Of all the responsibilities I cherish as a wife, mother, and homemaker, creating a house of order is perhaps my hardest and most important.
Parents universally feel the stewardship to provide for their children. Home is our very own deliberate environment and we are agents to create a home that reflects our priorities. Creating a house of routine and order, in my opinion, is more emotional than physical.
As I look at society today, as I look at my own children, I feel strongly my responsibility to safeguard the MENTAL health of my children. Our home routine, the feel of transitions, the general stress level of our home-- is shaping my children's mental wiring. Oh parents-- let us learn the art of peace and order!!
I have spent a lot of time in different classrooms at many different schools. You can feel classrooms. You know how a teacher teaches when parents aren't visiting by the way their classroom feels.
Children are children. I am not impressed by a classroom of robots obviously ruled by a strong, fear-inducing teacher. Kids should be free to ask questions, have personality, and be happy. On the other extreme, a classroom without order is NOT a happy environment. Kids prefer structure, they crave routine, they want to please their teachers, they want to succeed.
I was most impressed yesterday, by a particular first grade Halloween party I helped with. 18 first graders, dressed in costumes, just returning from the school costume parade, sat quietly and content as their teacher went through morning calendar on the rug.
We sang songs, read Halloween stories together, made a craft with yarn, and decorated a sugar cookie with icing. The class stayed quiet, on task, and orderly. The teacher masterfully orchestrated transitions in almost whispered tones. The most needy children (and she had a few) were positioned closest to her desk and gently directed and praised.
This teacher was very aware of the time. She chose to save one snack for later in the day, as she wanted to be sure the class was ready in time for gym. When the kids were changed out of their costumes and sitting quietly ten minutes prior to the time they needed to leave, she had them pull out their handwriting books to do a page.
I was impressed at the order in this room. I was most impressed at how the classroom felt, the spirit of the room. I felt grateful that my little first grader spends her days in this environment.
I love asking the question, "What does Ms ... do if someone doesn't listen?"
Of this one teacher, my kids responded, "I don't know. Nothing really. Sometimes if we're sitting on the rug while she reads stories, she might move one student who is talking."
I asked about another teacher and they said, "She yells, she gives us a warning, she gives us a mark, we have to fill out a behavior sheet. Mostly she just screams at us."
Out of the mouths of babes.
Please don't ask my children what I do if they don't listen. Oh how I wish I were better at this!!
Parents-- what does your home feel like? Think of the transition times. Mornings, naps, after school, practicing, leaving to go somewhere, dinner, baths and teeth brushing, and bed. Order and routine during the transition times of life are essential.
I am almost ALWAYS mulling over one particular process in my home. Personally, I get overwhelmed if I try to improve too many aspects of my home life. So, after a particularly contentious or unruly dinner, I might make dinner my area to improve.
I have found it is helpful for me or Todd to lead the conversation at the dinner table. I come prepared with topics or current events to discuss. I have specific questions to ask. We teach the art of conversation, manners, taking turns, etc. Conversation spirals quickly downhill and silly if I am not purposeful with it. I love dinner time when I am deliberate and purposeful.
We sing church songs together on the way to church. It helps us to prepare our spirits AND takes the time so the kids don't squabs in the backseat.
We all have strengths and weaknesses. I think I'm pretty good at transition times and having a peaceful spirit in my home, and trust me-- I still have far to go.
I often hear parents complaining about how busy they are. I complain. We almost yearn for simpler "Little House on the Prairie" days. We FEEL how hard our active schedule is on our young children and yet, we feel victim to it.
Do we realize the power and responsibility we have?!! We are agents with the ability to CREATE a house of order, not victims forced to push forward at a harried pace beyond our control.
Choose wisely wise parents!! Choose what you do. Choose where you go. Choose what you don't do. It's fun to create a home.
15 choose you this day whom ye will serve; ... but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. (Old Testament, Joshua, Joshua 24)
I love the talk by my friend Sister Julie Beck, Mothers Who Know. She says both "Mothers who know do less" and "Mothers who know do more." Interesting. We know and so we must choose what we will do less of and what we will do more of.
"Mothers Who Know Do Less
What a wise, inspired woman.
What about your family? Families who know do more... And less...
We establish the flow of our home. We set the schedule. We mold our environment.
"We shape our dwellings, and afterwards, our dwellings shape us." ~ Winston Churchill
I don't believe that we need to have a rich home to have a house of order. I've said this before. My sister-in-law is from Mexico City and now lives outside of Detroit. We were talking once and she mentioned the "poverty in Detroit" and then she stopped herself. She said something like, "Detroit isn't poverty, Detroit is corruption. I've seen poverty and even in very poor homes, the children are clean and the houses are in order." Isn't that interesting?
In the Old Testament, I think it's Samson's father who asks The Lord,
"How shall we order the child, and how shall we do unto him?"(Old Testament, Judges, Judges 13)
Don't we all ask that?!
How shall we order the child?
Here are some things I focus on.
:: Watch your tone of voice.
Speak softly and mean what you say.
Touch a child and look them right in the eyes as you speak.
I have found that whispering is SO much more effective than yelling. When I'm "inviting" my children or "testifying" to my children, I have learned to put "all the energy of my soul" behind my whisper. I speak to them with the same feeling and emotion that I have when I pray.
"Be kind to your sister." I will say this quietly, but almost with tears in my eyes. Speak from your soul. Invite!!! Invite them to do good!!
Testify to your kids. I like to invite them to obey and promise them afterwards. "Will you clear these dishes quickly and happily? I promise that if you do this, you will feel so happy inside! The whole house will feel brighter and more beautiful when you serve happily. And, the faster we get the work done, the more time we will have to read together later."
No, I don't talk like that all the time. Just on my best days.
Teach them again, don't ever be angry at something they haven't already learned.
Kids are kids-- there job is to learn and YOUR job is to teach. It's fun to try to figure out HOW to teach one particular child the behavior your trying to teach.
(Don't you roll your eyes at sports coaches who scream at their team, scream at the bad ref, or scream at the parents? I want to say, "Um-- you are the coach, stop whining and coach them!!")
Parents, teach your children. Coach your team. You can do this!! Children might not come with a manual, but they do come with a Heavenly Father that knows how they learn best!! He will help you to SEE them as He sees them at teach them as they need to be taught. ASK HIM FOR HELP!! Parents are always willing to help their children.
Skilled teachers are BLESSED with children who learn differently!! Your children have YOU because you are the one who loves them enough to figure out how to teach them what they need to know. Gentle, repetitive teaching works!!! It takes time.
Time and experience teaches. I believe in a God with a consistent still small voice. He whispers to us, "Love your children, be patient, be kind." Sometimes we listen. Sometimes we freak out and mess up. We learn that freaking out isn't the most effective way of parenting. He continues to love and teach us. Can you see?! We are learning to be like Him as we teach.
Put your shoes and your backpack right on the shelf when you get home from school we whisper. They listen sometimes, until they forget. The next morning it's time to go and they can't find their shoes anywhere. They learn that throwing their things around isn't the most effective way. This is a lesson they will learn as it is taught repeatedly. We whisper again and again and again... Hopefully they begin to feel comfortable with order.
A parent or teacher is less effective when they are ticked off that a second grader hasn't already learned a skill they "should" have learned in first grade. Sometimes my sweet husband is like that. He'll get so mad when a kid whines about dishes. Whining kids don't bother me much-- because I am 36 and I whine about dishes. Inspiring kids to work happily is a hard lesson to teach. Instead of getting mad, I analyze. How can we make the after-dinner dishes time better? That's a hard one for us.
I love happy music while we clean up. I try to do most of the dishes while I'm preparing dinner so it's not too overwhelming for the loader. And, I ask everyone to stay in the kitchen helping until it's cleaned up. We're getting better, but it's not perfect.
"The Savior was the Master Teacher. ... We would see most of His ministry being teaching. And yet almost none of that teaching was done in a church building. His teaching was out where the people were. It was in highways and byways and hillsides and seashores and in homes." Elder Jeffrey R Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, in "Learning and Teaching in the Home and the Church- the Home" (2014 auxiliary training video), annualtraining.lds.org.
I would add-- CHRIST TAUGHT AT THE DINNER TABLE!! He taught as they worked together. He taught in the transition times. He taught the SAME lessons over and over and over, in different ways, in repetitive ways, in gentle ways, in loving ways, in quiet ways. I want to be more like Him.
::Don't do too much!!
Choose your activities wisely so they don't strangle out essential family routines.
Meals and sleep are ESSENTIAL for happy homes. Want to choose a battle to fight? Choose healthy eating and ample sleep. Oh my, how I could write for days about these two routines.
With a large family, we are busy. I try not to schedule my afternoons so my youngests gets consistent naps, I always start cooking dinner right after school. My kids gather in the kitchen doing homework while I'm cooking. And, Todd and I plan and tag team so that one of us is always home with our younger kids for early bedtimes. Often, I am home and he is attending sporting events. If I do go, I don't go for the whole time. Having order at home is so important.
Healthy sleep and eating habits depend upon ROUTINE. First, establish a routine, and then learn to be flexible at times.
Parents, eat things you don't love to eat to teach your children to eat things they don't love to eat. Teach them to nourish their bodies not just to eat what tastes good to them.
Sit down to eat meals. There is order in a set table (yes, fold the napkins and use placemats or a tablecloth).
Most nights we have a 15 minute window for family dinner. Kids are picked up at 5 and need to be somewhere at 6. We eat together a meal that is ready and waiting. We clean up together, and then they're off. Family dinner IS possible.
Sleep requires a calm mind. Contention or excitement at bedtime just stirs everybody up. A gentle routine leads to healthy sleep. Personally, I think TV is awful right before bed. It is SO stimulating.
Reading is a natural quieter. Bathing is calming. I would be careful with music. Even some classical music tends to excite rather than relax. I don't think you can get a good night sleep when you have music or tv playing in the background. Help your children learn to go to sleep, don't just wait for them to get so tired they can't stay awake.
Kids might not be able to choose sleep, but they can choose to stay in bed, close their eyes, and lay quietly. I even teach my children to go to sleep in the car when I say "OK, it's nap time. Close your eyes and go to sleep." It's lovely.
I have spent SO many hours and hours of my life teaching my children to sleep. I've lost my temper with tired children too many times. And, we learned. My kids are really great sleepers. They go to bed early, on their own. And, they wake up early (for seminary that is 30 minutes away and starts at 6am) on their own. Healthy sleep habits are one of the best things I have ever taught my kids. I believe in sleep. Amen.
I think your mind needs to rest. I also think a tidy bedroom and a neat bed contribute to a restful sleep.
::Give them more control when you are fighting for control.
When you're in a battle of wills with your child, give them some power. Either give them a choice, or give them a distraction.
We need to get our coats on, do you want red or blue? We're better at choices than we are at distraction.
We don't have to expect firm obedience, just help them to choose obedience. If you want them to lay for a diaper change, keep a favorite book by the diapers. If you want them to wash dishes, offer help. If you want them to eat a bite of food, offer juice to wash it down with or a quarter. If you want them to stay in bed, find them a good book to look at (so they are laying in bed calmly before lights out.) If you want them to clean up, ask them to just pick up just the cars. If they want your attention while you're busy tell them they must wait, but can get themselves a snack. Give in without giving up.
Pick the thing you want them to do (leave you alone while you're talking to another adult) and be flexible on something else (suggest they grab a bag of treats to eat in another room).
I love a good distraction!
How do you get your kids to stay in bed? Repetition.
We all go to bed early in our house.
Putting kids to bed, when they're tired and cranky and we're tired and cranky is hard when you do not have a routine.
I do give my kids a book their bed (mostly for naptimes and before I turn their lights out). I give them a water bottle, they have a box fan in their rooms for white noise, and I prop the door a little bit open. If they have a hard time staying in bed, I may give them a stuffed animal that I take away when they get up. At naptime, I may promise a treat to a child who stays in bed and promise to eat that treat myself if they get out of bed.
At naptime, I may lay in a bed nearby and whisper, "Go to sleep" or "close your eyes." I love to read or sleep a little while my youngest are falling asleep.
::Establish calm, happy sleep routines and protect them!!
The key to good nappers and sleepers (and I've had eight) is routine!!! I should admit that I had to learn this the hard way!! Our bedtimes were supernanny bad! Routine is NOT something that comes natural to me!! I learned it because I was forced to.
We are home by 11:30 am almost every day. We eat a lunch, sitting nicely in our chairs. We clean up lunch together. Naptime starts when we begin making lunch because they know the routine. We head up to our bedrooms. Eve chooses whether we race, or I give her a piggy back ride. She comes happily so she picks out a book. We read. I say one or two, but it may be three or four.
We talk about the fun things we will do after her nap so she can "just take a little nap so that we can make cookies or go see Jakob's soccer game" when she wakes up. I hug her and kiss her and tuck her in and turn on the fan. Usually I just lay in Lily's bed and read or close my eyes for a few minutes. I love naptime. It is a lot of work, but teaches healthy sleep habits. My children nap until kindergarten.
Many may disagree with me, but I believe nap-times, quiet-times, and early bedtimes are essential for happy, healthy children.
::Be On Time. Plan Ahead.
Watch the Dog Whisperer to see how the emotion of an owner is translated to their dog. Calm and confident is the state of being we are trying to achieve.
The dumbest thing we ever do as parents is get all excited when we're trying to get our kids where we need them to be.
Saying "Hurry up!! We're late!! Get your shoes!!" Yelling, stressing, hurrying, etc., just makes things worse!! We get stressed and so we stress our kids out and then we are even later. It's SO dumb parents. Don't stress about being late!!
I try to plan to be early and I'm often late. But-- I know how to do it. It IS absolutely possible to get a family of eight to church and school on time even when my husband is out of town. Sometimes, emergencies or tantrums happen. That's life. But, most of the time, we're on time.
Set your internal timer 15 minutes earlier than you think you need to leave. Our church starts at 10, it is 30 minutes away, I say we need to leave at 9. We usually leave between 9:15 and 9:30.
It always takes 15 minutes longer than I think it will. So, if I need 30 minutes to drive somewhere, I enter my appointment 45 minutes earlier in my phone calendar.
Let your kids know at the beginning of the day what is happening that day and when. Have them pack a ziplock bag of snacks or a small toy to bring with them. Start acting like you're leaving earlier. Get your shoes on, get your coat on, grab your keys. Gently tell your children to stop what they're doing, clean up, and get ready to go.
Even if you're late-- don't stress. Just keep trying, keep smiling, gentle reminders. Don't be mad, be cheerful or direct. Simple instructions. Whisper instead of yell. How you arrive is just as important as when you arrive.
Instead of being mad when things fall apart, I love to say "NEXT TIME LET'S..."
::Be a thermostat not a thermometer!
Set the temperature, don't measure it. We are SO blessed to have our own little home country to manage. We have created our Garden of Eden. We choose what influences we invite into our home and we choose how we spend our time. Obviously, we don't choose our challenges and we all have them. Isn't it great that we have so many amazing resources to help us figure out how to respond to our individual challenges?
43 And now a commandment I give unto you—if you will be delivered you shall set in order your own house, for there are many things that are not right in your house.
44 Verily, I say unto my servant Sidney Rigdon, that in some things he hath not kept the commandments concerning his children; therefore, first set in order thy house. (Doctrine and Covenants, Doctrine and Covenants, D&C 93)
OK-- my time us up and my thumb is tired from typing this on my phone. Ha!
I must say that I do not believe we will ever be finished setting our house in order. There will ALWAYS be something we can work on! Always. What's that law of science that says things always go towards disorder unless acted upon? You know what I'm talking about. The Law of Entropy?
We shouldn't let the fact that we never "arrive" distract us from trying!! Order is a great goal. Order and creation is a daily process of rebirth and death. Order is cyclical and ever transforming.
Enjoy the process.
Feel the power you have to set the tone.
The Grand Canyon was carved with layers upon layers of gently flowing water. Let's direct the flow of our family. Let's shape the tone of our home. Let's establish systems and routines in our home. As we do this, these systems will shape us.
8 Organize yourselves; prepare every needful thing, and establish a house, even a house of prayer, a house of fasting, a house of faith, a house of learning, a house of glory, a house of order, a house of God;
9 That your incomings may be in the name of the Lord, that your outgoings may be in the name of The Lord. (Doctrine and Covenants, Doctrine and Covenants, D&C 109)
I absolutely feel privileged to be able to shape my home.
So much of my heart, my mind, and my energy is spent trying to figure out systems and routines for my family.
As my house is in order, I am able to invite people into my space and they feel that peace.
My sister had never visited my home and she came for Eve's birth. She said, "I have never been in a home like yours before Jen. I don't know what it is? I feel so at peace here. I feel more myself in your home than I have ever felt before."
I loved that compliment.
My house is FAR from ordered and far from perfect.
But, I love being home.
My home is a holy place.
I hope people feel peace in my home.
I care about how my children behave and how my house looks. But, I care most about how happy my children seem and how my house FEELS.
This, my friends, is a great work!
The greatest of all skills that no college course can teach.
The great University of Life teaches us. God teaches us by the divine art of REPETITIVE REPENTENCE!!
May God help us all to teach, love, and order our home like His.
An ordered life is a good life.
Clean and kind.
My two goals.
(Now, let me go calmly practice what I preach so we aren't late for church. Haha!)