Last week, in a Mindful Return 201 group coaching session, we were discussing our lives, our kids, and our time management hacks. I said, only half-jokingly, that my own children were my favorite, but often-overlooked, time management strategy.
“They can do soooooo much more than I give them credit for,” I noted. My husband had just gone out of town for a few days, and at 9 and 11 years old, they proved more than capable of making their own breakfast and washing their own dishes while he was gone.
We often think of our kids as the problem with our time management efforts. But it can be incredibly helpful, I think, to view them as a big part of the solution, too.
After my own joking comment, one of our course participants described the system that was in place at her house growing up, as one of 5 kids. I immediately invited her to share this system with the Mindful Return community, because it’s so inspiring.
Today, I’m welcoming working mom, Elle Christenson, to the Mindful Return blog. Elle was gracious enough do describe – in such helpful detail! – the “Basics, Trail, Readiness, Community” framework that made such a big difference in her own home growing up. Welcome, Elle!
When my mom and stepdad married, I became the oldest of 5 children – four boys ages six to eleven, and me, a thirteen-year-old girl. Needless to say, the household required some structure, as we all learned how to navigate a shared emotional and physical space.
My mother took this family transition as an opportunity to create a system that fostered accountability, responsibility, and ownership. The result was a system that was scalable, age appropriate over many years, and created lasting positive impacts.
The physical set up of the system was simple: there were four big sheets of paper with questions for each of the categories. Asking questions gave us kids the opportunity to develop our thinking skills around these tasks. It was also easy for the adults to use as an agenda or check-in list at family meetings or as-needed.
The neat part about managing our space and time this way, is that the categories became shorthand. Eventually my mom could ask, “Have you done your Trail?” or “Are your Basics done?” and everyone had a shared understanding of what that meant and the standard that we would be held to.
As we took on larger tasks, my mom also implemented Household University. This was a weekly time where all of the kids were taught how to do a chore such as load the dishwasher or do a load of laundry. Having the instruction gave us the tools and confidence that we were capable of doing these tasks.
The list of questions and responsibilities changed as we grew. The level of parental oversight did too, until it all became second nature. As adults, we continue to look back fondly on this system and find that the foundational lessons continue to help us manage our lives, relationships, and homes.
Categories and Questions Kids Can Understand:
Below are the system categories along with examples of questions. These can be as specific as your family needs, and can expand as your child masters tasks and is ready for more responsibility
Basics – Taking care of your body and mind.
- Are your teeth brushed?
- Is your hair combed?
- Have you had a snack or a meal to fuel your body?
- Do you need to use the bathroom before we leave the house?
- Have you clipped your nails recently?
- Are you dressed? Remember to dress appropriately for your activities.
- Have you taken a bath or shower today?
- Have you had a chance to move your body today?
- Do you need someone to listen to your fears, joys, anxieties, etc.?
- Have you shared something you are grateful for today?
- Do you need a hug or some cuddle time? (This can be with parents, siblings, or pets!)
Trail – Picking up after yourself and leaving common spaces and resources nice for others.
Note: In our house the expectation was that your bedroom was your space to manage how you wanted. However, you could not have food or fire in your own room.
- Did you scan the room for any of your items before leaving? Please take your things to your room.
- Have you put away anything that you took out?
- Did you turn off the lights when you left the room?
- Did you eat the last of a food item? Please add it to the grocery list.
- Have you put any plates/cups that you used into the dishwasher?
- Does the ice cube tray need to be refilled?
- Did you use the last of the TP? Please replace it for the next person.
- Is the bathroom or kitchen soap running low? Please replace or refill it.
- If the car is low on gas? Please fill the tank for the next driver.
Readiness – Being accountable for your activities and schedule.
- Do you have any homework that needs to be done?
- Do you have forms or permission slips that need to be reviewed or signed?
- Is your bag packed for your activity (sports, dance, swimming, music lessons, etc.)?
- Are there any library books that need to be returned?
- Are your lunch and snacks packed?
- Do you have clothes laid out for tomorrow?
- Have you added meals you want to the menu list?
- Did you add items you need from the grocery store to the list? (School supplies, hygiene products, special requests)
Community – Contributing to the household and upholding your civic responsibilities.
- Set or clear the table (For little ones, this can be just your plate. For older kids, this can be the entire table.)
- Help make dinner
- Help clean up after dinner
- Assist with the grocery shopping
- Do a load of laundry
- Fold the laundry
- Wipe down the bathroom
- Vacuum a rug
- Pull weeds
- Learn how to change the oil in the car
- Feed the pets
- Water the plants
- Go to a community event such as an ivy pull, food drive, etc.
- Go with your parents to drop off your ballot or vote
What system has worked in your own house? How have you engaged your kids in the better-functioning of your own household? We’d love to hear your own experiences and suggestions in comments below!
Elle Christensen is mom to a joyful baby boy (born July 2021) and an athletic cat named Maynard Furguson. She works full-time as a Project Manager at Crowdstreet, a commercial real estate crowdfunding platform. In her free time, Elle enjoys cooking without a recipe, listening to audiobooks, and spending time outdoors with her husband, baby, friends, and family.
Want more practical tips on working parenthood? Check out my book, Back to Work After Baby: How to Plan and Navigate a Mindful Return from Maternity Leave