This is actually a story about how I almost got in my car and drove off into the sunset: the situation in my home was that serious.
We were two weeks out from summer break. I have a job (okay, jobs plural, but paying nonetheless) that allow me to work (full-time, pretty much) at home 365 days a year. Hubs and I were having full-on fights about the status of our messy home because he didn't want to want to come home after working all day (!) and have to clean (!!) or cook (!!!) when I was already here and would only have to spend "about 20 minutes a day" to keep the house in order.
I'll just pause here a minute while you imagine trying to keep a house magazine-immaculate in just 20 minutes a day ALONE with a 7 year-old boy on the premises.
My "darling" son (and I say that in quotes because at this time he was acting like anything but) had only one chore: empty the dishwasher. And he wasn't even doing that. Every time we asked him to help out, we would get tirades about how he "had to do everything" (!), we were being unfair (!!), and how making him do chores was making him our slave (!!!).
His behaviour had been so abysmal that I took all of his electronic devices away and he was facing a summer without any screen time whatsoever.
That weekend, while I was catching up on some work (and curating a YouTube video about an 8 year old boy teaching college kids how to do laundry) while my husband was outside trying to catch up on yard work, my son rolled around on the floor whining about how bored he was. For an entire hour. Suddenly and very clearly I had a vision of what the entire summer vacation was going to be like, M-F. For eight weeks.
I lost my sh!&.
I grabbed the keys, told my husband I was taking off, and for 30 seconds entertained the idea of boxing myself up and mailing myself to another country. But the truth is I drove to the Dollar Store determined to implement a half-baked chore-chart alternative idea I got from seeing "Boredom Buster Jars" on Pinterest.
I had something my kid wanted. He had something I wanted. We just needed to figure out a way to make a trade. I got home, ripped open the box of craft sticks, and started writing. Every stick had a chore that someone needed to do. Every color had a time assigned to it.
Here's a few examples of the chores I wrote down.
YELLOW (15 Minutes)
ORANGE (30 Minutes)
RED (45 Minutes)
BLUE (1 hour)
And lastly, I added a few behaviour bonuses in green (30 minutes) that would get awarded as necessary.
Later, I sat my kid down and explained to him: if he wanted screen time, he would have to do chores listed on the craft sticks. For every stick he got, he would have that amount of screen time. And I told him he only had to do as many sticks as he wanted screen time, and to do the chores he wanted to do — it was totally up to him.
He was skeptical at first, because he didn't understand what he could do with only 30 minutes. So I told him: "30 minutes is a show on Netflix. And if that's not enough, then do what you need for the time you want."
He picked up two sticks. "So if I unload the dishwasher and then vacuum the floor... I get an hour of screen time?"
"Yup," I said.
The lightbulb went off over his head. Suddenly, not only was he seeing that he got screen time back, he was actually doing math to calculate how much of a reward he could reap with just a little time investment on his part.
Then he took it one step further in his mind: "Gee mom, I didn't know there was so much work to do." And I'm not too proud to admit I got a little misty.
Suddenly my son was helping with chores. LITERALLY VOLUNTEERING. In fact, he saw opportunities everywhere. He was helping my husband pull weeds so he could use the tablet on car rides. He was drying dishes by hand at Grandma's house so he could watch family movies with us.
Every day I pull a few sticks and tell him that these are things that are more urgent. Sometimes he does all of them, sometimes not; but seldom do all the urgent tasks get left all to me.
My house is still a little messy. But that $1.25 saved my sanity and stopped the arguments between the three of us. It was an investment totally worth making.