Monday, April 7, 2014

Doing Dishes Trumps Disneyland

Okay, so no one's ever going to say that doing dishes as a family is more FUN than Disneyland.  It's a menial chore that never goes away--in fact, it seems to be undone the moment you finish.  I would actually rather clean a toilet than do the dishes.  So how can I claim that doing dishes together will make more of an impact on my children's memories--not to mention character--than a trip to Disneyland would?

Well, that's what I'm here to tell you.  Several months back, our dishwasher broke.  We had just upgraded our floor from tile to laminate, and we didn't have the funds to fix it.  Plus, the thought of any more leaking on our brand new pretty floor made my husband (who installed the darn thing, bless him) cringe.  I have some pretty crazy ideas about families working together from my days in college, and I convinced everyone involved that doing the dishes by hand every night would be FUN!  Turns out it IS pretty fun--and even more importantly, this ritual has become very important in the lives of our children (and us parents too!).

One reason for the impact is quite simple: we do dishes Every. Single. Day. When added up over a childhood, that makes for a lot of sudsy moments piled on top of each other.  Poor Disneyland doesn't stand a chance when you factor in actual minutes spent PLUS the number of repetitions.

Besides being ever present, doing dishes is a perfect job to do together.  It requires such little skill that there is something for every level to do.  Daddy does the washing, I rinse for him when I finish clearing the table and sweeping, the big boys dry, and the baby helps them put everything away.  It is a serious thrill to look at my whole family sandwiched between the sink and the silverware drawer (which we moved to a bottom cupboard so the littles can reach), busily working together to accomplish a shared goal.  And it tickles the baby that he gets to be a part of it!

Cup stacking--very helpful AND developmentally appropriate!!

There is another reason I feel confident suggesting that the boring, mindless repetition of dish doing can hold a candle to the boundless fun and energy of rides and Disney magic:  the very mindlessness that makes dishes so boring actually promotes meaningful conversation.  It's easy to relate events of the day, develop strategies to cope with friendship woes, or coach my four-year-old through handling the crush his classmate has on him (!!!) because I don't really have to focus on scrubbing or buffing.  I have a feeling that as these guys get older, crushes become more serious, and jobs and school become overwhelming stressors, this might be the only time I have to "trick" them into telling me about what's going on in their lives.  Try having a deep conversation in the middle of Space Mountain...dishes wins!!

Another plus for doing dishes: it is a "taking care of the whole family" job--studies have shown that these kind of jobs, as opposed to self-care tasks (cleaning their own room, brushing their teeth, picking up the toys that THEY got out) helps children develop compassion.  In our western society, these kind of jobs usually fall to the mothers--how silly of us to keep these incredible learning tools to ourselves!  So I am unselfishly sharing this task with my whole family and letting them reap the rewards as well.  Ha!

This guy has actually started drying without being asked (gasp)!!!

Doing dishes scores major points because working together can build your family into a team (as long as Mommy and Daddy can keep things positive instead of stressful).  Even when we are "competing" parents vs. kids to see who gets done first, we are actually working together to fight against entropy.  By the way, I love it that my kids haven't figured out that our "distress" at them finishing before us masks our smugness that they just joyfully participated in a chore.  Bonus, they get to practice good sportsmanship in winning: "maybe tomorrow you will win, Daddy."  These kiddos take a lot of pride in "their" clean kitchen and we all feel good that it was a team effort.

How many pieces of silverware can we fit in the cheese grater?

It sounds idyllic, and I can feel some eyes rolling through your screen.  Obviously it's not smooth sailing every night.  We parents have to work really hard to keep from nitpicking, nagging, or stressing perfection.  There are little feet under ours, and in the beginning, we could have gotten the job done much faster if we'd sent them off to play.  Occasionally (most days) I find a dish in the cupboard that wasn't perfectly dried the night before.  Some team members are less willing to help than others (I have to prod myself more often than I'd like to admit).  But as we work to patiently teach and consistently expect help, all of these hard things get easier.

The other night, my 6 year old got to do the washing--his favorite job--because Daddy was at work late.  Instead of competing, we worked together, us vs. the kitchen.  He keeps reminding me, "remember when I washed all the dishes?"  And I don't point out that I made sure they were well rinsed first.  He couldn't wait to tell Daddy about this amazing accomplishment.  Neither could I.

Incredibly, the job worse than toilet cleaning has become nearly enjoyable, and the companionship we feel as we do it brings real joy.  The memories made may not be as glossy and sparkle filled as shooting aliens with Buzz or braving snakes with Indiana Jones, but they will be deeper, more meaningful, and substantial.  They will be the memories I will love to pull out and caress against my cheek when my boys have moved on to scrubbing forks and plates with their own families.  With any luck, these kids of mine will feel the same way.

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