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Meagan lives in St. Joseph, MI with her husband Jon and kids Clara, Owen, William, Isaac, and Jacob; who range in age from four to fifteen. Meagan celebrates the art of sane + satisfying family life at her blog The Happiest Home, and shares her ideas on being a happier mom in her book The Happiest Mom: 10 Secrets To Enjoying Motherhood, both of which have been hailed as down-to-earth, funny, wise, and helpful.

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Want less stress and a cleaner house? Have lots of kids.

By Meagan Francis |

...and make them do all the work.

Okay, I’m being facetious…kind of.

Our family of 7 (myself, my husband and our five kids ages 3 – 14) spent most of the weekend going in and out of the house, relaxing, BBQ-ing and beach-going. As a result, we woke up to “lazy summer weekend syndrome” this morning: a huge pile of laundry, gritty piles of sand anywhere shoes and bathing-suit bottoms had been removed, stinky trash that should have been removed days earlier. I drove my oldest son to camp this morning, and spent most of the afternoon working.

By the time I faced down the dinner dishes, I felt defeated.

But then I remembered one thing most mothers of large families learn by necessity: our children are the family workforce.

So, willing my shoulders to stop slumping, I went to my children and said “Hey guys, I need a hand. Let’s whip the house into shape before bedtime, okay?”

And they all jumped into motion. 12-year-old Isaac, who has also assumed 14-year-old Jacob’s job of taking out the trash and doing the dishes while he’s at camp, vacuumed the living room, his little sister’s room, and even my bedroom rug. Eight-year-old William lined up the shoes by the front door and picked up random bits of paper trash strewn about the house. Six-year-old Owen tossed toys in bins and piled up dirty clothes.

Even three-year-old Clara helped by picking up puzzle pieces, though I think her exuberant version of the “clean-up song” annoyed, more than motivated, her brothers.

After twenty minutes of all of us pitching in, the house had somehow put itself to rights. Since I didn’t have to worry about the rest of it, I’d managed to sweep up the sand and give the bathrooms a quick once-over. And now that the kids are in bed, I can sink into my sofa with a glass of wine, the remote, and a relatively tidy house.

Moms of one or two kids often seem amazed that I’m able to function at all with my crew of five, let alone get anything done. But other moms of many I know understand that we’ve got it easy in a lot of ways.

Sure, we paid our dues when the biggest ones were very small, but we barely remember those days now and instead function in a world where we don’t always have to be the ones to: do the dishes, push the smaller kids on the swing, walk the dog, carry out the trash. And yes, the fact that I can run to the grocery store at noon without having to take my three-year-old is sheer magic.

Of course, all mothers – and especially moms of older kids – have a built-in workforce like I do.

But I’m not sure most of those who stopped at one or two kids take adequate advantage of their young family members. After all, I started out as a fairly typical American parent, wanting my kids to pull their weight, but not always sure how much to expect in an increasingly child-centric culture.

There was no pressing need to drop the hammer from day to day; even without their chipping in, I could still more or less manage (if grumpily). And frankly, expecting kids to pull their weight – and enforcing those rules day in and day out – is tough. When I had “just” the two kids, the daily tradeoff hardly seemed worth it: better to just do it myself than try to oversee a pair of rambunctious, clumsy pint-sized employees.

It was only when my third was born (my oldest were 4 and 6 at the time) and I realized that I would have to expect more of the older kids for sheer survival’s sake that I began asking my kids to step up. And step up they did, and have, if reluctantly at first.

Oh sure, there’s the bellyaching sometimes. My oldest tell me that they are the only ones of their friends who have to (fill in the blank.) Or, my favorite, coming from my teen son Jacob: “I just want a weekend to lay around once in a while!” (Tell me about it, son.) But when push comes to shove, they pitch in. They do what they’re asked.

The younger ones have never known differently. To them, chipping in around the house is just what members of a family do, so they do it mostly without complaint and always without defiance.

My kids aren’t perfect little workers. They sometimes cut corners and slack off, as, sometimes, do I. They don’t resemble the uber-industrious children of the Matsingenka tribe described in today’s New Yorker story entitled “Why Are American Kids So Spoiled?” They have been known to try to wheedle their way into extra allowance or a piece of candy in exchange for a chore. Sometimes they put me off “until the commercial” or “just a few minutes.”

In other words, they’re American children, and I am mostly OK with that, because ultimately they do what needs to be done.

Maybe not because they respect me any more than the average kid respects his mom, or because they’re less lazy than any other kid, but just because they’ve each been needed – in a real, concrete and obvious way – from a young age.

I think every human being wants to feel necessary. Even small children need a purpose, to feel as though their actions help people and make a difference. Helping out around the house – not in some made-up pretend “job” to stroke a small ego, but because Mom’s gonna lose it if those shoes don’t get lined up in the entryway – fills that need. Going by that logic, by requiring my kids to be useful I’m doing them a favor.

So if you want to have less stress, a cleaner house, and maybe even happier kids? Have a whole bunch of them.

Or if the large-family route isn’t for you, take a tip from what I wish I’d figured out earlier, and expect your family to help you: whether you’ve got a single toddler or a couple of teens.

Some gritty, exhausted, laundry-filled evening, you’ll be glad you did.

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About Meagan Francis


Meagan Francis

Meagan Francis is a mom of five who loves everyday adventures and is in pursuit of a big life with her big family. Her love of family, food, home and travel fuel her writing here and on her blogs The Happiest Home and The Kitchen Hour.
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7 thoughts on “Want less stress and a cleaner house? Have lots of kids.

  1. Selfish Mom says:

    I have two kids, but feel the same way. The only reason our bottom floor is ever neat and tidy is because it’s the kids’ daily job to get it that way before dinnertime. Sure, they complain, and sometimes Jake needs three tries to sweep as well as he needs to, but it’s just their job and their complaining falls on deaf ears.

    Plus, there’s nothing better than the look on my husband’s face when he comes home on Thursday nights and the recycling is done – handing that weekly PITA job over to the kids was the best thing we ever did!

  2. MrsJennyK says:

    My twins are only 14 months old, but they “help” me clean up their playroom a few times a day. We don’t have toys in their room – just books. They are at an age where they like to fling all the books on the floor, which is fine, but we clean them up before we leave the room or they get in their cribs. I’m hoping that this will just keep being a natural part of how they see their day, and my husband I do this as much as possible too.

  3. Amy @ Frugal Mama says:

    I love this post, Meagan! I think you hit the nail on the head when you say, “Every human being wants to feel necessary.” Even though my kids complain about doing chores, I can tell they also feel a sense of satisfaction after it’s done. Not just because they made a difference, but because they feel essential, “needed,” as you say.

    And I agree that this model is usually part of a larger family; in fact, we started family chores when I had our third child. Now with four, the jobs that my older daughters do are key to my sanity (to not feeling like the Cinderella of the household).

    It does take more work sometimes to get kids to work, but in the end, it all pays off — for parents, and for kids.

  4. Anonymous says:

    My oldest (of three) is 4.5 years old now and really quite helpful, when she wants to be. She started by “helping” me unload the dishwasher or fetching diapers when she was just 18 months and my second was born. I start teaching kids to clean up toys when they’re around a year. It was HARD to teach her because she was my oldest and had no one to model for her. Exhausting, really. But the younger boys are stepping up and just following her lead. I trained her around age 4, for example, that when she gets in the car, she climbs in her car seat and put the straps over her arms, to make it easier for whoever buckles her in. Now my nearly 3-year-old is doing it too, just because he’s observed her doing it. My oldest is really, truly helpful now, too — when I finished folding the laundry this morning, she said “I’m going to put it away,” and she carried her basket upstairs by herself, put it all in her drawers, and then picked up the dirty clothes from her floor and put them in her basket. I did not even direct this — she just did it. Now — sometimes of course she says “Not now” or “I’m busy” or whatever…she’s a kid. But generally she steps up pretty well. I only have the three (so far!) and they are all fairly young, but I totally know what you mean about it being “easier.” Many hands make light work, right?

  5. xotchil danio says:

    i guess i can use this as an excuse for my husband so he can give me more kids. lol

  6. Claire says:

    I know what you mean! I have a house of 3 boys, ages 7, almost 5 and almost 3. They have to pick up their toys, make their beds, pick up after the dog, etc. They don’t always like it, but they know that it isn’t fair for me to clean up after their continuous messes.

    A few months ago though I signed up as a Norwex consultant and the cleaning has become SO much faster and easier! Cleaning the bathrooms is now as simple as grabbing my Enviro Cloth, my Window cloth and a little water. The cloths are a super super fine microfiber and they pick up everything off the surface you wipe. They are infused with silver and the silver suffocates and kills all the germs and bacteria. And now my kids can clean and I don’t have to worry about them touching harmful chemicals and fumes! And the Dusting Mit, and you have removed a ton of chemicals from your home and saved yourself a lot of time and money as well!

    My 4 year old loves to take the window cloth and clean our sliding glass door (which gets so dirty you can hardly see though it, thanks to my 2 year old!)

  7. Katherine@YeOldCollegeTry says:

    “When I had “just” the two kids, the daily tradeoff hardly seemed worth it: better to just do it myself than try to oversee a pair of rambunctious, clumsy pint-sized employees.”

    So true! We just welcomed number three and I am slooowly cluing in to the fact that I cannot keep on top of things all by myself. Nor do I want to. I’d rather do the hard work of teaching my kids to help than grump around the house, cleaning up after them and feeling like a maid.

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