Thursday, June 22, 2017

Lessons in Home Management

Job Title: Mom
Shift: 24/7
Most Active Hours: 7am-9pm
Duration: 18+ years for initial training, ongoing triage and supportive care availability for eternity.

Description: Growing and training of children: including, but not limited to daily nutritional provision and functional mortal maintenance, teaching basic life skills and body movement (gross and fine motor), speech development, attitude and behavior modeling, essential gospel teaching, principle understanding, and spiritual maintenance, world awareness, and positive social involvement and interaction training.

Additional Duties: Upkeep of home and surrounding yard, including plants and animals. Weekly food acquisition and preparation, including daily meals. Coordinating schedules and support of home members. Organization, sanitization, and general cleaning of various rooms and family equipment (ie: toilet, bathtub, sinks, mirrors, windows, oven, stove, microwave, sink, dishes, floors, counters, etc.)

Back-up and shift coverage may be requested when necessary.

Expected days off: Never*
*Minor breaks can and will be provided--typically not exceeding more than 5 hours in one day, or 3 days in one month. Vacation events and illness may necessitate exceptions with added assistance from family members and friends. 



I have maintained the belief for a long time that having great managerial and business skills is just as important inside the home as out. I find that many don't make this connection and generally consider these realms to be completely separate. But I've learned, and seen it proven, that if you can lead a team of employees, you can lead your home team as well. I mean, we've heard that positive feedback, the sandwich method for constructive criticism, and building unity and reward systems are some of the best ways to get your team to work at a maximum level on the job, but people are people! (tiny or grown) and if you want success at home, you run it like you would a great business. (but with more hugs and feelings)

The trouble is that when you go to a job--even a full time one--you can fake it for a few hours. You can hold a lid on the rage-meter and keep from screaming and yelling at your coworkers. Some people can't even make it that long... But in general you have adults interacting and hopefully understanding that they are there for work; trading time for money. When you're with your home team it's a constant dance of motivation and coercion, all-day-every-day, without lunch breaks, shift ends, or full days off. Plus your team members have not yet learned emotional control, the nuance of tact, or the skills to even open a banana for themselves.

I LOVE my job, but I'm not always very good at it. Parenting is one of those "sink or swim"/"throw you into the fire" kinds of jobs. There isn't a whole lot of training (although you can take some theory courses and read basic instruction manuals beforehand). Practical application comes when you hit the ground, and then never stops. It's one of those really cool, bizarre, and super stressful experiences that comes with mortal life.

Thankfully most children start off sleepy as newborns, and then day-by-day add in new skills and talents (like being able to silently sneak into the pantry, climb up to a shelf to get the tub of brown sugar, and then hide behind the couch eating it with a spoon while you're just trying to take a pee.) << True story. That happened this week. The younger ones learn advanced skills from their elder counterparts, so you can expect more tomfoolery in advanced stages as the volume of your team increases over the years.

Yes, I could spin this around into how much I adore my children and how lovely it is to be a parent and how I wouldn't trade it for the world (because those things are all true!) but that is not the point of this post. ;) What I really wanted to document is how my perspective on running and maintaining a home is growing, and what we do that works, and doesn't work. Hopefully a) to look back on this in years to come and see how much we have improved, and b) so that I can pass along some ideas to others who might be interested. Every home situation is different, every family operates differently. I mean, the needs of a hardware store are not going to be the same as a cupcake shop. Every family team has different goals, different levels of income, therefore differing in building layouts, management intensity, and budgeting needs.

I'm not an expert. But I do know that I can always keep learning, and there is a lot that you just learn on-the-job as you go along. Many ideas I get from other moms and dads: observing what works and what doesn't, seeing ideas online, people giving us suggestions, although trial-and-error seems to be the number 1 guide to what really works for our team. Here are some of the best things I've learned so far.

Lesson No. 1

Kids can sense stress and (just like all people) they feed off the leader's emotions and model the behavior they see and feel.

The biggest and most important thing I've learned so far about home management is the importance of taking care of myself. It's like when you're in an airplane and they tell you to put on your own oxygen mask before your child's; it's not because you're selfish, it's because to really be available to care for others, you need to make sure you have your life in order--otherwise both of you can suffer.

If I'm not getting enough sleep, feeding myself good food, and getting showered on a regular basis, I get hangry, stressed, cranky, and feel gross. It makes me feel less happy and energized to take on the kid's challenges and help model patient behavior and dissuade their tantrums. I have learned especially over the last year that there are things that help me function at a way higher level, and it's not SELFISH, it's SELF-CARE. I exercise more, practice yoga regularly, try to get out of the house so that I don't feel stuck inside and get cabin fever. I *try* to keep a regular sleep routine of 10pm-7am. I've also learned that I need to wake up and get myself started for the day before the kids wake up. Otherwise it's like the roller coaster is off and away before you've fully sat down and gotten buckled. No bueno.

Long story short, I am doing a few more things for me and owning that these things are important. It's great to be defined as a mom; it's the crown and the children are the jewels. :) But there is still a divine daughter of God underneath the crown, and it's not going to work for anybody if she is forgotten in the work of polishing the gold.

I've also learned how to be more realistic about our time. It takes us at LEAST 45 minutes to get out the door for anything. Between going potty, getting shoes on, stocking the diaper bag with snacks, water bottles, clean change of clothes, diapers, wipes, tissues, sunscreen (and anything else that we may need), plus gathering the keys, possibly a grocery list, shopping bags, books to read, and any last minute tasks, just going somewhere can feel like a chore. Then you have to keep everyone focused on the walk from the door to the car, and hope it doesn't take 15 minutes to get everyone cooperatively in their seats and buckled.

When I even think that we might possibly be going somewhere that day, I try to get snacks and the diaper bag packing done around breakfast. Then I get myself totally ready and my own things gathered before I even mention to the kids that they need to get dressed. This way I can focus all my attention on them. I start getting us ready an hour before I actually think I need to, and that way if anything slows us down, we have a buffer time built in. Those days have gone a million times better when I can let the kids get themselves independently buckled into their carseats, and I have room to slow down and eat a snack before we drive off. The more prepared I am, the better the day goes, and EVERYONE is happier :)

Lesson No. 2

Just like any great business, team morale needs to be boosted and maintained. This is something we are currently struggling with. But, I work hard to do fun things and keep us balanced with activities during the week. For instance, last Saturday we took a family trip to the Jelly Belly factory on Jon's day off work! Mini day trips are better for us right now than huge vacations. It breaks up the month in a nice way.

I also try to keep things fun around the house and work on new projects, whether it's sprucing up the kid's room, or hanging new artwork, there is something nice about coming home and feeling like it's cozy and personal. :)

We started teaching the kids the articles of faith during Family Home Evenings, and I felt like it would be best to have a laminated picture illustrating each one that we could hang up. We wanted to put them on one of our living room walls where the kids would be reminded of it, and also so we could review them again throughout the week. When I couldn't find anything I liked online, I decided to draw my own. It's been really fun for me to make some drawing time, and the kids get excited now to see which one comes next!

The kids really love to help with this stuff too. I enjoy incorporating them into helping around the home, because it's teaching them the value of taking ownership and making it personal:

It's like when the kids spend their time and creativity building a Lego castle, and then someone comes to knock it over. They get so upset because the Lego castle was their creation! It's always easier and more fun to take care of something when you've worked hard for it.

Lesson No. 3

One of the best things we have implemented over the past 12 years has been meal planning. This is a multi-layered system of communication and prep work. And it didn't happen overnight! In fact, it is still growing and only in its intermediate stages. I have some great plans for our meal planning in the coming year. :)

Years ago we started with the typical paper and pen grocery list and tried to think of ideas together at the beginning of the week for what we wanted to eat, and then grocery shopped based on what we already had in the house, so that we could keep the trips to the grocery store down to once a week. (Jon being in college and me working two jobs meant that our chores needed to be kept at a minimum. Plus we liked grocery shopping together, so we always made it a once-a-week event.) Ah, I remember the days back in Provo when we would walk together to Smith's and then carry all our bags home in the evening snow. :) Gradually our needs changed, and we developed better systems and ideas for maximizing grocery shopping efficiency. A lot of the changes had to do with dietary needs and exclusions, and also learning more about nutrition, balance, and food storage. I also got tired of forgetting things at the store, or not being thorough enough that I had to run back again during the week just to make dinners. Also, losing my lists, or just not checking everything in the pantry to make sure we had lunches and breakfasts for the week. Meal planning is not just for dinners! Now it has evolved into this:

A laminated grocery list on the left is color coded into sections of the grocery store: Produce, Dairy, Bulk, Canned Foods, Packaged Foods, Frozen Foods, Cleaning, Paper Goods, etc. We mainly shop at WinCo, so the consistency has worked out well. We use the wet-erase Vis-a-vis markers to check things off the list each week. This is SO handy because it has everything we regularly buy in a typical month. For instance, I can run down the produce list and find suggestions that I may not have thought of to check on my own. "Oh yeah, we need zucchini this week!" It also prompts me to check each drawer in the fridge and each shelf in the pantry so that we don't accidentally run out of beans, or think we have an avocado when we actually used the last of it with breakfast. I rarely come home after grocery shopping and realize that I missed something that I should have added to the list. Paper also isn't wasted because we just erase the marker each week and start over. win-win-win!

On the right is a laminated meal plan for dinners of the week. This full-size sheet is relatively new. We have always listed out weekly dinners, but now this list is more clear and has more options. That way everyone knows what the plan is for dinner, and that these dinner choices will have all the necessary ingredients available at any given time that week. Part of this has been because we have 5 adults living in our house, all with different schedules. It is so much nicer to know what to expect rather than getting to 6pm and wondering what we can scramble together.

Lesson No. 4

Another thing we're working on is our daily homeschool chart.

I'll be honest: we're not using this yet as much as I thought we would. I feel like the majority of my day is just trying to make food, clean it up, keep the kids from fighting, and get a shower or bath done here and there.

This is something I've already learned, but seem to keep needing reminders of: you can't do EVERYTHING well. Either you're going to get a sewing project done, or you're going to have a great well-rounded learning day. You can't do both. You're either going to have an awesome day of bonding with your kids, or you're going to be personally productive and the kids will be cranky and/or watching a movie. If the kids are helping, your day is going to run a little slower, (and might feel way more rewarding!) but something has to be sacrificed. And that's ok! Priorities are huge.

Every day I consider what my priority is, and then I own it. For instance, I really need a project to get done that I'm getting paid for, so that day the kids are going to be playing on their own a little more, and I probably won't get the bathroom cleaned or the dishes done. Other days I put off the budget and organizing my room and instead we go to the park and meet up with great friends for a few hours and then work on craft projects.

All can be great days! But no individual day can include everything done at 100%.

It's really easy to look at my to-do list and feel disappointed about all the things that didn't get crossed off. But instead I'm trying to look at what I DID accomplish and be proud of myself for that! Every day that I can get out of bed and hug my children is a great day. :)

Lesson No. 5

What works for us right now will change in a month, in a week, or even sooner! Being adaptable and willing to adjust is a skill that I'm still working on. Once I get a system working pretty well, I find new ideas, encounter new challenges, or just have to throw it out all together and start over. Everything is a constant work-in-progress. But I'm finding that is an eternal lesson. Sometimes it's frustrating to feel like things won't just stay working well for a few weeks, months, or years; we update our grocery list flow and dinner system every 6 months or so, the budget gets updated and new savings goals are set every month, or we might get all organized and moved in to a home over the process of a year or two, and then have to find a new place to live again. But the more willing I am to embrace the change and look at it as an exciting opportunity to family growth, the more positive it is for everyone in our team.

Being a family co-leader is hard work. Sometimes there are many co-leaders around to help, and sometimes I'm flying a little more solo. But the biggest tool of all is communication. The better everyone understands what the goals are, the greater the family team can work.

I'm reminded constantly by the spirit of Elder Ballard's talk from the April 2016 General Conference on family councils. Jon and I have tried to work more regularly on our own councils together (check-in time, couple's inventory, whatever you want to call it) and it's not always consistent or easy. We're also trying to pray together a lot more with the kids, and especially as they are getting older I incorporate them into making our to-do list for the day and sharing their ideas for family plans.

Elder Ballard says, "Combined with prayer, a family council will invite the presence of the Savior, as He promised: “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18:20) Inviting the Spirit of the Lord to be part of your family council brings blessings beyond description."

I think we could all use more of the peaceful Spirit of the Lord in our family home management! Family councils are such a great way to make sure everyone is communicated with and on the same page. Just like a department conference or weekly team meeting at work, a regular team briefing at home can give everyone a chance to voice concerns, make suggestions, and be heard. This is a skill that I'm hoping we can continue to improve on throughout the rest of this year to really strengthen our family and make us more adaptable.


I am sure there are many more lessons ahead, but I am thankful that I can take the time to recognize what I have been learning so far. Parenthood is definitely the greatest work in the Universe.

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