Archive for March, 2012

Preparing your Kids to be Home Alone

As your last child attains milestones they close the gates of passage behind them. For parents this is always a time of reflection. When I packed up those receiving blankets for the last time I cried, when I changed my last diaper I did a happy dance. Recently we’ve been closing a great many gates. Most notably we now have a house full of people old enough, and occasionally mature enough, to stay home alone. This is a very big deal and every child or rather every parent reaches the moment in their own time.

How do you know if your child is ready and capable? Beyond the legal requirements of age ask yourself this simple question; can your child make cereal? I promise you that the first thing your child will do when you lock the front door is eat. If the idea of your child preparing a bowl of cereal provokes images that scare the living bejeebers out of you, neither one of you is ready.

In seriousness though, once you decide that your precious dependant can weather some alone time, there are some very serious lessons and tools that need to be discussed and made available.

• Make sure your child knows emergency basics. This sounds like a no brainer but think it through. Little things get missed. I failed to talk to my kids about the smell of natural gas and what to do if they smelled it, until the day they had to deal with it and they said “nobody told me!” Go room by room together, look for dangers and talk them through.

• Know the ‘NOs’. No Door, No Phone, No friends, No heat, No water. Door bells that ring go unanswered. Phones get answered with an excuse that you are napping or showering. Little friends are not privilege to the information that your child is home alone; loose lips sink ships. Now is also not the time for stoves, toasters, baths or showers.

• List the list. Know who is home in the neighbourhood. Know what family members or friends are available in case of emergency. Go over the list with your kids every time before you walk out the door. Don’t forget to give your list the heads up that you are heading out. Make sure all phone numbers are out and ready.

• Let them in on the details. You want your kids to tell you now (and when they are teenagers) where they will be and what time they will be home. Lead by example, return the respect; give them the details – Don’t forget to call if you are going to be later than you said.

• Start small in the daylight hours. A 15 minute trip to fuel the car or pick up some milk eases children into the process. Don’t start in the dark; darkness increases the fear factor by 150%. It takes some very confident kids a very long time to be comfortable home alone at night.

• Check for training. There are home alone programs in every area, offered by community groups, schools, police services, and the same organizations that offer babysitting courses. The piece of mind is worth investing in.
• Clean your closets. Do not overlook this important step….

True story: The very first time we left our youngest daughter home without us she was not really alone, she was in the capable care of her sister, a one year veteran of the home alone group. We were only gone to the grocery store; you could see it from our house. We were only gone 27 minutes. In those 27 minutes our youngest daughter managed to convince her big sister that the boogie man was indeed in our house. In those 27 minutes they deemed the situation an emergency, left the house and ran to the neighbour’s for help. The neighbour being a parent and a logical person calmed the girls, brought them home and checked the house for them. Yes, every closet, under every bed, the basement, the garage even under the dining room table. Any housekeeping indiscretions I had kept successfully hidden from my neighbourhood were launched into the daylight.

Note: If this happens to you, the very best you can manage is to call your neighbour, thank them profusely and offer to buy their silence.
Our last little one is preparing close the Home Alone gate behind him. After carefully reflecting on our errors the first two times around we have begun the training and the testing. We have also begun purging closets, organizing cupboards and sweeping out under the beds. You can never be too careful!

You can also find Michelle at her blog The Space Between Raindrops, sharing wisdom, gratitude and humour.

To Pay or Not to Pay?

How do you feel about paying your kids? Are you for the practice or against? We have a pretty hard line in our home – Nobody gets paid. It is a rule based on fairness. Families are a team effort and while most often the parents carry the team everybody has a position to play. Everybody does something to make the house run. When the kids were little I used to put socks on their hands and charge them with dusting anything below my kneecaps. Did they like it? Maybe not, but kids that age will do anything if you sing it. For almost 8 years nobody talked in our house, we sang. Everything… ‘Who will set the table?”… “I will, I will… lalalala” and so on. Things got done because we made it fun. That works when the kids are little because their currency is ‘fun’.

By the time they get into school they come to appreciate actual currency, the paper kind that can be traded for goods, services and candy. They want money! They want it and the internal struggle begins. Do you pay kids for helping out around the house? Is allowance a good thing? Should allowance be connected to performance? I go to work every day and I get paid for doing a job. If I ask my kids to do a job for me shouldn’t they be fairly compensated? Perhaps, but I get paid to do jobs for people I don’t live with (much to their relief) I do not get paid to work at home. At last count in our home I currently hold 6 full-time positions, 23 part-time ones and a host of special consultation gigs. I know my family pretty well, there is no way they can afford me, so I work pro bono (Oh but if they could afford me…imagine.. ChaChing!)

We have deemed in our home that most things you do because they are required as part of caring for yourself, and being respectful of the people you live with, chores are the requirement of holding a position on the team. Rooms get cleaned and laundry gets washed, dishes get put in the dishwasher (on occasion) because you cannot live in filth or smell like gym socks and paper and plastic are environmentally irresponsible. The reciprocal effects of your efforts are having room to entertain your friends, friends who want to share your fresh scented company and an absence of salmonella and listeria.

For everything else my kids go to the bank of Mom. Yes, sorry to all those parents who claim not to be a bank; you are. Might as well think like one… If you want money from me, there had better be some in your account or you better have good credit.

My kids fill up their mom accounts with extra courtesies. Maybe you folded a load a laundry or watched your brother after school; deposits to the Mom bank. Maybe you want to go to the movies on Saturday night or want to join your little friends on a run to the corner store for neon green and blue slushies; withdrawals from the Mom bank. Help goes in, privileges come out.

It all works pretty well; the kids get to earn some privileges without my actually paying for their efforts to keep the house running smoothly. As far as cash money, they earn a respectable amount through birthdays, babysitting gigs, and odd jobs for people they don’t live with. Our son is the very best at saving up his cash money for big purchases. It is funny just how quickly they figure out that Mom and Dad are not shelling out for any item that could cause bodily injury.

I am sure that there are better, simpler approaches to the allowance dilemma, some work, some don’t, we have tried most on and one thing is certain; you have to use what works with your values and family. What really works for our family right now is the kids starting to get real life jobs; jobs with schedules and pay stubs, bosses and responsibilities. Jobs that encourage their own spending and improve the healthy bottom line of the Mom Bank. Now I’m not so much credit manager as I am financial advisor. If I do this new job right they might just be able to pay me for my pro bono work someday!

You can also find Michelle at her blog The Space Between Raindrops, sharing wisdom, gratitude and humour.

Notes on Housekeeping (and other things)

Seventeen years ago this summer I became a mom, I received many wonderful gifts and pearls of wisdom in those first months but none that resounded or made me laugh quite as much as a note from a very dear friend of my mother. It was a beautiful note penned in delicate hand, congratulatory like so many others. Perhaps my admiration for this wonderful woman made her words more precious to my heart, every single cursive flowing word. All, except those of the very last line. It said … “Your bathroom will still be there in 18 years.” What kind of advice it THAT?

What she meant was that it would still be there and still need cleaning! I thought the note was cleaver and insightful and genuine. What it wasn’t; was completely accurate. Oh sure we are almost at that 18 year mark and indeed I still have a bathroom, but it is not the same bathroom.

My old bathroom was shiny and sparkly. It had a towel bar for fancy lace trimmed guest towels and a towel bar for everyday use family towels. There was a dainty little dish of rose shaped soaps, it matched the dainty little toothbrush holder that was reflected in a crystal clear mirror. My bathroom had fuzzy matching mats in front of the tub and surrounding the toilet. My bathroom smelled like Tropical breezes and Windex. It had candles and rolled up facecloths, lotions, perfumes, décor and a cute little cover for the T.P.
[Please excuse me while I compose myself.]

Why am I giving you such an in depth illustration of my bathroom? Because it is gone, it is gone and recently when I received a request to address the domestic struggles of housekeeping avec children and significant others; my beautiful little bathroom was the first thought that came to mind. I thought about my bathroom and all the things that heartfelt note did not say.

It didn’t say that one day five people will use the bathroom. That of those five only two will fully complete the task of refilling the toilet paper, the others will all leave the room void of toilet paper, forcing the next user to plead helplessly into the air register for someone to stuff a roll through the door. Nowhere was the message that the space around my tub, which used to house candles and perfumed shower lotions, would be filled with 23 empty bottles of shampoo, & bodywash, dotted with cans of shaving cream a collection of razors, a plastic Pizza Hut cup and a ragged poof. I read that note a hundred times and I promise, it never said that my beautiful sparkling porcelain sink would be covered in alien globs of toothpaste or that I would one day find my feet glued to the floor via a dangerous mix of dampness and remnant hair ‘over’ spray.

Yes she said, ‘Your bathroom will still be there in 18 years.’ She failed to mention that the fancy lace trimmed towels would disappear to the rag-bin, with a perfect imprint of a 2 year old face in grape jelly. Leaving 2 empty towel bars, one where the guest towels used to be and the other on the wall just above the sopping pile of family use towels. Oh, and she never mentioned all the Saturday afternoons I would be wrapped around the toilet scrubbing walls, trying to conceive how a male who can knock a cap off a beer bottle from 15 feet with a quarter can miss aim at a target the size of the Bent Crater in relative comparison. She never said I would enter my bathroom some days holding my breath and leave wiping my tears, mourning the pretty rose soaps and the tropical breeze. I can on good day still see the dainty toothbrush holder in the mirror, mostly, it looks a little like the surface of the moon now where tooth brush spatter distorts its image.

Hidden among her sentiment, most certainly, was not the knowledge that my bathroom would still be there but that on a daily basis is would be transformed into a germ encrusted, cyclone disaster area. That no one would see the puddle of pee on the back of the toilet or the makeup smeared on the counter top but me (and my mother-in-law). Not a hint that my family would rest contently supine on the couch littering the carpet with new and unnoticed crumbs, marking the coffee table with sweat rings and salsa while I scrub and wash, hang and febreeze.
Not a word.

As we approach year 18 however, I am coming to understand that the message was not in her words it was in the gift attached. A tiny beautifully hand knit layette.

Her message was this; all things with children are temporary, the stages, the grief, the sleepless nights. They too quickly grow out of tiny knitted layettes and they will grow out of your house too. When that happens, your bathroom will still be there. Just easier to clean.

You can also find Michelle at her blog The Space Between Raindrops, sharing wisdom, gratitude and humour.


Candace also blogs for
the Yummy Mummy Club!