The Cleaning Stages of Motherhood

seasons of motherhood

Does it feel like your house will never be clean again?  I have found that during different stages of my mothering journey, my house is different levels of clean.  It’s all about realistic goal-setting.  For those wondering what those stages are, or about to enter those stages, here they are.

Stage 1: Newborn stage

Objective: keep everyone alive and healthy.

Cleaning at this stage is about preventing infection, providing clean clothes so the baby doesn’t get a rash from being wet for too long.  (Babies wet in so many areas for so many reasons.)  Things like puke, poop, and yes, blood, are the main concerns for both you and baby.  Having clean dishes is also nice so that mold and rot aren’t present takes priority.  Also, getting everyone fed is a major household duty.  Recruit as much help as you are comfortable with having around, and say yes to everyone bringing food.

Cleaning concerns that are ignored during this phase: windows, bathrooms, ironing, sweeping, moping, dusting, bed making and general pickup.  Changing sheets/laundry/cooking/and other chores are only on an desperately needed basis.

Stage 2: Mobile baby stage

Objective: keep everyone alive and healthy…with new challenges.

So your baby is eating a little less often and you may be getting 3-5 hours of sleep at a time now if you are lucky.  Well, once you start to think you are moving out of survival mode, cleaning needs of your house pick up.

Cleaning at this stage is all the above, plus the added sweeping, moping and general pick up things from the floor to the cleaning necessities.  Also, depending on when solids are introduced, cleaning baby food off floor, high chair, walls and ceiling (and something else wet to clean off baby) are added to cleaning regimen.  This is my favorite stage to own a dog, provided it doesn’t shed or bark during nap time.

Stage 3: Massive toy immigration and learning phase

Objective: keep everyone alive and healthy, and provide an environment for the work of play.

Toys and books are starting to overrun your house.  Things are coming into your house from grandparents, aunts and uncles, and your own personal shopping raids as your child is starting to delight in everything around him or her.  You have been through a Christmas and a birthday with this child and it is very evident they have stuff now.  You start reading your toddler books, and start forming all these ideas of stimulating their learning so they will be the smartest child ever, or maybe even keep them occupied for a precious 5 minutes so you can sip some tea.

Cleaning at this phase will be all of the above plus organization for this massive amount of junk for all this incoming delights.  Helpful tips for this stage: keep this stage under control as much as possible.  Might I recommend you read The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up or Simplicity Parenting during this phase now that you are getting a bit more sleep. (I confess I haven’t actually read Simplicity Parenting but I’ve read about it and perhaps will someday.  The main thesis that I gather seems to fit this post: less is more.)

The more intentional you are during this stage will manage your stress level, and the stress level of your baby.  This is the stage where you have the brain power to come up with a plan.  Just remember: less is more.  Less toys means more time playing with your baby.  More toys means you will be spending more time cleaning than any human wants to do.

We have a simple rule in our house: the person who cleans gets to decide what stays and what goes.  When your child gets old enough to clean their own stuff, they can decide what to keep and what to throw.  Until then, that’s the cleaner’s job.  Also, unless relatives come over to your house to clean up, they don’t get to decide how many/which toys you keep either.  (Although please always be gracious and remember to be thankful!) Bloggers on the internet, and minimalist authors you read don’t get to decide or judge how much you keep either.  The person who cleans gets that responsibility, and now is the time to be proactive and take the bull by the horns.

Stage 4: “I help!” stage

Objective: keep everyone alive and healthy, provide an environment for the work of play/learning by allowing chores to be done terribly by your child.

Your child is able to pick up bits of toys, help dry silverware and put them away, and wants to stir cookie dough.  This is a very messy stage.  If stage 3 hasn’t been dealt with, this will be an increasingly stressful time.  Consider paring down even more the toys in the house to a level that is not so overwhelming for you and your child to tackle together.  Also, it is entirely possible that during stage 3 or stage 4 you are also going back to stage 1 with a new child in the house.  This may happen several times.  If possible, get through stage 3 with a gold star before going back to stage 1 again.

This is one of the most emotionally exhausting phase because your child will be so eager to help and so much child training can be accomplished but it will cause you to bite your lip to the point of bleeding sometimes, and your blood pressure will be sky high as they destroy your things with great intentions.  But if you make it and do it well, all further stages will be more successful.  It might be the messiest stage yet, but the most important.  Keep telling yourself, why do this chore in 5 minutes when you could in 20 with a child?

The worst thing you can do at this stage is put your child in front of the television so you can clean, and sending the message loud and clear that cleaning is your job, and your job only, and you don’t think they can do it, in fact you won’t let them do it unless they can be perfect, which they can’t without practice, which you won’t let them do.  Each chore you do with your child returns back to you with dividends.

Stage 5: Actual help with cleaning, sort of.

Objective: Keep everyone alive and healthy, provide an environment for the work of play/learning by allowing your child to do chores, sometimes unassisted, with a billion reminders.

This is the stage of chore charts, consequences, rewards, hands and knees, begging and pleading, for-goodness-sake-pick-up-your-socks, with your child.  This is a large transition time for the whole family as children start to take on some responsibility, and you get a small glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel and you start to dream that your house will have things like clean toilets and washed windows.  This glimmer gives you a passion for clean you haven’t felt in years.  But it’s just a glimmer, mind you, because every time you plan to do one of these larger cleaning items you really are just spending the majority of your time motivating your child to carry some of their weight to some capacity.  This makes it an emotionally frustrating time because you think you are almost in the place to have a clean house but your kids literally don’t care.  They have no idea what their house looks like clean.  This is a time to pour vision into your child.  Cut some garden flowers, and put them in a vase.  Light candles.  Focus on making things beautiful, and encourage your child to catch this vision of bringing beauty to everything they encounter.

Start letting them use nicer dishes sometimes, and bring out the table linens.  Passing on vision and inspiration during this time of why we clean, and what our house could look like are important.

Stage 6: Always running, rarely home

Objective: keep everyone alive and healthy, provide an environment for the work of play/learning by allowing your child to do chores unassisted, with some reminders, as their schedule is constantly interrupted and their play time dwindles as they are always going places.

Piano lessons, Tae Kwon Do, ballet, or soccer.  Your child has stuff to do, thousands of papers that need signing and organization, like a weekly mortgage contract kind of paperwork level.  They will forget chores still because they are cut off to do this or that.  Just like the stage 3, your house will be reflected by how well you manage and limit the outside the home activity level.  This is a good time to teach your child what it is like to live within your means, both in the area of money AND time.  This is a good time to go over visual schedules with your child, and have them see that there are so many hours in the day, and chores still do need to be in there.  Do they want to give up some activity so they can have an afternoon to just play with Legos?  As your child matures, they will begin to wrestle with the fact that many adults still wrestle with: the limitation of time and the need for white space on our calendar.  If there is no white space, your house will show it.  Both parents and children’s attitudes will show it.   This will take family meetings, parent meetings, limitations set, and lots of time devoted to teaching your child and yourselves how to balance.

Stage 7: Always hungry

Objective: keep everyone alive and healthy, provide an environment for the work of play/learning by allowing your child to do chores unassisted, with some reminders, as their schedule is constantly interrupted and their play time dwindles as they are always going places.  Also, they will always be hungry.

During this stage, you will find dishes everywhere, the fridge unexpectedly empty, and in addition to the activities of stage 6, you will have lots of cooking time, clean up time, and meal planning/grocery shopping time too.  Also, you may need a part time job to pay for all this food.  This is a great stage to assign certain meals of the week for your child to cook.  Hopefully your child has been doing some cooking and baking up to this point, starting in stage 4, but training them to plan a whole meal every week and grocery shopping trips will be educational and eye opening.  And it will take time to teach them.  And it will be messy.  Clean up from these meals will be nightmare-invoking.

Stage 8: Silence, tears, and starch

Objective: Your children have moved out.  I have not actually experienced this phase yet, but from what I hear, the house is spotless all the time and it makes you cry.  A lot.  Like, even more than the hormonal tears of stage 1, and the weeping and frustration of stage 5.  I am also told that during this stage, it is possible for “ironing clothes” to be added back to the routine, if desired.

August

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I am hitting my usual August haze.  I’m consistently 2-3 days behind what I should be doing, which usually makes me stress.  I’m not stressing at all about being behind now, but I’m not sure if that’s a good thing either.  I feel like I should care that things aren’t running as efficiently as possible.  The culture here that I’ve noticed since moving to the farm says that worrying is responsible and stress pushes you to finish.  I should be pushing myself more.  I should but…eh.

Welcome to August.

I’ve been taking a lot of walks these days, when I should be doing other things.  I’m just drinking this season in!  This year our garden was completely mulched, (known as the “Back to Eden” gardening method, also known in the trade as “sheet composting.”)  It was a big experiment and I’m just loving it.  I have never enjoyed gardening as much as this year.  It was a ton of work on the spring end of the season, but it has really paid off.

Weeds have been so easy to manage, even with the soy bean mixture fiasco.  Yes, the strawberry patch is crazy now, but I’ve sort of let it get that way and focused my energy elsewhere because I plan on digging them up setting them in neater rows this Fall.

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I just keep walking out to my gardens throughout the day.  I walk around them, check on various plants, search through some cucumber vines, look at growth that I never remember or write down.  This is the first year I can actually say that gardening has been a sanctuary.  I’m so behind on canning, mostly because I’m going for these walks, picking handfuls of weeds here and there, talking to my plants.  It’s getting bad.

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Garden Takeover

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We are thick into the season where the garden literally takes over our life.  No matter how much the weeds have taken over, garden produce for the year has gone from the trickle of strawberries, to now a full out invasion of peas, beans, broccoli, cabbages, as the raspberries wind down.  The tomato plants are heavy with green orbs that look as though they may blush any day.  Then life outside the garden and kitchen will virtually shut down.  The cucumbers as well look like they will be ready to be pickled by as early as next week.  I’ve never grown my own pickling cukes, so I don’t know how long that season is.  I know very little about it.  Last year we were given lots of cucumbers by some of Knut’s cousins who had excess in their garden, and the fermented dill pickles I made were to die for.  I could sit and eat a whole jar if I let myself.  I knew right away I could no longer go back to store-bought.  The garden has ruined me for yet another food that I no longer want to buy.

I am so joyously ruined.  Silje jokes that I’m ruining them all for life because they will never be satisfied with normal food and will be forced to garden as adult.  I tell her it’s all a part of my evil plan.

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Ode to Audible

I just want to put another disclaimer that this post has affiliate links.  This is just a program that has really, really helped my family, our homeschool, and especially my mildly dyslexic son.  It’s been so good that I want to share it with you, but while I rave, I’m adding affiliate links which may get me paid.  If you have a problem with this I totally understand and you can skip the following.  :)

Awhile ago, I got involved with an online community called the Read Aloud Revival.  I found out about it because one of my favorite authors was interviewed on her free podcast, and I got hooked.  It’s a whole community of kindred spirits, both homeschoolers and traditional schoolers, who see the value of reading out loud to children of all ages.  I listened to every single podcast, and when she opened up her membership site, I eagerly signed up.  Silje has really enjoyed the first author event.

One of the greatest take away from entering the world of read-aloud books is my introduction to Audible.  We have checked out audio books from the library from time to time, and occasionally we would actually listen to them.  I did notice that David responded to our audio CDs of Story of the World as our history textbook, rather than just reading it, or even me reading it to him.  The CDs are in our minivan pretty much all the time, and they have been listened to countless times.  We’ve also recently discovered Classical Kids which has become common when we are driving around.  The kids absolutely love the stories.

So I tried out Audible, as recommended on the podcast, and immediately our family got hooked.  After the free trial period, it’s $15/month.  For that $15 we get 1 audio book a month (of any price range) and a discount on all audio books.  So we usually use our monthly book credit for a big collection that is bundled, or an expensive book that would usually cost me much more than $15, like this one, or this one which are in line on my wish list.

Also, they have a sale in April and October (or maybe it’s November?) where if you purchase 4 audio books with a regular price of $15 or more, you can get a free $10 credit towards any other books.  The fun loophole to that is you can save up your monthly credits, and just use your regular credits towards the 4 purchases in the month, or you can buy a book that is regularly $15 or more, but on sale for 1 or 2 dollars which happens quite often.  Also some are just $1 like Anne of Green Gables and Alice in Wonderland.

Audio books have changed David’s attitude on doing his chores.  A book is nearly always playing when he is doing chores, and it calms him down.  His favorite is Hatchet and we are now collecting other Gary Paulson books one by one.

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(Listening to The River while playing with Legos.)

We’ve been struggling through his science textbook in our homeschool too, and I got that audio book and now he has listened to it willingly 3 times all the way through, quoting passages of it all the time.  It never occurred to me to get an audio version of his textbooks!  He will often open the textbook we own and read along, but he is absorbing 100x more information than he was before.  He loves to know the exact pronunciation of each scientific word, and this gives him that assurance.

There have been several keys to figuring out how David learns, from dietary supplements, to varying therapy techniques. This has been another key.  He’s learning at breakneck speeds.

Silje loves audible too.  She’s been working through Little Women, reading along in her book, as she prefers.  Little Women has been slow for her, and listening to it has brought to story to life.  She now asks for me to put that on all the time too.

As a family, we have been listening to The Little Prince, which is just delightful.  All 5 of the kids love listening to it during our “tea times” (snack time) so I can actually eat with them instead of read to them.

I like that you can listen to a few minutes of the book to see if the reader has a voice that just grates at you.  Some books have a variety of readers available, so this is nice.

Other favorite books we have found on this journey:

The River

Tales of Peter Rabbit

A Bear Called Paddington

The Adventure Collection (yes, you can get that whole collection for 1 credit.)

And of course, I have been building a library of books for myself to listen to while knitting:

The Complete Collection of Sherlock Holmes

The Count of Monte Cristo

(Both audio books that would normally be much too expensive to buy but I used my “free” book credit that I get once a month.  So it basically cost me $15 instead of $40 or more.  (Though many books are just a few bucks, and I would rather just buy those and save my credits for the big purchases.)

I have 6 pages of wish list books now in my audible account.  It’s getting a little out of hand.  Oh my word.  Classics.  Modern.  Textbooks.  Biographies.  Great Courses.  It’s all there.

This service has transformed our homeschool.  We now not only have one more “reader” in the house, I have multiple readers I can play for the kids.  It is saving my voice, and my need for “throat coat tea” that is a constant during homeschool days.  As a mom who is always longing for more hands and arms to make sure everyone’s needs are met, this is one more voice on my side.  It’s one more tool.

I still read to the kids, of course.  But this feeds this hungering need for them to hear stories all the time.  It keeps the learning momentum going, when I am juggling several students.

The free trial to Audible comes with 2 free “credits” which can be applied to 2 audio books of any price.  Whether or not you continue a membership, you keep the books forever.  You can try it out here, but use cautiously.  You will likely get sucked in like we did.