In 2002, PBS produced a historically accurate "reality" television series that placed three modern mall-shopping, soccer-coaching, SUV-driving American families each on their own homestead, and took them back approximately 120 years to 1883 on the Western frontier. I was fascinated. Having watched it when it originally aired, my husband and I were curious to watch it again with our children and see what their reactions would be, since they are now the ages of some of the kids on the show....
It didn't disappoint. Even though we watched it a few months ago now, Frontier House still comes up in family conversation probably once a week....
As stated in the Homestead Act of 1862, a person who farmed and inhabited (complete with a permanent dwelling) their 160 acre parcel of government land for five years, was able to lay claim to it at the end of the term....if you hadn't starved to death, lost your mind, or left in frustration. Only 40 percent of the original Homesteaders were able to endure the incredible hardships, backbreaking work, and cruel ups and downs that Mother Nature dished out. Okay, so how does this help us think about our lives and households in 2012??
What really pulled me in and made me think as I watched these three families struggle (and sometimes thrive) through their five months on the prairie, was the complete reliance and responsibility they had to one another's survival, adults and children alike. Adrienne, one of the mothers, realized one afternoon that her children had neglected to chop the necessary firewood, so dinner could not be cooked that night.
While, thankfully, the wolves aren't at our modern day doors, and our meals are prepared without having to chop wood for hours first, it is still good practice to think about our duties to the people we live with and the house we live in--and how we can best execute them with all of the other demands on our time and attention.
How much we are able to enjoy where we live is directly related to how much we are burdened or encumbered by its upkeep, organization, and maintenance. A clean, orderly house is more pleasant to live in, but creating that takes consistent effort and energy.
Many hands make for light work! ---SO, how can we share these responsibilities and make our lives better??
- Sit down and seriously think about the household chores--list what needs to be done, how often it needs to be done, how you would like it done, and who is capable of doing it. Being intentional and detailed in making this list makes it easier to plan things out and discuss things as a group. Even if you have a regular cleaning service, there are plenty of household chores that need attention and planning.
- Which responsibilities make you crazy? Which ones barely seem like chores to you? --There are things we are good at, and hopefully like to do, and there are things we wish we never had to do again. If you live within a family, I bet there are things that you don’t like to do, that someone else in the household is particularly good at and doesn’t mind doing. For example, my son is wonderfully good at washing cars, and he loves to do it. If he washes my car once a week, I am happy to help him fold and put away his clean clothes. Talents, skills, and preferences are accounted for, and things are getting done!
- Make a list of things you would like to throw money at and make go away-- This could be a very long list, I know. However, now that you have done an honest accounting of the tasks at hand, think about which things are drudgery to all involved, or things you know you just don't do very well. Collectively you can work at finding the funds to pay others to do those things, freeing up your time for other things. Laundry services, lawn care services, grocery delivery services, handyman services, errand services....they have those, you know. For example, if you don't mind cooking but loathe the time spent in your laundry room, eat out less and redistribute the funds. The $1/pound you will spend for the laundromat to clean your clothes will go a long way to lessening your load....pun intended.
Family life is about working together and sharing, making the whole thing easier....I am writing this because we have perfected this symbiosis in our house (yeah, right). Of course I still have kids that would rather watch tv than wash the dishes, I still get the eye roll when I remind them of their chores, and how we share our household duties is still a work in progress. Seeing how much children were responsible for in 1883 opened my eyes to how little I ask of my own children, and I don't think that that is good. What IS good is the sense of mastery, responsibility and satisfaction that comes from contributing to our family's efforts and success--a cleaner house and improved self-esteem.