Twenty Minutes of Teamwork

Yesterday, we made it to school on time.  Just barely.  When the clock turned to 7:45, and it was time to get in the car to head that direction, I had two kids standing in my kitchen.  

Both barefoot.

Neither with their hair combed.

One missing his belt.

And the other frantically looking for her lost library book.  

Kory and I sprung into action to move them along, and we made it.  Just barely. But we made it.

All of that to say, it’s a challenge to manage two careers, three children, a home, and all of the things that go along with it.  And school day mornings are a daily reminder of this harsh reality.

Kory and I admit that both of us would struggle to do it alone (and we applaud all of the single parents out there who are doing a mighty job).  We certainly couldn’t do it without God.  And you know what?  We couldn’t do it without the help of our kids either.

Being a family requires teamwork.  Period.

Yes, we require work from our kids around the house.  And they don’t get paid for it.  Instead, we treat it as the “sweat equity” they must invest for the privilege of being a member of our family.  A member of our “team.”  

Of course, they have daily responsibilities relative to their own personal space.  They are expected to make their beds, take care of their personal hygiene, and clean their rooms daily.  Our two oldest children are now doing their own laundry (the youngest with supervision).  And if we notice our kids enjoying free time after school or on the weekends before these tasks have been completed, we will simply ask them,

“Have you earned the freedom to play?”

But that’s not the kind of work I’m talking about here.

In addition to these personal chores, we believe contributions to the family at large are really important.  Practically, it helps Kory and I manage the home, particularly now that we have two kids over the age of five who are quite capable of pitching in.  But emotionally and spiritually, it also helps our kids invest in our family.  It strengthens our family identity.  And it conjures a sense of gratitude for all the work that goes into making our world turn.  

But we don’t have a chore list. We’ll admit we couldn’t keep up with one. It’s just one more thing to manage, and we would fail.  We would lack consistency in its enforcement.  And everyone would get frustrated.

So instead of keeping a chore list, when we’re working around the house, we simply survey what needs to be done, and we ask our kids to help.  The work gets done faster, and because we’re often doing it together, it’s more fun.

We refer to one of the ways in which we’ve implemented this strategy as “Twenty Minutes of Teamwork.”  And we adjust the time to whatever suits the task at hand.  Sometimes we do Ten Minutes of Teamwork.  Other times we do Thirty Minutes of Teamwork.  But regardless of the time allotted, the idea is to get as much work done as possible before the oven timer goes off.  

Last Sunday, I used this strategy before we hopped in the car to go to church.  We were ahead of schedule for a change, and we had precisely 13 minutes to spare.  I knew that we had a busy afternoon ahead of us, and the house was a wreck.  So I called the kids to the sofa and told them we were going to work to tidy things up for 13 minutes before getting in the car.  I set the kitchen timer, and the kids headed off to start working on the tasks I had assigned.  As my daughter headed upstairs with a handful of items that needed to be put away, she said to all of us,

“Let’s work at Pancake Speed!”  

And because she said the magic words, my boys sprung into action.  We managed to get the entire kitchen clean, all the laundry put away, the items at the bottom of the stairs stored, and the living areas tidied up in 13 minutes!  And when we got home from church, not much remained to be done.  

We assign work in other ways too.  Sometimes, we give them a task and a deadline such as before they go to bed or by the end of the weekend.  Other times, out of necessity, we give them a task and request that it be done immediately.  And when they want to earn some money, we will come up with tasks that we’re willing to pay them for.  But we’ve found that Twenty Minutes of Teamwork is working beautifully for those times when there’s a lot to be done and a tendency for us all to get a little overwhelmed.  Coupled with Pancake Speed, it’s amazing what we can accomplish as a family!

How do you involve your children in work around the house?