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Motherhood Matters: Chore charts, reality and the heart of the home

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If you had looked around the main living space in our home this morning, you never would've known that we have a really nifty family chore system. You would have seen crusty dinner dishes stacked in the sink from the night before, school papers and library books littering almost every corner of the kitchen and living room, shoes and backpacks spilling over the stairs, and the cute but annoying sofa pillows lumped up on the floor with a wad of fleece blankets. (And don’t get me started on the mudroom filled with lockers that ostensibly house each child’s belongings. Disaster!)

"How could this be?" I grumbled to myself as I spent a good hour cleaning up the messes I was unwilling to leave until the kids got home from school. How. Could. This. Be? Each child has an area or “zone” of the house that he or she is responsible for (including the living room, the mudroom and those stairs), rewards for doing them and the loss of privileges for not doing them. So why didn’t it get done?

Because I didn’t enforce the system. I didn’t work the plan.

Now, I understand that a good family system shouldn’t require the supervision and nagging of the mother. That’s the whole point, right? But then there’s this nasty little thing called reality. Only one of my four children is really into the system enough to do it on her own without nagging and reminding, and it was the busiest afternoon/evening of the week, with each child having a different extracurricular activity at a different time and place.

The truth is, I was tired and didn’t really feel like corralling my two youngest children to clean up with me at the time we normally do it as a family. My husband was gone with the older kids (the most capable of the bunch), and I still needed to help my youngest with homework. So I made an unconscious choice to just let it go and give us all a break. (Which was fantastic. Until this morning.)

My point actually has nothing to do with our family system and everything to do with understanding that — for better or for worse — in many cases, moms really are the heart of the home. If they work, the family works. If they don’t work, the family usually doesn’t work either. If they’re crabby, it makes the kids crabby. If they’re happy, the kids are (often) happy. If they are really hard on themselves, they are usually hard on their children. If they treat themselves with kindness and mercy, that’s usually how they treat their children (who then treat themselves accordingly). It’s an interesting concept to think about and a true one in my life.

I say "for better or for worse" because I’m pretty darn human. I have days when I don’t feel like being nice and happy, sticking to a schedule or working any kind of plan — let alone the super ambitious ones I’ve created for myself. My ambitions and expectations have come back to bite me on more than one occasion when theory has butt up against practice, plans against reality and goals against human weakness.

I don’t like giving in to these things. I want to believe that if it works on paper, it works. Period. That if I just make a really outlined time map for the day, a really fun and motivating chore system, or a super realistic-yet-ambitious goal chart for myself or my kids that it will magically happen. If it existed, I would be Queen of the Ivory Tower of Motherhood — high above and set apart from actually doing the dirty work of motivating, enforcing and working all my highfalutin plans.

But here I am, in the moment and in the mess, surrounded not only by my children but also by my weakness and my humanity. So I don’t always do it right. I am not always the pillar of strength, wisdom and selflessness that I could so easily write a chapter about in the parenting manual of the Ivory Tower of Motherhood. But I’m OK with that. I’ve learned to not only forgive but to also embrace the inconsistent, imperfect and often unbalanced life that belongs to my family, led by me, the inconsistent, imperfect and often unbalanced mother. The heart of the home.

So maybe no one did their chores yesterday, and maybe it’s because I wasn’t leading the way. But I will tell you what I did do. I snuggled in bed with my youngest after we read together. I hung out and talked in my teenage son’s room while my husband hung the chin-up bar I bought at my son's request. I took a spontaneous trip to the library with another child who really wanted the next book in a series she is reading, and I spent a few minutes posting and bragging on Instagram about one of my oldest daughter’s latest pieces of artwork (the child least likely to call attention to or promote herself). Heck, I even managed to go to bed extra early, which resulted in me waking up this morning with plenty of energy to clean up yesterday's messes after everyone went to school.

I’m not trying to excuse laziness or promote enabling children to be lazy by doing their work for them. I’m just trying to help us all be a little more kind and merciful with both ourselves and our children when it comes to this thing called family life. To realize that as the heart of the home, we aren’t always going to do it right, but if our resources and energy are limited and there’s a choice, it’s almost always better to follow our hearts rather than our own highfalutin plans.

Question: Do you feel like you are the heart of the home? Does everyone seem to follow your lead, for better or for worse?

Challenge: If your resources and energy are limited but you still have a choice, follow your heart instead of your highfalutin plans.

This article is courtesy of Power of Moms, an online gathering place for deliberate mothers.