>>So… 5 kids, oldest is almost 7 and youngest is 4 months. Trying very hard to homeschool. My resources are extremely limited, from finances to actual help from other people, included family. I spoke to a friend last Thursday who called me out of the blue to see how I was doing. She asked if I had cleaning help, I told her no, (I’ve had cleaning help on and off since my 3rd was 6 months old, depending on finances). Friday she sent me cleaning help as a gift for having my baby. I was so grateful that I was in tears when they came. I was sick most of last week and I know it’s from over-exertion and stress. I was so extremely thankful for the cleaning help, it’s truly what i needed to enter shabbos with a clear mind. This friend, also while doing something very generous for me, also made me feel quite guilty for not having cleaning help and the consequences it will have on my kids for not getting help(like having this stressed out mommy who is always trying to clean and do everything else, expecting the kids to help beyond what they’re capable of). I told her it’s not my thing to live so above my means and I can’t justify paying for it when I have debts and trying to budget for necessities (we do the best we can). She then told me that cleaning help is a necessity, that it should be up there with food and a home.
I know there is no right or wrong way, but choosing a way that works best for us. And I’m not asking you if I should or shouldn’t spend the money on cleaning help, that decision is up to me and my husband. But I was hoping you could give me some guidance.<<
I can relate to the many demands you’re feeling: a number of young children who are home all day, the responsibility of homeschooling, a husband who is away for work a lot and consequently not very available to help out and no extra money to ease the situation. This is exactly my situation for a long time.
As anyone who’s been reading for long enough knows, I think it’s really important that kids learn to help out. The house isn’t just the mother’s responsibility; everyone lives in it and everyone should be contributing something. That means teaching your kids to help out, and this itself is a job. My dd15 took over running the house while Yirmiyahu was in the NICU, and she told me then that when she was younger and I told her she needed to help with chores not because it was easier for me but because it was important for her she didn’t believe me at all. Then she tried to get the younger kids to help out, experienced firsthand spending a long time getting a younger child to do a job that would literally take her two minutes, and suddenly understood what I told her all those years before. In the short term it takes a lot of time and energy to teach your kids to help. It’s mostly in the long run that you see the payoff.
Having said that, even if your kids are helpful, we have to be realistic about how much to ask of them. With your kids the ages they are, you’re at the very beginning of the path of teaching them; they aren’t able to help significantly and you’re going to have a lot of mess. That means we have to have a reasonable expectation of what our home is going to look like. Dr. Sarah Chana Radcliffe once wrote (quoting by memory so this isn’t exact), “There are very few women who can balance ‘clean and shiny’ with ‘scream and whiny’!” and I agree with this. I like a really clean home. But I know that I can’t have that level of clean without being a lot more demanding of my family and myself. I can’t have my kids home all day and be a reasonably pleasant mother and also keep everything looking as if no one lives here. It’s just not going to happen unless I decide that a clean house is a top priority – which it isn’t. My kids and husband are my top priority.
It’s a problem – our culture paints pictures of what a home should look like that are simply not realistic for the vast majority of people, and then we stress out and feel inadequate because we can’t meet that picture. It’s like pictures of models that have been airbrushed and then women compare themselves to them- even the models don’t look like their pictures so why should anyone be trying to meet a standard that doesn’t exist in real life? Similarly, it’s unlikely that most people homeschooling five kids under the age of 7 have a sparkling house without cleaning help. Actually, when I spoke to a good friend about this several years ago, she provided a reality check and said told me she doesn’t know anyone who isn’t homeschooling who has that ‘magazine’ clean without cleaning help!
An older friend who is no longer alive and was herself the mother of ten children once said to me, “Avivah, a factory that is in operation is going to be a mess. When a factory is clean, it’s not in business.” I took my kids to the Herrs’ potato chip factory a couple of times and though it seems so much is automated that a mess can’t happen, we saw a couple of large spills of chips in different sections of the factory – even factories with all their machinery and automation and paid workers can’t make it look sterile and perfect all the time. Her point was that our homes are in use and constant messes are just par for the course, and this is not only tolerable but something beautiful – our kids are living here! We’re doing things with them! They feel safe enough to make messes!
One time I hosted a women’s event at my home and several women were commenting, “Your house is so spotless, it’s so quiet, how did you get your kids to sleep?” I laughed and told them, of course it’s neat, it’s the end of the day and I knew people were coming so we cleaned up and got everyone to bed earlier than usual! I assured them that two hours before that it looked quite different! Isn’t it strange how we know what we have to do to make our house look good and that sometimes we scramble to pull it off, but assume when we go to someone else’s house that she did it effortlessly and it always looks like that?
People are very different in their needs and how they deal with not having things the way they want them to be. I never had cleaning help and worked on having realistic expectations of myself and my kids, in addition to having systems in place to make things run as smoothly as possible (ie meal plans, chore charts, daily schedules). I have a good friend who is in a financially tight situation who said she considers cleaning help critical and is sorry she didn’t get this help years ago. For myself I have a really hard time putting cleaning help up there as a necessity along with food and a place to live but for some people that’s what they need. I have a strong value for staying out of debt and living within my means and it would be really hard for me to say, “I don’t have the money for this but I’m doing it anyway.” If it was enough of a value for me I’d have found a way, just as my friend did.
So to sum up – I agree with your friend that being tense and expecting too much of your kids isn’t healthy. Getting cleaning help is one way to address that. But it’s not the only way. Another is to let go of the tension and expectations. Streamline what really needs to be done for the house to look reasonable – 80% of the cleanliness of your home will come from 20% of your efforts, so identify what the 20% effort you need to make is and focus on that. For me it means clearing surfaces (this includes dishes) and and the floor – the little cluttery things build up and make everything look messy, so I try to keep that at bay. An example of this approach for me is that I sweep several times a day to keep the floor clear but I only mop once a week (I spot clean if there’s a messy spill) – the extra level of shine is nice for Shabbos but doesn’t dramatically affect the look of the house on a daily basis.
Take the same approach to determining how to spend your effort homeschooling – you can easily get overwhelmed by all the subjects you think you need to cover, projects or trips you need to do – but 80% of your results are going to come from 20% of your efforts. This is why I put my energies toward teaching the basics – the three Rs – and teaching my kids to become independent learners. When you have extra time, then you can start doing the things that take 80 percent of your energy and only give you 20% of your results.
Let go of unrealistic expectations and do what you need to do to show yourself the love and care you deserve. This may be getting cleaning help, it may be repaying debt…only you can know what’s right for you. And remember – it does get easier as the kids get older!