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I Need A Volunteer

I am the mother of six children, seven step-children and grandmother of twelve. When I was raising my children, I knew that I wanted some things to be different for my children than what I experienced when I was growing up. One of those things was a clean, orderly home. Another was for my children to have a childhood.

Often, especially in large families, those two goals seem to be at odds with each other. Older children often become second parents with heavy responsibilities in the babysitting, housekeeping and cooking departments. Younger children are often spoiled, undisciplined and out of control. So, how does one raise responsible children in an orderly home environment where kids can still be kids? Well, there isn ?t one pat answer, life just isn ?t that simple. But that is what my posts will be about ?my reflections on parenting.

My journey as a parent started when God said, I need a volunteer! ? I answered the call six times. As a parent I copied God ?s model and said, I need a volunteer! ? on a daily basis.

I am the second oldest of ten children and it seemed that my chores never ceased. Laundry day meant a trip to the local Laundromat with enough dirty clothes to fill 20 washers (that ?s all they had). Then we took the wet clothes home and hung them out to dry. After they were dry, we sprinkled water on them to dampen them then ironed everything including the sheets. We sewed our own clothes using the cloth from the skirts of hand-me-downs. We gardened, made bread, canned fruit and veggies; I was the family cook. And, then there were the housekeeping chores, the diapers, the babysitting ?well you get the picture.

With modern conveniences, the way we do the work has changed, but I ?ve noticed that in many families, the kids still do a lion ?s share of the work. There ?s no time to study, no time to play and no time to be a child. In other families, children are over scheduled and indulged growing up self-centered without a sense of responsibility to family. As a parent, I found balance in the simple phrase, I need a volunteer. ?

I started training my children using check point charts (I ?ll do a post on that later). Check points charts develop habits. After habits had been developed, our home was orderly most of the time. When work needed to be done, I called, I need a volunteer. ?

When I called out, all my kids came running, screaming, Choose me! I was first! It ?s my turn! ? They knew that I would have a task for each child. They also knew that the first task would be the easiest and the tasks would be progressively more time consuming and unpleasant for the other volunteers.

Each child knew that their allowance would be determined on the quantity and quality of the work they did. This added an interesting twist because I graded the quality of the work at the end of the day. If another child started to mess up a job, the child responsible for the job would police them. Don ?t make a mess! ? Or, Clean up your mess now. I just vacuumed in here! ?

It was understood that the task must be completed right away or the offending child would loose their task and be put at the end of the line, a fate to be dreaded.  They also knew that when their task was done, they were done. They owned their time until the next time I called out, I need a volunteer! ?

It was part of a system that worked for me and it ?s well worth giving it a try. Volunteer anyone?

{ 23 comments… add one }
  • jennycherie July 1, 2008, 2:07 pm

    Janet – what a great article! I can’t wait to read more. How soon will you be posting again? Maybe tomorrow? This:

    “Older children often become second parents with heavy responsibilities in the babysitting, housekeeping and cooking departments. Younger children are often spoiled, undisciplined and out of control. So, how does one raise responsible children in an orderly home environment where kids can still be kids?”

    Is such a dilemma for me!
    [note: I thought it was spelled “dilemna” but the spell check tells me I am wrong–have I been writing this word wrong for 35 years???]

    We have seen both extremes–a family member’s home where one child does all the work and the others are spoiled and then homes that are completely child centered. I want the balance–I want my kids to be productive and I want them to learn to work and contribute but I also want them to have unstructured time to play actively, outside if at all possible! I can’t wait to hear more from you–especially about those check point lists! We use lists from time to time but have had a hard time making them stick. At the moment, I’m just trying to get it to work with ONE child who has a difficult time getting herself ready.

    I’ll be waiting anxiously for your next article! But no pressure! I mean, I’m patient and all. .. I can wait an hour or two with no trouble. 😉

  • davidson July 1, 2008, 2:11 pm

    Janet Walgren, I salute you. I echo Jenn in saying I would love to hear more from you. Thank you for taking the time to share your ideas.

  • Michelle D July 1, 2008, 4:35 pm

    I still remember when my oldest finally asked why one of the other kids couldn’t do something he was most often asked to do… it was something along the lines of setting the table, since he had previously been the only child tall enough to reach the plates in the cupboard. We realized that the next child or two was tall enough by then to reach the cupboard. So we started rethinking what we asked #1 to do and shared the responsibilities more evenly. It is very easy to fall into the trap of asking the older kids to do things that essentially make them “second parents,” as you said. We now try to make sure that everyone has an assignment (which we *thought* we were doing), based on abilities. The older kids will still have the more “difficult” tasks but the younger ones have their own things to do to help out.

    I like your idea of saying “I need a volunteer.” That makes it more of the child’s choice to come help rather than being “forced” to do something. (Although as a member of the family that works/plays together, they don’t really have a “choice” about whether to help out!)

    Personalities also play a role in this. I know my older kids think the youngest is spoiled and gets away with a lot, and we have to be conscientious about not letting her play the “I can’t do that…” card trying to get out of helping with things. Some of our other kids just jump in and do things, often without being asked.

    Parenting is a huge lesson in learning how to balance a variety of things! Thanks for sharing your perspective.

  • Alison Moore Smith July 1, 2008, 5:38 pm

    Janet, you rock!

    I’m telling you, I feel SO stinking smart today, since I do almost this exact thing. I say, “I need four volunteers.” (Or whatever number of capable hands I have.) The first to arrive to help, gets first pick, and so on.

  • JanetWalgren July 3, 2008, 10:58 pm

    Thank you for your comments. I will try to post once a week but can’t promise. I will post on check point charts next week.

    When I said, “I need a volunteer,” participation was not an issue because allowances were tied to the child’s participation. Each task had a degree of difficulty assigned to it and the degree of difficulty was multiplied by the quality of work to come up with allowances.

    This system gave the kids control over their outcomes for both money and time.

  • Tinkerbell July 4, 2008, 10:21 am

    Janet, how old were they when you started this?

  • JanetWalgren July 4, 2008, 12:35 pm

    The first group was 6, 8 , 10, and 12. My own were started as infants. The second group was 3, 6, and 8.

    If a child is old enough to ask for something, they are old enough to earn it. I started by sitting on the floor by the toy box with their favorite mini-snack. Then I would tell them they could have one snack per toy they put up. At first they would do a one on one exchange, but then they would get so excited that they would scoop up armfuls of toys for one treat. I used things like baby marshmallows, raisins, and M&M’s.

    I also used the treats to teach them to count, read and do math at very early ages (like 2 years and up). They got to eat all they could count or earn when the game was finished. When they were a little older I transitioned to money, but with the first group, I started with money and a gift.

    I had more laundry than my mother so after a month of it, I bought every child their own laundry basket, laundry soap and a roll of quarters and had them start doing their own. The check point chart grew out of that.

  • facethemusic July 5, 2008, 8:53 am

    Great stuff, Janet!! Love your approach!

  • Tinkerbell July 6, 2008, 11:07 pm

    Janet, if it’s not too personal, I am interested in hearing about your family dynamics. How you came to be the mother to all of these children. But, if it is too personal, then don’t feel obligated.

  • JanetWalgren July 7, 2008, 6:48 am

    Hi Tinkerbell – No it is not too personal. Life is an on-the-job training type of thing. That is why I’m sharing. You can’t teach what you don’t know, and most folks don’t know a lot of things when they are very young and making the most important decisions in their lives.

    There is a saying, “You can’t make a frog out of a tadpole by cutting off its tail!” But, that is exactly what happened to me. As you can tell from my first post, I didn’t get to have much of a childhood (you know the friends kind of thing), and I was put into beauty school when I was 15 years old. Consequently, I missed out on a lot of important “Kid Lessons”, Young Womens, dating boys my age… that could have saved me a lot of grief.

    Fortunately, I lucked out and learned a lot of things as an adult that have benefited my children so they didn’t have to suffer the same misfortunes that I did. It is an interesting journey to be a transition child. Transition children walk with angels while they are taught by God.

    In answer to your question I will ask one. Do you know how to teach your children how to date? Dating is a serious business, probably the most serious business of a lifetime. It wasn’t a business that I was taught until I was in my third marriage and staying with the stake patriarch’s wife after the birth of my fourth child. (I’ll do some posts on the topic later to teach you what Sister Pugmire taught me.)

    Here is a link to a post on my blog called “the job interview.” It was written for young adults who are doing serious dating.

    http://janetwalgren.wordpress.com/category/job-interview/

    It doesn’t cover the “how to’s.” It covers the “why?”

  • davidson July 7, 2008, 8:55 am

    Janet, I enjoyed your blog, and I would recommend it to anyone reading here. Ladies, you will be amazed when you see who this woman is. She has crammed ten lifetimes into the space of one. She comes up smiling. I’ll give you some hints: she is a several-times-over national champion in martial arts, she received her pilot’s license in an amazingly brief time, took aerobatic training, and managed an aviation company, received a comprehensive and wonderful education, raised that beautiful family, and she’s active in the Church. This is a wow woman.

    Janet, I especially loved the fact that you included John Gillespie Magee, Jr.’s poem with your aviation photos. That is a powerful poem, and it describes you: “. . .and done a hundred things you have not dreamed of. . . .” What a doer you are. My husband is currently working on his commercial pilot’s license so he can teach flying, and he lives and breathes it. Every time I fly with him, at take-off I think, “Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth. . .”

    Actually, the poem has more meaning for me than that. My high school government teacher was a pilot, also the school’s football coach and special ed teacher. He was loved by everybody. He taught the most popular athletes in the school to love and respect and defend and befriend the less fortunate than they. His special ed students were revered among the football players and treated well by them because of this good man. His government classes were always jam-packed, because everyone wanted to be in them. The desks were crammed so close together that there was barely room for him to lecture at the front of the class. Somehow I was assigned the front and center seat. He stood so close to my desk that it hurt my neck to look up at him for an hour, so when he lectured, I laid my head on my desk and stared down at his cowboy boots. I came to know those boots very well, every detail of them.

    He was flying home one Friday, in a hurry to get there because he wanted to coach his team’s important game that night. He took some risks he shouldn’t have taken, and he died in a plane crash. The front page of the newspaper had a picture of the wreck, and there, poking out of the wreckage were his all-too-familiar cowboy boots. One of the worst shocks of my life. My high school yearbook has a two-page section devoted to him, and Magee’s poem is printed there. It will always remind me of him, a man, like you, who crammed life full of good things and lived joyfully.
    Do you still fly? What challenges are you going to tackle in the future?

  • Tinkerbell July 7, 2008, 8:57 pm

    Janet, in all honesty, your posts (just the two I have read – this one and the one on the dating interview) are so painfully true. I literally ache when I read them. This is so true for me:

    So she doesn ?t like cooking, cleaning, washing dishes, changing diapers, doing laundry, teaching children, bug collections, soothing a crying child, unclogging toilets, budgeting to make ends meet, and comforting a tired man when he comes home feeling downtrodden and disheartened.

    So true that it is like a dagger just to read it. This too:

    What did handsome stranger ? and pretty woman ? think a wife and mother, a husband and father do?

    I don’t know. I really don’t know. But, I was full of hope and optimism and ready for the challenge until I had number four and my husband got called into the Bishopric, and now I am just drowning, wondering, “Is this really what I signed up for? THIS is it? THIS? Cooking for kids who won’t eat? Bugs (and snakes and frogs) all in a row on the dresser? Clogged toilets? (popsicle stick was the culprit – had to completely take the toilet off to find it)? And “entertaining” a husband after 12 hours of all of that? Come on! You have to be kidding me!”

    Anyways, I think that is all I can say. No, I had no clue what I was getting myself into.

    I admire you a lot. I look forward to reading more of your posts. And if you don’t mind my prying (a little more). What has been the timeline of your life? You started beauty school at 15 and then what? How old were you when you first got married? Sorry to be so nosy. I am just fascinated with how you became who you are. And I come from a family with lots of twists and turns.

  • Tinkerbell July 7, 2008, 9:03 pm

    Oh, and this one on “I need a volunteer” is painful for me to read because I acutely feel my weaknesses as a parent, and I am not sure I have it in me to correct them. I am not sure I have the energy it would take to make the effort to be a good parent. Sigh. But, great stuff, and please keep it coming.

  • Ray July 7, 2008, 9:34 pm

    Tink, read the following post:

    Living on a Hill

    My comment:

    “There are those who can climb a hill like Lance Armstrong, and there are others like me who need to climb the entire hill on foot. The problem arises when those who climb faster or slower can ?t accept those who climb at a different speed – when they insist that all climb at their speed and using their climbing methods. I just hope we all recognize that our different paces and climbing methods are fine as long as we are climbing – or even climbing again no matter how far and fast we fall. I also hope we all allow our own pace and method to vary at different points throughout the climb.”

  • Tinkerbell July 7, 2008, 9:54 pm

    I certainly hope Janet (or Alison or anyone else) who is a fantastic mom doesn’t feel like I want them to slow down or be less spectacular because of me – or stop sharing their stories just because I am so jealous. I admire them. I crawl on my hands and knees and watch listfully as they race by. But, you know what is humbling? I THOUGHT I was a runner. I started the hill running with ease. It is humbling to accept that I struggle. Okay, enough of rambling on the analogy. Thanks for the link and comment, Ray.

  • jennycherie July 7, 2008, 10:05 pm

    Posted By: RayI just hope we all recognize that our different paces and climbing methods are fine as long as we are climbing – or even climbing again no matter how far and fast we fall.

    OOOHHHHHHHHH, great comment! This sounds like a great FHE discussion to me, and would have even fit well into our lesson tonight! Maybe I’ll share this with the kiddos in the morning, rather than waiting a whole week. .. .

    Posted By: TinkerbellOh, and this one on “I need a volunteer” is painful for me to read because I acutely feel my weaknesses as a parent, and I am not sure I have it in me to correct them.

    Tink, I know just what you mean! Some days I cannot believe Heavenly Father ever sent me these children since I am clearly ruining them. But these moments pass and we get those little glimmers of hope every now and then. I keep reminding myself (after breaking up numerous almost fist-fights today) of how nicely my kids played together at the family reunion last weekend. It was so cute to see them look out for each other and seek each other out to introduce new friends. . . and then we came home. . . back to reality. .. back to fighting over who goes in the door first and who has which seat in the van and whose hand is on top and whose is on bottom during prayer and on and on. . .I think these ups and downs must be meant to keep us humble and on our knees. If every day was like the brief peace at our family reunion, I might start to think I am really great and forget who is really in charge!

    back to the original topic–this post motivated me to FINALLY make a real chore chart to post on our fridge. Today was our first day and I have to say, it brought me one of those glimmers of hope! I know they won’t always be so cheerful about doing chores but they really were today and it was TOO cute. I must remember this when the grumbling starts! My son was pleased to have after dinner dishes to do and asked to do the same thing tomorrow. My oldest daughter was so happy that her chore today was swishing the toilet and emptying the trash and taking the compost stuff out. If only I had her enthusiasm!

  • Tinkerbell July 7, 2008, 10:26 pm

    I think these ups and downs must be meant to keep us humble and on our knees. If every day was like the brief peace at our family reunion, I might start to think I am really great and forget who is really in charge!

    True, true.

  • davidson July 8, 2008, 12:54 am

    Ah, Tink. I read Ray’s “Living on a Hill” link. I liked the analogy, and I also found another gem in the comments beneath that I thought was pretty applicable to us at Mormon Momma. I hope it’s okay to quote? And thanks, Ray.

    “Henry Eyring once said of Joseph Fielding Smith (referring to their different understandings of certain doctrines):

    I would say that I sustained Brother Smith as my Church leader one hundred percent. I think he was a great man. He had a different background and training on this issue. Maybe he was right. I think he was right on most things and if you followed him, he would get you into the Celestial Kingdom maybe the hard way, but he would get you there. (Edward W. Kimball, A Dialogue With Henry Eyring, ? Dialogue 8 [Autumn/Winter 1973])

    Comment by CE July 7, 2008”

    That gives me at least a week’s worth of menus in the food for thought category! Lots of ways up the hill, and they all arrive at the same destination: the TOP. Some ways are harder, and some ways are easier, and even “hard” and “easy” are flexible terms.

    If I were with you right now, and if you would let me, I would hug you and take your sweet face into my hands and look you right in the eyes and wipe your tears away and say, “TINK. . .CUT. . .YOURSELF. . .SOME. . .SLACK! You are better than you think you are!” The situation you’ve got right now would be HARD FOR ANYBODY! And if they don’t think that’s so, let them trade you places for a month! I don’t think you have to love it all the time. This is your season to be pushed right to the limit, and it won’t always be that way. Pat yourself on the back if you get through a day for now! Other days are coming when your children won’t be small and your husband won’t be in the bishopric. The pace will slow down and things will get easier and you’ll be able to breathe and go to the bathroom occasionally. I used to beat myself up with lists. I’d make a to-do list in the morning, and at the end of the day, perhaps I’d only have one thing marked off. It was so frustrating. So I started to make a list in the evening of the things I HAD accomplished, and I carefully put a check by each one, no matter how silly it might have seemed to others. Some days, sometimes, your life is not your own, and making a “did” list reminds you that you did accomplish some worthwhile things. Your list might read:

    1. Cooked meals for ungrateful kids who wouldn’t eat them. Check.
    2. Rearranged bugs and frogs on boys’ dressers. Didn’t kill them. (Or the boys.) Check.
    3. Removed toilet; retrieved popsicle stick. Did not beat children with said stick. Check.
    4. “Entertained” (or “chose not to entertain”) husband when he came home. Check.
    5. Fell exhausted into bed and did not crack an eyelid for two hours (until the first kid woke up.) Check.

    I have a poem, (someone else wrote it,) about how our lives are tapestries being woven. We each see our own tapestry from the underside of the loom, where our view includes the knots and ravels and loose threads. Our Heavenly Father is the only one to see the upper side, the beautiful picture being created. One day we will look at the upper side along with him and marvel, “That was me? That’s what You were weaving? I had no idea.” Oh, Tink, every now and then, peek up over the side of the loom and ask Him to let you see what He sees. And every now and then, peek under the looms of others and see their knots and ravels and threads. They are there. Big, big hugs to you. I wish you could see yourself the way we see you here at Mormon Momma. I see you as one incredibly talented, incredibly dedicated woman who is making a huge sacrifice to be obedient, a woman who doesn’t love to do diapers and dishes–and that’s okay. You show up for work every day. I’m sure there are things you do easily that would leave the rest of us gasping on the path below.

  • Tinkerbell July 8, 2008, 3:48 pm

    Thanks, davidson. I really needed that. My mom has always told me, “15 minutes at a time”. That always aggravated me, and yet, here I am, living 15 minutes at a time. I suppose that instead of banging my head against the wall over the fact that I am becoming my mother, I ought to admit that my mom is a wise woman. 🙂

  • JanetWalgren July 8, 2008, 6:59 pm

    Tinkerbell and all~ There is a lot of food for thought in this discussion. The comments are excellent. I would like to put things in a little different perspective if I may.

    We each have a different paradigm, our personal computers have been programmed by our individual experiences which fortunately for most of you are very different from mine. We each have our own trials. (What is a trial to one person is not a trial to another.) Then, we are all thrown in the mix of humanity to learn from and to teach each other.

    For instance, I knew that I wanted a different family dynamic than I had experienced as a child. That doesn’t necessarily mean that my family dynamic was bad, some of my siblings loved it…(the younger ones). I didn’t know how to create a different family dynamic so I: #1 Prayed for inspiration, and #2. Found a mentor with a track record who had the outcome I desired. What I learned and what I accomplished came over time. I didn’t usually do things perfectly on my first try. Heck, I still don’t do some things very well.

    My take on common themes is very different from the norm. “Terrible twos” and “difficult teens”, the “I can hardly wait till he leaves home”, or “goes on his mission” rhetoric makes me angry ~ really angry! My own sons were kidnapped by their father when they were 3 and 4. I never got them back. I would have given my eye teeth to have had those precious years with my sons. Diapers, bugs…what a privilege!

    My sons were raised by a very wicked father and it has caused some very serious problems in their lives. But there are promises that I have obtained from the Lord. All I have to do is my part – talk about incentive.

    As for trials, there was a time when my husband was standing behind me, seething with anger. He was holding a knife to my throat and mad enough to kill me. I sat on the sofa through it all just as calm as a summer morning. I can’t do that; the Holy Ghost did it for me. It was not my trial!

    I used to roll my eyes when women cried and boobed in testimony meetings because their husbands had gone on a scout overnight or on a business trip. I used to think, GET A GRIP SISTER! After the knife incident, the Lord taught me that we can not tell another’s trials. Most folks cringe at my knife incident, but like I said, “It was not my trial (that time.) Perhaps having a husband gone or serving in a Bishop brick is your trial and that’s OK. You will learn the lessons that God wants you to learn from the trial and it will pass.

    We are taught that everyone will have their trial, just like Abraham, and that the important thing is to be caught standing in the end, otherwise, we will not be fit for the kingdom.

    One important thing to remember in the standing is that we all need Christ and the atonement to stand. We can not be our own saviors and it is a foolish business to try. Don’t beat yourself up when you fall short. Keep your compass and all will be good in the end.

  • Tinkerbell July 8, 2008, 7:09 pm

    Wow, Janet. Okay, have you written a book yet? Or did you write out your life story on your blog? Because I want to read it! I love your wisdom.

  • JanetWalgren July 8, 2008, 7:59 pm

    Tinkerbell, Everyone says that but it isn’t as easy as it seems. Blogging is helping me write the book. It is my goal. Thanks!

  • nanacarol July 9, 2008, 12:11 pm

    Janet, thank you for all your wise wisdom. I wish we all could meet you on person. Thank you for joining us. You have brought a wonderful spirit to this sight. I feel such positivity oozing from you. Please, keep inspiring us all! Everyone here is great. I love the great insights into everyone. Each of you gives us something to think about or laugh about.

    Last night at cooking club at my daughter’s house we were just finishing up and I saw the bathroom door open and laughing sound coming from there. Inside were the two little granddaughters with a whisk each stirring the toilet full of a whole roll of toilet paper!!! They were making tortilla just like we had done!!!!!

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