Cleaning House, a Must-Read for Parents

As a book reviewer, I read a lot of books. A lot of books — like 10 a month. There are a handful of books that I read each year that I love so much that I buy them for friends and family and urge all with whom I come in contact to read. Cleaning House: A Mom’s Twelve-Month Experiment to Rid Her Home of Youth Entitlement by Kay Wills Wyma is one of those books for 2012.

I have two kids: a daughter who is starting high school in the fall and an 8-year-old son. They probably don’t do as many chores as some kids, but they probably do more than others. They are each responsible for cleaning their own sink area in their bathrooms, but since I’m not a super-neat freak, I don’t enforce it well. They unload the dishwasher. They get the mail. They pick up after themselves when I ask them to. But this summer I had decided that I wanted them to learn to do more. My daughter likes to cook, and when she was 10 or 11, she prepared several meals for our family. But instead of sticking with it, I let her enthusiasm die down. I told my kids that this summer, they’d be responsible for one dinner a week. Because the first few weeks of this summer were our busy ones, I haven’t started yet, but it’s coming.

My reason for requiring more from them was similar to Wyma’s, as you can tell from her subtitle about ridding her home of entitlement. Kids and teens today — at least mine — are entitled. “Why do I have to unload the dishwasher?” they’ll whine. “I just did it yesterday.”

Well, yes, dear child, I know you just did the one chore I require you to do on a regular basis yesterday, but I have prepared several meals for you since then, and you have had snacks and drinks, and all those dishes had to be washed and now have to be put away.

I value independence. I want my kids to understand the value of work, and yes, I’d like a little more help with a little less whining.

Kay Wills Wyma focused on one area each month, adding several to-do’s to her children’s lives, including meal preparation, outdoor chores, errands (see my post at my personal blog Snapshot where I tried to get my teen daughter to return a movie at Redbox — not very successfully), laundry and more. Her kids are 14, 12, 10, and 8 and took to the project with varying degrees of protest, but with equal — surprising — levels of success. She also has a 3-year-old who was too young to work, but I’m assuming he’ll be getting started within the next 3 or 4 years.

I loved this book for so many reasons, and I beg you to go out and find a copy and read it. Why did I love this book so much? Let me count the ways:

  • It is very well-written. Wyma’s humor, personal tone (yet not too annoyingly personal) and vivid descriptions make it an easy read.
  • It is practical, helpful and encouraging. Wyma did the dirty work. She tried it out with her kids, and since it was a year-long project, she was able to see long-term benefits. This will inspire me when it seems easier to go back to the status quo.
  • She’s likable. Here’s the truth about memoirs and parenting books (this one fits squarely into both categories): in order to work, authors have to share a lot about themselves. In the case of parenting memoirs in particular, the bragging or mean-spirited jabs at the kids often ends up irritating me (too much of either is annoying!). Wyma strikes that delicate balance where she can honestly relay the self-centered, eye-rolling nature of her teen son and the sweet helpful heart of her tween daughter in a way that helped me relate it to my own kids’ strengths and weakness. Not TMI, not overblown brags — just a real year in the life of a real family.

With fewer activities and homework demands, summer is a perfect time to have your kids start Cleaning House.

We have one copy up for grabs (U.S. shipping addresses only). Please follow the instructions in the Rafflecopter below to enter. New to Rafflecopter? Watch this 45-second video on how to enter! We’ll announce the winner in our book review and giveaway column on 7/9.

The winner of  last week’s book post — Glamorous Illusions is #33 Betty.

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  1. says

    I think the first chore was picking up toys. But the first chores that were “assigned” on a regular basis were dusting with Swiffer dusters and using cleaning wipes to wipe the sink and toilet. Given the right tools, even little hands can do these chores!

  2. says

    I taught them from the time they were very small to “help” pick up their toys! So glad I started when they were young. They don’t do it automatically, but they know exactly what to do now that that they’re older. :)

  3. says

    My 2yo routinely helps push the clothes into the dryer after I get them out of the washer. He also “helps” unload the dishwasher and helps set the table. My older boys do a lot more. But they all have chores!

  4. Fabs says

    I’m sure I had my kids pick up their toys when they were little. Now they are each responsible for cleaning a bathroom, unloading the dishwasher, dusting, and sweeping. I still have to remind them everyday to put their shoes and coats away, that is frustrating!

  5. thecoolmom says

    The first chore is generally picking up and/or dusting. I am also militant about teaching my children to do laundry while still in elementary school. Tragically, I had older kids leave for college and the military and have to teach their compatriots how to do laundry because they had never done it themselves. Good thing mine knew because the other kids’ parents sure didn’t teach them. This sounds like a great book. I have also seen that same unwillingness to try something new, even when they are adults or close to it.

    • says

      Laundry is definitely on my list!! My daughter’s entering high school, and I know by her age, my sister and I could do our own.

      I took a “baby step” last week and told her and my 8-year-old son to each sort their laundry so that I could start some loads. They complained (a LOT), but did it — and did it correctly.

  6. June says

    Teaching your young ones to help and chip in is a good thing for them to learn starting at an early age.

  7. says

    Really I can’t remember. But I think it was picking up toys. I have a thing for made beds. Now she refuses. Um, epic fail for this mom- for pushing that too soon? Would love a month goal …we have battles with chores.

  8. says

    The first few things my children learn to do are picking up toys, setting silverware and napkins on the table for meals, and folding washcloths.

  9. Bin says

    Perfect! We started doing chore with our 7-year old this past year and it’s been a great success. Would love this to expand our repertoire!

  10. Shelagh P says

    Probably the first chore I taught my children to do is to put their toys away and at 6 and 10, they still have not mastered it! LOL! This summer I am making it a point to have them empty the dishwasher and do laundry (switch loads from washer to dryer and empty dryer) at a minimum.

  11. Alison S. says

    For some odd reason, my 3 year old started with helping put on a load of laundry. He actually gets mad if I do laundry without him. Fine with me! :)

  12. Becky says

    Thank you for this great opportunity! This sounds like a fabulous book. The first chore we taught our kids was clearing the dining room table.

  13. says

    the girls learned how to load and unload the dishwasher
    our little boy learned to empty all the small trash cans into the larger one (he was 2) and thought he was cool

  14. says

    Difficult question because it has been soooooooooo long. I’m in the grandparenting phase now, and that’s who i’d love this book for.
    Anyway, i asked my 41 year-old son what he remembers. He thought it was washing dishes, then added: “But I didn’t actually learn it till i was in my twenties.” Ha, he is now a trained chef who washes dishes a lot at home. His specialty and full time business is ice carving.

  15. Joni says

    I think the first chore my now 4-year-old son had to do was picking up his toys every night before bed. Right now we’re working on taking his dishes to the kitchen after he eats. I sure would love to read this book and get off to a good start with him!

  16. says

    My oldest’s job is to take out the kitchen garbage to our compost. We pay him a quarter a week for that. Otherwise they have to clear their places, pick up their toys, and when I remember he puts away the silverware out of the dishwasher for me.

  17. Barb says

    Hmm… first chore? Putting their own dirty laundry in their laundry baskets, I guess. My kids tend to do the things I ask of them without a lot of complaining, but they rarely (if ever) do any chores on their own without being requested. I need to change that.

  18. Chris says

    all the kids learned to pick up their toys and put them away. Bed-making came once they were into toddler beds.

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