Wednesday, December 16, 2009


We've been renovating our upstairs bathroom--something we always intended to do, but a mysterious and worsening water leak compelled us to start on it this month. We ripped everything out: toilet, sink, ugly faux-wood paneling from the 1970s, cheap vinyl tiles, and plywood subfloor. Now we were down to the bones of the room: plaster walls, pink plank subfloors, rough plumbing.

The next step was rebuliding the bathroom, step-by-step. We patched some holes in the floor, changed the heating vent location slightly, then installed a cement board (Hardibacker) subfloor. Zari helped by sweeping the floor. Two days ago, we cut and dry-fit the marble tiles. I was marking the tile locations for some rather tricky cuts, and Zari wanted to be in the middle of the action. She wanted my permanent marker, but I was able to keep her happy with a crayon. She "marked" the floor alongside me. Once the kids were sleeping, I installed the marble tiles by laying a thick bed of mortar over the cement board and squishing the tiles in place, being careful to create a strong suction seal with each tile.

Last night, once the mortar was hardened enough to allow light foot traffic, I applied the grout. I went up this morning to polish off the grout residue while Eric played with Zari and Dio.

The next job was to paint the wainscoting, baseboards, and char rail trim. When Dio was napping in the morning, Zari helped me paint everything down in our basement laundry room (too cold in the garage for painting--it was just 15 degrees F this morning). She really wanted to help paint, but it was getting difficult keeping the paint nice and smooth, not to mention keeping the paint out of her hair and clothes. So I came up with a great idea. I gave her a clean paintbrush and asked her to dust off all of the pieces before I painted them. I leaned them against the washing machine. She meticulously brushed down all of the pieces, carefully following each groove from top to bottom. If her brush went astray, she started over from the top, drawing the brush down in neat parallel lines.

While we were working--me painting and her dusting--she said to me, "Good job, mama! You're doing such a great job." I had said those exact things to her minutes earlier, acknowledging her contribution to the work I was doing. Her comments made me thing how important it is to model behavior and skills to our children. And to let them work alongside us. Children don't make a distinction between work and play like adults do. Everything is play to them: sweeping, cleaning, cooking, painting, loading the dishwasher (all things Zari has helped me do in the past few days). We can come up with creative ways to allow very young children to "help," giving them a sense of purpose, importance, and, of course, enjoyment.

For example, when I'm cleaning the bathroom, nothing makes Zari happier than to give her a bottle of "special spray" (either a dilute vinegar solution or just plain water) and a washcloth and let her go to town. She'll easily spend 30-60 minutes spraying and wiping the sink and shower and floor. She knows that my job is to use the "stinky spray" (bathroom cleaners) for the toilet and mirror.

How have you helped model important life skills with your own children? Or, if you're not yet a parent yourself, what did your parents do when you were young?


  1. Just today my son was helping me sweep up some packing material off the floor. He also enjoys helping me unload the dishwasher, handing me items to put away. He helped me stir dinner a few nights ago, and I surely broke a few laws when I let him sit on my lap in the car and "drive" across the culdesac to repark it. (I remember doing that at some point with my dad, sometime in my toddler years)

    Thanks for the ideas on bathroom help! He always wants to wipe stuff down but of course I don't want him into the chemicals.

  2. No kids yet in our home, so these are based on my memories. I'm sure there were all sorts of ways I helped my parents around the house when I was young, but I only remember two really well.

    The first was getting to hold the dog's leash while we went for our evening walks. That was usually a straightforward and uneventful occurrence, except for the time our Irish Setter caught a scent and ended up dragging me behind him all the way to the neighbors' garbage pile. He managed to find a tasty fish head before my parents could get to us, eww. I should have let go of the leash, but I didn't want to be responsible for letting the dog get loose. After that event, I usually only held onto the leash from our other, calmer dog.

    The second was cleaning the refrigerator almost every night while my mom cooked dinner, probably around the time that I was four. I would carefully remove all the magnets and papers and then spray and wipe down the outside with Simple Green. It was my favorite thing to do, and I felt so accomplished when it was done.

    I hope that when I have kids I'll have as much patience as my parents did. Activities and chores probably take longer sometimes with children, but it seems they really do love to contribute to the family. I see how happy my friends' children are when they help. It's wonderful.

  3. My son has loved working with us since he was very young. When he was 13 months old, he started helping us unload the dishwasher and do other simple chores. He is the kind of kid who loves jobs to do and seems happier working - we say he's like a boarder collie because that is totally his personality. He helps with pretty much anything we are doing; cleaning, cooking, various projects, etc. It amazes me what he is capable of. Like we have let him stand up by the stove and stir things in hot pots and he has never burned himself or even been careless. Also, a few months ago he asked me if he could crack the eggs when we were cooking. I was really hesitant about that because I didn't want to spend my day fishing out shells. But I let him crack them into a separate bowl and to my surprise he did a perfect job of it. I've discovered that kids are capable of so much more than they are traditionally allowed to do. I think it provides them with a lot of self esteem too knowing they are making a useful contribution to the family.

  4. We aren't there yet with our daughter (she's Dio's age), but these are all great reminders to involve children as much as possible. Actually, she emptied the laundry basket while I folded diapers last night. It's a start.

  5. I let Bug help clean the dishes the other day (then, I had to clean the whole kitchen again, because it was practically flooded!) And just today, I let him "push" the grocery cart! He loves helping me.

  6. Pyper and I usually do the dishes together, she LOVES washing dishes (one day over the sink she told me...mommy, I love spending time with you and hugged me...I melted).

    She also loves vacuuming and cooking. I get her to help me organize yarn, buttons and beads in my studio. My husband has her help him when he's making pens. She'll sit on his lap with the big ear protection and goggles on. She'll help him color the metal inserts for the pens and I have the most adorable picture of them together with her helping him pull the arm down on the drill press.

    One day on the ride home from work she asked me if we were going to do anything fun on the way home. When i asked her what was fun she said, "you know, like grocery shopping!" was so cute...and now i'm letting her hold the list and mark off the items which is great for helping her to learn words!

  7. I think you have great ideas for keeping your kids engaged while you do the necessary housekeeping things. I have always encouraged mine to help - even little toddlers can hand you laundry one by one to fold, and usually love to do so.
    My kids love to cook with me. Unfortunately, we don't get to as much as I'd like with our crazy life, but they all love to mix and stir and peel. I'm thrilled that we've reached the point now where I can give my 12 year old a cookie recipe, and he makes the batter while helping his 6 year old sister to measure and pour. It's fun to see him giving her tips on how to fill a cup with flour, and how to crack an egg!

  8. Do we get to see pictures!?!

  9. Pictures coming soon--I'm painting the wainscoting tonight. Toilet is going in tonight. Then I need to pick a color for the walls and find a vanity...but I suppose I could put the "work in progress" pictures up in the meantime.

  10. I am a mental health therapist and working with parents in individual settings and by teaching groups parenting skills. One of the first things that I try to get across to them is that they are the most important models for their children's behavior. Sometimes it gets through, more often it doesn't, but I will keep trying.

  11. we model much the same way you do. the children are alongside me all day and help in all capacities- folding laundry, sweeping, putting away dishes, etc. one way we have helped facilitate THEIR helping is by making things reachable and usable for them. i put an old cubbard in the kitchen and placed all of our bowls and plates in it. the kids can easily reach the dishes to either set the table or help put clean dishes away- both of which they do daily. with sweeping, i have a small hand held sweeper and dust pan they enjoy using. they also love the hand-held vac. we use all natural, homemade cleaners around here, so the kids are free to use them as well.

    something else i must mention- is modeling a joyful attitude while 'working'. it is paramount to me that i not only teach them how to do a job, but to do it with a joyful heart. when my eldest complains about a job i tell her 'think about how you are blessing the family by doing this rather than thinking about how much you don't like the job'. what's really cool is i overheard her telling my sister in law this recently (who was complaining about washing dishes!).

  12. I tried the trick with the 'special spray' with my toddler, and he wasn't buying it - he wanted Mummy's chemical spray or nothing. I even emptied out an identical bottle, rinsed it thoroughly and filled it with water, and he STILL wasn't buying it, and screamed for mine. Sigh.

    He also complains bitterly when I won't let him have sole control of the vacuum cleaner. This 'Mummy's Little Helper' phase isn't as much fun as I thought it would be...


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