! Do you remember saying to me once, "Your solution for everything is: TAKE A NAP!"

Sara Lyn's comment is right on the money -- for moms as well as kids!!!

Larsen's said...

I am really inspired by you. Lately, my kids have been asking for chores. I kept thinking that they were still too young for chores, except for picking up their toys. I just had my forth baby in Dec and while in the hospital grandma watched the kids. I got home and the house looked great. Grandma said that she had the kids, ages 6,4,and 2 do most of the work. She had them Vacuuming,Where I thought they weren't strong enough to do, and cleaning out the kitty litter. Wow! Did I have an eye opener. My babies could do more than I thought. So, My husband and I have been thinking about how to get started on a chores chart or something like that. I love the ideas you have. I am going to start asap.
Also, on the kids fighting! lol
We have had many FHE's on loving each other and telling them that when they fight it makes mom and dad sad. I LOVE the idea of the rug! I think that I will go shopping to find a great rug similar to yours! We will try anything! My husbands mother use to make the kids stand together and sing "Love at Home" I have even thought of trying this.
I loved your thoughts on being creative. As a child your imagination is so great and the creativity flows. What happens as we get older? I miss the creativity and didn't even know that I had stopped being that creative until I started to watch my kids and their imaginations when they play. I feel like I had to relearn how to be creative and to use my imagination for just playing with the kids. I just loved your thoughts on creativity and I agree with you, we need to work on it. I am trying to be more creative and not just in playing but with everything. Thank you for teaching me that I could be creative with just more than playing with the kids.

InkMom said...

I'm going to bookmark this post. I'm serious.

Mona said...

Welcome Inkmom!

And Crazy Larsens! Being playful with your kids is something I wish I'd done more of. Hurray for you! Applying your creativity to all aspects of mothering shouldn't be so hard for least your imagination gets a workout now and then! Return and report on your experiments with "On the Rug" -- I'd love to see a picture of the rug itself!

Pistolmom said...

pcNut said...

Dear Aunt Mona,
To this day I still feel my best self when I am well rested:) I'm happier, more in tune, and, at this point, have an easier time keeping on top of all the emotional break downs that happen around here.

I hope I wasn't rude when I said that awhile ago! It's probably one of the greatest mottos in my life however; a lot of problems can be solved with a good nap. (Can apply to multiple parties:).

Thanks for remembering me and teaching me that:)!!!

p.s. I remember Sara Lyn's mom telling me NOT to feel guilty taking naps as a young mother--being a mother of eight herself. That was a little difficult at first, but quite valuable with two children and with more, even more valuable I'm sure:)

Kristy Lynne said...


Sara Lyn told me you were amazing. You want to know what? You're brilliant. I've never seen a chore plan this effective!

(Sara Lyn, it's nice to know that "two choices you are okay with" has made a difference.)

Mona said...

Kristy Lynne,

As Joseph said (paraphrased): I am smarter than all the books in the world, or the Holy Ghost is anyhow, and I will associate myself with Him.

Mona said...

Check this out!