I love routine, order and systems. And while I know that kids are messy and spontaneous, I do believe that a family works better when there are rules and routines in place so that everyone knows what is expected of them (this includes husbands).
Doing this in a blended family is much harder than I had originally anticipated. To start with, establishing habits typically take 21 days. And we only have them about one-third of the time so it takes three times longer to establish habits and routines. I spent lots of my early blended family days in tears or frustrated because the systems and solutions that had worked in my family growing up were epic fails in my current family.
And as any step mom will tell you, the key to a happy blended family is knowing what is in your control and what is out of it and being at peace with that. So I started to create our own version of routines and order and I’ve found lots of things that work and even more things that don’t work. It takes trial and error and a whole lot of patience.
The year that our youngest (our only child together who is currently only 18 months) starts kindergarten in the North Kansas City School District, we’ll also have a fifth grader at Lathrop Elementary and a seventh grader at Lathrop Middle School. That’s right . . . two school districts and three different schools. Google calendar is my lifesaver right now but I’m already dreading the increased business that comes with older children. My husband and I also value not running around every night of the week to activities so we try to limit the number of commitments the kids make and only participate in one activity at a time. We can’t control what Mom chooses to enroll the kids in on her time but we do voice our opinions and then try to make the best of it.
We started trying to do a weekly allowance and having the kids divide it into jars (Spend, Save and Donate) based on percentages. The amount of allowance (50 cents per year old) made the divisions unwieldy and counting out change was a chore. We ended up spending most of our weeknight just doing that. So I tried using FamZoo and while I loved the easy and automation, the kids never really saw the money and are too young to have ownership of a pre-paid card all the time. We’ve finally hit on the idea of a monthly allowance given in all ones and split in whole dollar amounts between the three categories. They each have a cash box with a place to put their money and so far this seems to be working well. We also don’t share money between our house and Mom’s.
The kids each have fabric boxes in our living room where I collect random things I find of theirs lying around the house. They are responsible for putting these away on a (mostly) weekly basis. They also have laundry boxes that I put all their clean clothes in and they have to put away. They clean their rooms on a regular basis and really do a good job of keeping stuff put away (or at least doing it when we ask). I’ve found that doing it with them helps them learn how to find a place for their things instead of just shoving everything under the bed.
We’ve gone through periods of having a bi-weekly cleaning service but are currently not employing one. I had hoped that we could use this as an opportunity to work with the kids about certain chores like cleaning bathrooms but it’s been hard. It becomes a time factor. We can only cram so much into the one-third of the week that we have custody and scrubbing the toilet often does make the top of the list. However, it is really important that they learn these things and take responsibility for taking care of their possessions so we’ll just keep trying on this one.
Attending church regularly and being involved through various groups and events is also really important to us. Because my step kids only attend on the weekends they are with us, we make it non-negotiable to go. They love the kids church and even ask to attend Vacation Bible School when given the option of doing that versus attending softball practices for the team in their home town. We love how our church family loves on them and provides them with a solid spiritual foundation.
How does your blended family work? Do you have any tips and tricks for routine and order that you’d like to share? I’d love to hear how others create order in their chaos!