Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Just a bunch of practical advice

Dear Jane,

I have a few questions about the mechanics of family life, not so much the eternally important things. I hope you don't mind me asking those types of questions. I don't mean to waste your time, I just feel like you probably have some really good ideas about this stuff in addition to your marvelous testimony that shines through your blog posts. Love, Heidi

The Question:

Have you discovered any stain removal secrets you can share with some of us with less experience? Specifically, how do you get chocolate out of kids' clothing?!

The Answer:

I have a stain removal secret for you. After using “Shout”, if I find that a stain still hasn’t come out, I put it in “the pile”. When I have accumulated four or five items, I make the brew. I fill a sink about 1/3 full of hot water (not too hot to touch.) I then add about a half cup each of bleach and powdered dishwasher soap. It has to be powdered. If the clothing item is colored, I dip it in the bleach water again and again until the stain disappears. Usually, the color stays fast. Then I quickly rinse it and add it to my laundry. If the item is white, I just put it in the water and leave it for a few minutes. This concoction has worked miracles for me. It’s a last ditch effort because sometimes (rarely) it causes the colors to fade. I’m not sure the amounts are right. To tell you the truth, I just pour them in.

The Other Questions, followed by The Other Answers:

The following questions were posted by my cousin on our family website. As I was contemplating them, I wondered what Jane would say about each one:

1. Question 1...bedwetting:) Our son still wets the bed. He is 5 1/2 years old so I know that is not terribly old, but if there is anything I can do to expedite the process than I'd like to try:) My husband and I both stopped when we were two and three...Our other child too. Our son wears a pull-up at night. We've tried to have him not wear them and see if that helps him to make him more aware, but then I just end up washing sheets every day. Any suggestions?

I did have a couple of kids who were late bed-wetters. It wasn’t every night, but often. I tried to watch their liquid intake in the evening and I would wake them up before I went to bed and take them to the bathroom. This didn’t always work so I washed sheets. I remember having them help me change the sheets but I think it’s important not to shame them. It seems like a developmental thing because in time, it just went away. If your son seems emotionally healthy, I would just ride it out.

2. Question 2...Sacrament Mtg reverence:) While Sacrament Mtg in general is getting easier as the kids get older, we still struggle with this. With four little kids, sometimes I feel like we are the loudest family in the ward. Any ideas you've tried that have worked?

Ah, Sacrament Meeting. I used to sit down and apologize in advance to whoever was sitting behind us. It’s rough. But I learned one little thing by accident. One day, I forgot my well-equipped Sacrament Meeting bag. I was terrified. No crackers, books, pens and paper, toys, nothing. And to my surprise, it was our best Sacrament Meeting yet. It occurred to me that I might have been over-stimulating my children. After that, we had nothing at all until after the Sacrament. Then maybe just a small tablet and pencil. I encouraged them to draw pictures of things they were hearing in the talks. My husband and I had the deal that I always cared for the baby and he always held the next one up.

3. Question 3...Any fun family home evening ideas your families have done? I know there are tons, but anything that really stands out as a great idea?

I’d like to invite our readers to each share their favorite one ever.

I’ll tell you mine. This was somewhat elaborate and it wasn’t my original idea. I read it somewhere. Also, our children were a little older. We each wrote our testimony. Then, using a code, we carved them onto plates (We wrote gently with pen on foil covered cardboard pages). When we each had our page, we bound them together with rings and explained to our children that our collective testimonies were like the scriptures. That would have been great as it was, but we assigned our son, Eric to bury them somewhere in the yard-- which he did. During the week, he "appeared" to Kristen and told her where they were so she could dig them up and bring them back. She did and we used the code to translate each testimony. I don’t know about the kids, but I never forgot it!

4. Question 4...How do you handle your kids going over to other people's houses to play or spend the night? Now that the boys are in school, they have been invited to playdates at people's houses that I don't know. In the past their friends have mostly been people at church whom I know... I have never felt comfortable with sleepovers in particular either...any thoughts?

We didn’t do sleepovers. We were famous for “late-overs”. This was highly inconvenient, but we would let our children spend the evening and enjoy the fun and then at bedtime, we would come and get them. I got this from my older sister who had read some research that indicated that most sexual experimentation and crude discussion (between boys especially) happens at sleepovers. So as a protection, I have avoided them. On some special occasions (like a best friend’s birthday) if I really feel comfortable with the family, I make an exception. With so many children, sleepovers would have been very disruptive to our family.

For play dates, I think it’s important to meet the parents, have the child over first and teach your child how to call you if they ever feel uncomfortable.

5. Question 5...Chores How do you work chores/jobs? I am embarrassed to admit I haven't really done a structured way of doing chores up til now. They just kind of help me do jobs around the house as they are interested in doing them. But I think it's time a little more is expected. Do you rotate, have charts, have allowance?

We’ve done all of the above. Our main workday is Saturday. We spend all morning cleaning the house and I usually try to find a fun interesting way to do it.

We’ve earned beans for jobs and then had a little store at the end.

I made a board game (very simple out of construction paper) called Jackpot that had all the jobs on it. When you landed on a job, you had to do it and at the end, we all won the Jackpot (a bag of candy.)

I made a tape (does anyone have cassettes anymore?) on which I said each job that I wanted done. “Clean all the toilets” “Vacuum the living room”, etc. Each child would accomplish a job and then turn on the tape player to get the next one. When we got to the end of the tape, the house was clean.

I loved Saturday morning work. I love the feeling of mopping a floor while I hear the vacuum going downstairs and someone dusting the living room. I think we all loved that feeling. After the work, we tried to do something fun or just let everyone go and play.

For weekday chores, we’ve used a rotating chart at times, but honesty what has worked the best for me is to assign each family member a responsibility for a month or more. For example--clean your room and the bathroom every morning before school. They get good at their job and there is no confusion about expectations. Even a very young child can make their bed every morning and then set the table for dinner every night.

I know there is a lot of disagreement about giving kids allowance. I confess, I’m a dismal failure at it. We’ve tried it off and on and it just never lasts. But I do keep a list of “extra” jobs that I am willing to pay children to do—Vacuum the van, Organize the storage room, etc. So there are always chances to earn money.


  1. My friend's father made a point to visit every new home his children were going to. I remember him telling us how the first time she was going to the home of a well-known news anchor he hesitated; but he decided that it didn't matter if they were famous or not--he wanted to introduce himself to the parents and make sure it was a good environment. He did this through high school. I don't know if my friend was ever bothered by it, but we never thought twice about it because her dad was friends with all of us (due to this practice, I'm sure).

  2. Some great advice. If you don't mind if I chime in, I have a few ideas:

    1. Bedwetting. We have major issues with our children too (well with a few exceptions) with this. It is a sleep issue, not a matter of will or defiance and eventually, most kids outgrow it. When one of ours did not and still had problems at age 8, we ended up buying an alarm that went off. Basically, it retrained the brain, which previously slept through any kind of stimuli, to wake up with the bladder. After about two months, for a kid who wet every night, it was cured and we haven't had a problem with him since. The next child in line is not proving so quick to train, mostly because he only wets once or twice a week, so the brain doesn't get enough reinforcement. But I really recommend the alarm -- they're expensive, but they work!

    2. Sacrament meeting. Don't worry so much about it. I agree that the simpler the better on the crud you bring with you. We bring Friend magazines, paper and crayons and that's it, and we also have the rule that nothing comes out until after the sacrament. We're also blessed to have a few adopted Grandmas in the ward who love my 5-year-old twins. If my kids are reverent and behaving well, then after the sacrament, I allow them to sit with Sister Hatch or Sister Cooper or Sister Bullock. These delightful sisters really enjoy playing the grandma role, and it has helped our family tremendously, especially when those twins were 3, not 5.

    5. Chores. I don't think there is one "right" way to do this and I think lots of systems work at different times. I answered a question on my blog about chores a while back that might be of interest: http://handsfullmom.blogspot.com/2009/08/q-chores.html and a follow-up one here: http://handsfullmom.blogspot.com/2009/08/q-chores-again.html

    What's working best for us right now is specific zones for each of the older kids. My 10-year-old is in charge of waking us up for scriptures and helping with dinner. My 9-year-old cleans the great room and entry way every day. My 7-year-old empties the dishwasher and straightens the mud room and I just started having my 5-year-old twins help me every day to clean the family room (where all their toys are). If each person just does their job each day, the house doesn't descend into chaos so quickly.

    We also have Saturday morning be a family work day where we all work together to get the house clean. Especially as the kids get older and can work independently, it is getting easier to get it all done and we even have extra time sometimes to tackle larger projects.

  3. All of this advice really rings true to me.

    As for The Best Family Home Evening Ever, it was actually last night! My husband and I had a gift card to a local restaurant, where we got lemonade and an appetizer. Over the snacks (it was late in the evening and fairly quiet), we read an article from this month's Ensign entitled "Putting Family First." That sparked a discussion about how we want to maintain balance in our lives, especially as the years pass and more demands are presented to us.

    We wrote a family mission statement that we decided to always live by. It included a list of things we will ALWAYS do, no matter what, that will always keep us on track. Essentially, if we have no exciting vacations, no extracurricular activities, no restaurants to go to, and no fun items to purchase, we will still be happy if we stick to the handful of daily and weekly commitments we outlined. We plan to type it and frame it.

    I loved this FHE. It was our best one yet. We've only been married five months, so I look forward to more.

  4. We had lots of fun FHE's growing up. One was about the Value of Money. My dad cut green paper into strips, one for every dollar he earned. Then we all sat in a circle while he showed us how much went to rent, electricity, gas, water, car stuff, food, etc. When we saw how little was left, we quickly stopped complaining about not getting donuts or whatever.

    Our parents would help us write out a lesson. When we were too little to write, they'd ask us what we wanted to say, then they'd draw it out. A stick figure on a cloud was Heavenly Father. A stick figure with a sash wash Jesus, etc. Then we could give the lesson on our own without anyone prompting us to read something. (This was also always a lot of fun for Primary talks.)

    The church's FHE book is WONDERFUL! It has a lesson, how to adapt it for older kids or younger ones, and then a list of variations for future lessons. My husband and I have been working through it on our own since our 1.5 year-old isn't all that interested yet, but pretty soon we plan on directing them toward her.

  5. Regarding the last comment about allowance -- when we started giving our children allowance I was worried about forgetting to do it every week. We decided we could just do it every month instead and it has worked great. On the first monday of each month we do allowance as part of our FHE. It would seem overwhelming to do it every week, but taking a few minutes once a month to give them their allowance and help them figure out how much goes in tithing, savings, and spending doesn't feel that way. The kids remind us if we forget and we never have to figure out if we owe them for more than one week because we forgot.

    We also keep a list of "dollar jobs" that are extra things the kids can do to earn a dollar when they feel like their allowance isn't going far enough.


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