Thursday, January 27, 2011

Doing the Dishes: A system developed over the years

Assigning meal cleanup was a challenge I worked out over the last few years.  The increasing ages of the kids helped solve it, too.  When we first moved into our house, and the kitchen was so much bigger and more of a project than what we'd had before, I had the idyllic vision that they could all work together to make light work of each meal.  Cooperation.  Strategy.  Everyone glad to do their share.  A good look around before everyone left to see that it was clean from top to bottom.  Ha.  Instead: Lots of people moving around, looking busy, hoping everyone else is picking up their slack.  Lots of "I have to go to the bathroom."                                                                                                                                          
My next approach was to assign smaller groups to do dishes, especially for dinner.  I had this clever but complex rotation system.  Each person had a week off, but in the other weeks took turns with the tasks divided, so that they only did their least favorite task for a week, then changed.   I thought the week off was really generous and would help them love the plan and work well during the other weeks.  It was clear, it was color-coded, it was beautiful.  It was supposed to fall together like clock-work.  I was supposed to be able to know who was responsible for each area and keep them accountable.  This was supposed to cover everything and guarantee me a spotless kitchen every evening.  But, no.  Each task was dependent on someone else doing their task completely and within the right timeframe, and that rarely happened.  Dish doing could drag on for a few hours this way.                                                                                                                                                 
Next I tried teams of 2 or 3, who were supposed to divide the work satisfactorily and equitably between themselves, and had older kids working with the younger for training and evenly shared daily work loads.  That led to fights and when something wasn't done; it was always what the other person had agreed to do.  "I did my part, that was so-and-so's job."  And, of course, "I always do more than he/she does."   It was difficult for the older child to train and to be most responsible for the overall job.                                                                                                                     
Now we have one person per lunch or dinner, except after Saturday dinners, when the 14 and 16 yr old work together...The two I know who will value getting the job done fast so they can enjoy a movie or other fun evening activity.  If someone is away from home during the meal on their dish-doing night, they have to work a trade with someone else for their night, so no one gains the extra burden.  I was surprised when Princess Eager and Prince Go-for-it asked to be assigned dinner dishes the same day they had lunch dishes.  Their reasoning was to get past it all on one day.  It works better for me, too.  With one person responsible for the whole day, I know whom to hold accountable, and don't hear, "He left that pan unwashed at lunch," or "She didn't run the dishwasher, so now I can't load it."                                                                                   
I'm afraid I'm making the kids sound horrible, like they avoid work at every opportunity.  They're great, but they're normal kids.  They don't like doing dishes and will complain, I admit it.  Most of the time they grin and bear it...or, at least, bear it, and get the job done to a reasonable level.  Some, for whatever reason, can still take 90 minutes to do 20 minutes' worth of dishes, but I'm confident that one day they'll figure out it's better to get the chores out of the way and give more time to fun.  I tell them often enough!  :-)
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