How Do You Do It?

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Guest post by Nicole Owens:

How do you do it?

That's the million-dollar question, isn't it?

It's the question I get asked most frequently as a full-time working mom of five.

As working moms, we know that the slightest hiccup in our morning can mean we are drastically late for work. The smallest traffic delay can mean missing our kid’s football game. We run a pretty tight ship and every minute is accounted for.

If you're a Type A kind of person chances are you have this down to a science. Congratulations! I happen to be somewhere in between Type A and Type B. I definitely lean more towards B which does not make me super tidy and organized. I forget things, I lose things, I often set things down in bizarre spots and then freak out when I can't find them. And for a busy, working mom with lots of people to manage and keep track of, it can make my life inefficient. And inefficiency makes me cranky.

My house is not immaculate. Not by a long shot! Like I said, I'm definitely more Type B. But I like it cleaned and de-cluttered and picked up every night.  My car is a disaster, my floor boards are probably dusty, and I have clean laundry that sits folded in baskets for days and days. And yes, I sometimes run the washer twice because I let a load of clothes sit in there too long and then it gets stinky. So first off, I'm not perfect, nor is our home.

So, what is my formula?

Early on in my career I knew that there were certain things that I needed to have done in order for my life and my family’s lives to run smooth. Certain things that when they aren't done can send me over the edge. I literally cannot be everywhere at once. I cannot do everything at once. I cannot do everything for everyone by myself. I need help.

Did you hear that?

I. Need. Help.

That feels good to say!

As working mom’s, we like to think we can have it all, and we can do it all. We are the top of the food chain! But at some point over the years I remember kind of looking around my house after a long day of work and crying and blubbering incoherently to my husband about needing help and that "I can't do all this myself!" and "I'm just so tired!" At the time I was three kids deep and pregnant with my fourth. I was working full-time Monday through Friday day shift and the boys were 8, 10, and 11.

His answer: "OK. We'll start helping out more." Wait. What? Really?

And from this, our chore schedule was built!

We sat down and talked about which three things caused me the most stress and also NEEDED to be done every day.

1. Garbage needed to be taken out

2. Dishes done and put away

3. Tidying/Straightening up the living room

Then we listed other things that were "smaller" jobs that could be used to supplement the three bigger chores:

1. Cleaning off the dining room table after dinner

2. Sweeping the kitchen

3. Picking up the family room

4. Picking up toys in the playroom (as needed)

5. Bringing down laundry baskets (as needed)

6. Dog Poop pick up (as needed)

I was raised in a home where my mom stayed home. I literally never had a chore. Ever. In my opinion this was a huge disservice to my siblings and me. The more I thought about my husband's idea of assigned chores - the more I loved it. We'd be helping each other, teaching our kids how to do simple basic household duties, all while lightening my load. Win-Win.

But you know what? I had this nagging guilt about it. WHY? Why did I feel like it was my job to do all the chores? Probably because it always had been and it had always been my mom's job. That's all I knew. As I got older and had more kids and continued working, I just never gave up those responsibilities. I just kept adding more and more to my never-ending to-do list. And then I just couldn't do it anymore. Until I asked for help through those gigantically-pregnant, emotional tears.  And I can promise you, I have never looked back.

We have had several types of displays for our chore chart and the thing that works the best and (in my opinion) is a chalkboard/bulletin board. I got ours at a craft store. I wanted it to go with our décor and not be an eyesore.

 It hangs right in our kitchen in a central location. The first of every month the chore assignments get posted and then rotate the first of the next month.

For example:


Caleb - Garbage/dining room

Andrew - Dishes/sweep kitchen

Zackery - Living room/Family room

Come October 1st the list will look like this:

Caleb - Dishes/Sweep kitchen

Andrew - Living Room/Family Room

Zackery - Garbage/Dining room

The rule is Monday through Friday before bedtime their chores have to get done. Sometimes if they're being punished they have to do everyone's chores for X number of days, depending on their offense. If they want to go do something on an evening - they can't leave until they do their chores. If they want friends over, the friends can't come over until their chores are done. We do this purposely so that they realize their chores are their responsibility and it's important to the well-being of our family that it gets done. They know they have to do it. Of course, there are nights were none of it gets done because we're at sports or out to eat or some other event. Other times we forget to remind them or we get busy and they don't get done.  So, this isn't a perfect system but it is a HUGE improvement!

Honestly - WHAT A RELIEF! My workload at home has drastically lightened. There was an obvious learning curve, of course. For instance, I used to find dirty clothes in the toy boxes because it turns out that when you ask an 11-year-old boy to pick up the playroom, he will most likely cut corners. (Who knew?!) So instead of throwing the dirty clothes in the laundry room, he'd just toss them into a toy box for me or the younger kids to find later. Or whoever had dish duty would put the dishes all in the wrong spots, so when I'm going to prep or make dinner (that's a whole other blog post entirely) I can't find anything. Or the kid with garbage duty would forget to bring the bins down to the end of the drive way and garbage day was missed. Needless to say, it took a long time for all of us to get used to our new normal. But it has and is one of the best things we've done for our family.

Now if your kids are young you can definitely modify this to be age appropriate. We've recently started incorporating our almost three-year-old into this as well. So, every night before bed my husband or I go with her into her room and we help her pick it up. We call this her "chore". She knows she has to do it at bedtime and of course is not too fond of it! I think this helps her feel included and I think it will help prepare her for the chores that will be coming as she gets older. When the older boys were younger I had them do smaller tasks like dusting, picking up, organizing the entry way (which always looks like a mine field of shoes!). At the end of the day, those little tasks make my life a smidge easier.

Truth Bomb: At first, I felt like we were maybe stretching the whole "child labor" thing - ha. But I know now that having them help is a good thing. So often our society pigeonholes women into thinking that their place is at home and they're responsible for housework. When a mom works outside of the home she's setting an example that women belong wherever they choose. And that housework is not “women's work”. Diapers are for anyone to change. We all cook. We all clean. We all contribute. We are a family and our job is to help each other. Yes, they're helping my husband and I, one hundred percent. But what they don't know is that we are helping them. Helping them become responsible, capable, hard-working individuals that don't EXPECT their parents to do everything for them.

I tell them all the time - "Someday your partners are going to thank me that you know how to load a dishwasher, sweep a floor, and put dishes away." This is a huge part of our formula as a family.

So, when people ask me "How do you do it?" I can answer, "I don't do it. WE do."


Nicole Owens resides in Minnesota in the suburbs of St. Paul/Minneapolis with her husband, their five children, and new puppy. In her free time (she has a small fraction of it), she likes to run, read, write, and pretend her laundry pile doesn't exist. She works full-time in Radiology doing mammograms and x-rays. In other words, she's a blogging, momming, wife-ing, working, soccer-football-wrestling-track-n-field watching mom who is ultimately trying to prevent her fifth and final baby from growing up. Read more on her blog, They Have to Sleep Eventually, and find her on InstagramFacebook, and Twitter.

This blog series is dedicated to women sharing parts of their formula for living their best life.  There are no limits to what can be shared, and while you hopefully take away some tidbits you might want to apply to your own formula, you will certainly feel like you are not alone in your world of rushed chaos!  Click here and receive these posts directly in your inbox as they are released.