The following is a true (and slightly hilarious) story that occurred in our home this very morning.
Over these past 4+ years of learning to parent the children and teenagers the Lord has blessed us with, we’ve read many Christian parenting books and sought advice from many trusted people in our attempts to relate to our young ones in a loving yet firm manner.
Our 13-year-old daughter Gleny, whom we are in the process of legally adopting with her two siblings, came into our lives as a rather angry and malnourished 9-year-old. In her tiny body with big, frizzy hair she experienced very intense mood swings and bouts of unexpected screaming and crying during her first couple years with us. We kept praying for her but oftentimes wondered what would become of her if the Lord did not heal her treacherous emotional swings. Although there is still much more work to be done, we have without a doubt seen the Lord calming her wild heart and granting her more peaceful, loving and happy emotions in recent times. She has experienced great advancements – academic, spiritual and developmental – in her nearly-five years in our family, and after great academic struggles in primary school she is now one of the best students in her class of ten 7th-graders in the little high school we operate out of our home. She has been very consistent in her violin lessons for over a year now, and we’re discovering that she’s a talented painter as well. She knows God’s Word and is very quick to engage in meaningful conversation about Him.
Well, all of this to point out the many triumphs in my precious Gleny’s life…but I will now point out a recent struggle and how I am working (with humor and grace) to resolve it.
Although she manages almost without flaw her many homework and group project assignments in our high school, she has not found the technique (or rather, desire) to fulfill her household chores every morning.
In our home we get up at 5:00am as each person gets busy doing the various tasks assigned to them. Darwin goes to milk the cow with two of our kids; our eldest sweeps our home and porch; Jason feeds the cat; I empty all the trash cans and tidy up the living room. Others clean the bathroom; some fold clothes; and so goes the routine.
Our goal is to leave our home clean and tidy before walking out the door and entering a full day of classes and Christian discipleship on our rural property from 6:45am-4:00pm, and on most days we reach this goal pretty darn well. We are a well-oiled machine.
Except for the squeaky parts (and, yes, Gleny is one of them.) On most days I walk on bare feet into the stillness of the room she shares with two of her sisters and quietly stroke her feet or pat her arm as I lovingly wake her up only to pass by again 20 or 30 minutes later to find her sleeping again. Everyone else is on their feet taking a shower, making their bed or going about their daily duties, and I have to call her name loudly just so that she’ll sit up in bed, startled.
Once up, she meanders around our house in a daze for nearly an hour, oftentimes spending an inordinate amount of time making her bed or going to the bathroom. (I suspect she’s taking a nap on the toilet.)
I have tried many techniques to try to rouse her and incite her to fulfill the only chore she has each morning (everyone else has 2-3 chores and they fulfill them without complaint), but I have oftentimes been left frustrated after reminding her two or three times to go do her chore only to find that she never does it.
Well, this morning a new idea occurred to me, and it worked like magic. I pulled back three bedroom door curtains and entered three silent bedrooms to awake 7 sleepy people this morning as usual, and we were off. Little Jason was taking the fruit and vegetable remains from the day prior out to the cows’ stable; Jackeline was washing the dishes; my husband was cleaning our bathroom; I was feeding the dogs.
I passed by Gleny’s room just to make sure she was up, which I suspected she wasn’t. “Gleny!” I called from the other side of the curtain, a good half-hour after having gone to wake her up the first time, and her older sister replied, “She’s not up yet.”
Instead of feeling frustrated with our chronic (but precious) squeaky wheel, I responded joyfully, “Oh, that’s okay. Just let her be!”
I’m sure everyone who heard me was surprised by my response, but I kept on my merry way – look for little Josue’s socks; help him put his shoes on; go get a bar of soap for Jackeline; take my vitamins.
Well, at some point Gleny did get up and asked permission to use our bathroom to take a shower. I felt almost giddy (in a naughty-child type of sense) as I thought I-hope-she-doesn’t-do-her-chore-this-morning. I-hope-she-gives-me-the-chance-to-do-what-I-want-to-do!
6:45am rolled around and all of our local teachers and uniformed students began streaming through our front gate. At this point family time (and house-cleaning time) is over and we enter our sacred daily routine of service to the poor, the proclamation of God’s Word, and humble love to the lost. God has sent several dozen local young people our way who spend the majority of their waking hours under our guidance as we seek to draw them nearer to Christ. We teach the ignorant, encourage the faint of heart, discipline the unruly and include many in this beautiful lifestyle with and for Christ. It is a very good, rich life. We love what we do.
Soon enough I forgot all about Gleny and whether or not she had done her chore of picking up whatever was left laying about in our outdoor washing station.
I began hugging little kids and teenage girls and extending my hand and a warm pat on the back to teen boys. It is our morning routine. I slipped into the office to greet each of our teachers and I watched as little ones began playing on the rope swings dangling from the trees in our yard.
Fifteen minutes or so later – once each group had been tucked away in their respective classrooms – I walked back over to our home (which is about 5-10 paces from our school).
Gleny! I suddenly remembered. I headed for our outdoor washing station (called a ‘pila’ in Spanish) on the edge of our porch where we wash our household’s clothes, shoes and bedding.
Yes! Ah-HAH! My eyes alit with glee as I saw the many rags and tidbits thrown about the washing station. Gleny had not done her job!
I got to work doing the job myself, laughing all the while. I hand-washed a shirt and several underpants and rags that had been left half-washed and sitting in a pan; I collected the long blue rope that was laying haphazardly on the ground; I collected the many shoes that were scattered about; I picked up and re-hung the clothes that had fallen off the line. Perfect.
Upon finishing my job, I headed straight into our little cinderblock home (still laughing to myself) and wrote on our family’s living-room whiteboard the following message that will be read by all later this afternoon once they get out of classes and come streaming into our home:
Blessings to you, Gleny! Don’t worry about the fact that you didn’t clean up the washing station this morning; I took 10-15 minutes to do it once you were in class. Now you can go ahead and cover my job of washing the boys’ clothes this Friday since I did your job this morning. I am available to fulfill your responsibilities when you need help! I love you. –Mom
So I am now at peace and will happily cover her morning duty when she ‘forgets’ to do it – and then she will have to take one of my jobs!
I had instituted this same technique a year ago with another one of our teen daughters with fantastic and rather quick results. One afternoon she did not do some chore of hers, so I switched roles with her (unbeknownst to her) and vegged out in her room watching a movie with one of our other daughters. When she walked in, shocked to find me slouched out on her floor without a care in the world, I informed her, “Oh, I did your chore because you forgot, so now you’ve got to do mine. Normally I make dinner, bathe your little brother, bring in the dry clothes from the line, feed the dogs, supervise all your siblings and help them resolve any conflict they might have. I hope you have a great time, sweetie. Don’t come look for me; I’m enjoying this great movie with your sister.” She was left with her jaw hanging down around her ankles, and sure enough she got busy doing my long list of chores while I enjoyed a very relaxed afternoon and evening. From that day forward, every time she considered not fulfilling her chores I amiably offered to do them for her and she would scream, “No; they’re mine! I’m on it!” because she didn’t want to assume my long list of chores. Score!
This parenting idea and many others can be found in Danny Silk’s phenomenal book Loving Our Kids on Purpose. It sure beats nagging and frustration! (And I certainly hope she neglects the washing station again tomorrow so that I can assign her another one of my jobs!)
God bless you and keep you!