i truly, truly believe the answer is having a rhythm.
it comes out of the steiner (waldorf) tradition or ideas, and the basic principle is that there is a time for everything. with this, it's about what people (and children) really need. a sense that everything will be done in it's own time, and that everyone's needs will be met.
it also has another philosophical component that is very important to me--loving the work of the home. it turns out that i actually really enjoy taking care of my home, and if it is messy, i am unhappy. if it is cluttered, i am unhappy. if it is dirty, then i am unhappy. and, it turns out, so is everyone else. by having a clean and tidy home, we are better able to create, we are better able to be at peace too. it's just more restful and more fun. it becomes a blank canvas in which our family can thrive.
and if you do the work devotionally, with love, the children pick up on that and want to do it too. DS (2) helps me with all of the chores in some way. he really likes helping, and can tell that i like doing the work.
So, practically speaking, how does one design or develop a rhythm? to determine our rhythm, we looked at the following factors:
DS's needs: when he eats, when he needs to sleep, and when he needs active vs passive play, and how much time on his own, with me, with DH, and with all of us together.
DH's needs: his work needs, his needs for working out, alone time, and so on;
My needs: my work needs, my needs for crafting/etc, and so on.
Household needs: we looked at the general work that the house requires, and defined what those were.
So, the beginning is simply when you wake and when you go to bed. not just you, individually of course, but the kids, and then the adults. DH wakes at 6:30 am; DS usually around 7:30, and I rise with DS. DS usually also has a nap mid-day. Now, in lieu of a nap--as there are times when he refuses--we have quiet time. that is time when he can quietly play, but we do restful activities during that time. it's usually between 11 and 2, and usually lasts 1.5 to 2 hrs. again, he normally naps, but for non-napping children at home, "quiet time" for at least an hour is an important passive activity to include. you, also, want to be passive during this time--mending, reading, or something that requires quiet.
then, i put in meal times and the time around that (prep and clean up).
then, i put in the things that can't budge: my work and DH's work schedules, DS's playgroup.
after this, you put in everything else.
the rhythm moves between active and passive activities, and it includes everything else that remains on the list to be done in a day.
here is our daily rhythm mon-friday:
1. rise, make bed, toilet, breakfast (active)
2. daily chore (active)
3. activity for the day
4. snack time/morning tea
5. rest/nap time (DH and I have lunch during this time)
6. DS lunch time, then activity (i'm usually at work, DH is doing this)
7. snack time, then getting ready for bed, which is done before dinner for DS. DS has dinner, then i return home and we do our bed time ritual, and he goes to bed between 7:30 and 8.
8. DH and I have dinner, do a final tidy and dishes, then have some time together for various activities.
9. Dh and I go to bed between 10 and 10:30.
The daily chore list is this:
Wednesday--Kitchen, vacuum dust (small house, takes about 20 minutes. i do the kitchen while DH does the vacuum and dusting)
Friday--accounting and paperwork decluttering and filing.
Saturday--no chore (will be composting/gardening)
every day, we do the following tidying chores throughout the day, also in a rhythm: prepping and cleaning up after meals; tidying away toys/crafts/paperwork; laundry (which is pretty much every other day or every third day).
tidying toys and papers happens three times a day and takes about 5 minutes each time. it happens before morning snack (after the morning activity ends), and then again before the evening snack. DH and I do a final tidy after dinner when there is need.
cleaning up after meals is quick and easy for me--about 20 minutes to do dishes, wipe down countertops and stovetop, and sweep the floor.
laundry happens as it happens, i usually put a load in after i take a shower, and then when it is done i put it away. takes 5 minutes to put it in the wash, 5 minutes to switch it over to the dryer, and about 5 minutes to fold and put the clothes away.
So, i spend, on average, about 30 minutes on a given "big chore" for the day, plus 15 minutes tidying every day, plus another 60 minutes (breakfast, lunch, dinner) keeping the kitchen clean. tidying the bathroom is done after the showers in the AM, and takes about 5 minutes, so i guess that adds another 5 minutes.
so, i spend 1 hr and 50 minutes throughout the day cleaning up.
the rest of the day is spent in a balanced rhythm where DS's needs get met (for play on his own, with us individually, and as a family), where DH's needs get met (to read, relax, write, whatever), and where my needs get met (to be online, read, practice yoga, etc). and of course, both DH and I get to work (i work afternoons 2-7; DH works three mornings a week 8-12 as well).
also, a word on getting into a rhythm with children (and sometimes adults). in waldorf/steiner philosophy, when making any change, it is disruptive. even though there is not much of a rhythm now, the children and family is used to be having in one specific way. . .the way it is now. so, when you make a change, you can expect a measure of resistance to that change. it's ok!
the key to transitioning is to respond to this resistance calmly and confidently
. this does not require words, and in fact, for the children, words make it confusing. you are not trying to enlist or convince them that it should be this way; instead, it is simply the way you are doing things now. they want the structure, and they will follow. it will take anywhere from 2-3 days to a week of being consistent in your rhythm before they just seem to fall right into it and it is peaceful and normal, but it will happen is you just continue with it calmly and confidently
this means that when you finish breakfast and go straight to your chore, you just do that. the kids might complain, fuss, scream, or freak out. let it happen. you simply make a suggestion "why don't you play with your trains?" and then continue with "while i clean the bathroom."
once you are finished with the bathroom, you observe to see if they are finished with their play, or notice a good transition point, and then say "lets get our shoes and jackets on to go to the park" if it is park day. you get your shoes on, and then get the children to. at first, it takes the time that it takes--they dn't know the rhythm yet, afterall, you have just made it up yourself. it will take a bit for them to 'get' it in their bodies.
when it seems like a natural transition from the park, you head home for a snack. i found that asserting what is next is sometimes helpful. for example, if we are leaving the park, DS might not want to leave. he still wants to play. But i gather him up anyway. not on a scheduled way, like "it's 10:30, we have to go!" but rather one that points to the rhythm: "it's time to go home so that we can have our snack! i'm getting hungry!"
another thing that helps is singing about it. we use the following songs:
1. brush-a, scrub-a, brush-a, scrub-a! scrub the tub! i repeat this a number of times, changing it to whatever i'm scrubbing that day. vacuuming and dusting is so much fun for DS that it doesn't require a verse.
and usually DS 'helps' with the chore, sometimes he goes off and plays on his own while i do the chore.
2. it's time to tidy away, away! it's time to tidy away! it's time to tidy away, away! to put all our play things away!
i find that if i just start singing it, at first DS goes "NO!" and then he takes what he's playing with and runs to the far corner. by the time i've sung it through twice, he's cleaning with me and singing it.
this is an example of calm and confident. he wants what he wants, but the rhythm is important for the *whole* of family life, and he had his time for play. it's now time for the next thing, and to do that we must tidy. But i don't *tell* hiim this, i simply show him. I begin to tidy and sing the song. when he realizes i'm serious, he does it too!
3. it's shoe time! it's shoe time! we put on our shoes! it's shoe time! it's shoe time! there's no time to loose! It's shoe time! it's shoe time! lets go out to play! it's shoe time, it's shoe time! lets go out to play!
i can also change "go out to play" to things like "go to play group!" or "go visit our friends!" and so on.
he might not want to wear shoes that day, or be fussing at me about it because he wants to do something else, but i sing it and start to put my shoes on, and then within a few minutes, he's over putting his shoes on too.
Anyway, this is our house.