Cleaning up while the kids are awake used to sound impossible to me. Until Sophie was a year old, I’d get caught up in the chaos of eating lunch, food prep, or bedtime routines and I wouldn’t take charge of getting daily messes cleaned up…until Sophie was asleep. Naptime automatically became a ‘watch the clock’ situation of running around tidying and doing dishes with one eye on the clock, all the while wishing I was doing something else before she woke up again.
It was a perspective shift for me to realize I could clean up after meals or tidy the living room outside of times my daughter was asleep. Sophie and I got into a wonderful routine of her playing independently near me as I did all the dishes before nap, and that routine has lasted for years since then! We also began to pick up toys together.
Now that I have two children, Sophie and Soren know that after lunch, Mama will be cleaning up and doing dishes – and they happily play near me. Obviously, cleaning the house and making it all lovely again can’t always be done while the kids are awake, because life happens – and sometimes you just need to get everyone in bed so you can focus on a task! However, tidying up while the kids are awake is so worth it when you can make it happen.
Two main benefits from this: first, you teach them to clean (and it helps them realize there’s no magic fairy who cleans after they’re asleep). Cleaning up together is kind of an “aha” moment when it comes to kids taking responsibility for toy messes. And second, you reclaim some adult time – specifically, naptime and bedtime.
I think we can feel pressure that we must make each moment of childhood fun, entertaining, or magical. Actually, much of childhood can feel fun to kids – but that can include life skills! It’s actually a good thing for them to see us working hard, scrubbing dishes, putting things back where they belong… I think about Ma in the Laura Ingalls Wilder books: she incorporated fun into the hard, necessary work of doing daily chores. Doing the mundane alongside each other can still be so rewarding! Even little things like your kids helping to wash dishes can make for some special childhood memories, too. 🙂