Ink Slingers It Worked For Me Misty Parenting Vocations

It Worked for Us: Zone Cleaning for Teens

Our downstairs bathroom before zone cleaning.
Our downstairs bathroom before zone cleaning. (I took this to jokingly guilt my husband while he was on a mini-vacation.)

I’ll never forget the day an old friend told me she still cleans her 14-year-old daughter’s room, does her laundry, and even makes her lunches for school. She related this to me in the midst of a conversation lamenting that her daughter was a “spoiled, disrespectful brat” (her words) who takes her mother’s sacrifices for granted. She marveled that my school-aged children seemed more competent than her teenager.

I’ve noticed that many modern parents have the idea that their children will magically transform from helpless, dependent infants to self-sufficient adults at age 18 with no guidance from them. But realistically, our children need to be trained in self-discipline from the beginning and gradually given more and more responsibility for themselves and the household as they get older.

Our rule is: If they can toddle, they can contribute to keeping our home orderly. Even two-year-olds can pick up toys, hand you silverware out of the dishwasher, and carry their clothes to their drawers. By the time they’re adolescents, then, most kids should have mastered more complex, individual chores such as loading the dishwasher and cleaning a load of laundry from start to finish. Teens should know how to take care of pets and keep their rooms decent. (Not perfect, but decent–at least most of the time.) They should be intimately familiar with the family vacuum cleaner and mop. 

But there’s one more transition period that many parents forget about and that’s moving from individual tasks to cleaning whole areas. Because as every mom knows, cleaning a home efficiently and well isn’t just about what and how you clean, but in what order you clean things, too. You don’t sweep floors and THEN wipe down counters, for instance. You don’t clean out the sink and THEN load the dishwasher. Keeping up on laundry requires at least a load a day, with prompt swapping out of the loads between washer and dryer. And there’s no point to even doing laundry if it’s just going to sit in the baskets all week to wrinkle (eventually ending up back in the dirty clothes bin because half the basket has been strewn on the floor as family members rifle through the basket for clean items…ask me how I know this).

Our three oldest kids are 11, 12, and 14–prime ages to start being responsible not just for a handful of tasks, but for a whole zone of the house. I broke our home down into four main zones: 1) Living room and dining room, 2) Kitchen, 3) Laundry room/pets, and 4) Bathrooms/hallways/stairs. For one whole week, each child is responsible for one zone and then they switch. (I take the remaining zone.) The first day they were responsible for the zone, I sat down with them and had them read the detailed cleaning list I’d prepared for each area (click on the link to see our list):

  1. Living room and dining room
  2. Kitchen
  3. Laundry room/pets
  4. Bathrooms/hallways/stairs

 I explained why the order is important and how following the order would help them do a better job and get the job done faster. In addition to their daily tasks, they have one additional task that’s to be done each day, such as vacuuming the stairs or buffing the stainless steel fridge. This ensures that certain tasks get done at least once a week. It takes about 45 minutes each day to complete their zone cleaning.

Our downstairs bathroom today. (And no, I did NOT clean it ahead of time–this is zone cleaning, baby!)

The advantages of switching to zone cleaning for the kids was apparent right away. With three kids each doing a handful of different chores each day, it was getting to be a nightmare for me to keep up with whether their chores were completed. (No doubt they took advantage of that to get out of a chore here and there, too.) And half the time, I couldn’t remember WHO was responsible and didn’t feel like wrangling with them, so it didn’t get done. Now, it just takes a cursory view to know whether someone has done their zone for the day.

The kids also have become very territorial about their assigned areas. I no longer have to yell at anyone to pick their clothes up off the bathroom floor after their shower because the child in charge of the bathrooms that week will do it for me. My children also take obvious pride in being able to point to an entire room that they’ve cleaned, too; there’s an ownership that simply wasn’t there when they were just responsible for the dishwasher or taking out the trash.

Overall, the house stays tidier. And there’s less bickering over chores; I’m no longer dealing with complaints that “I had to empty the dishwasher twice yesterday after the party!” or “It’s not my day to take out the trash!” The expectations are crystal clear now.  

Of course, it’s not a perfect system. They are still kids and that means they do their best to slack; I have to prompt and follow up each day to ensure they’re getting their work done. They still forget what it was like to have a sibling trash their zone after it was just cleaned and throw their crap everywhere from time to time. The process of teaching them to clean up after themselves (ostensibly to be considerate of the person responsible for that room)…well, that’s still a work in progress. 

But aren’t we all? 

Charla Ink Slingers

Search me, O God, and know my heart…

This story happened to me several months ago; for some reason I wrote it all down.  I am still not quite sure why, but as time has passed, I understand that I needed to revisit the experience by reading it over to myself.  I thought I would share it.

I really try to refrain from complaining– too much anyway– but I had to let this all out, a catharsis of sorts.  I am a high school teacher and end of the year events, though exciting, are the most stressful of the year.  Baccalaureate Mass was Wednesday, I had been trying to rein in restless ninth graders all week,  just finished organizing and putting on the Junior/Senior Prom the weekend prior;  Thursday, I put on a barbecue for 200 eleventh graders and chaperoned a movie night the same evening.  I had pulled my back pretty badly the afternoon before and could hardly sit or stand without it hurting.  So, I’m overworked and in pain. Did I mention the stacks of grading and cleaning my classroom?  In addition there were lots of little minor things that happened in regards to the big things. You get the idea.
At Baccalaureate Mass, the seniors did a video tribute to the teachers. I had a few kids thank me—sweet, heartfelt messages, but let’s just say comparing myself to others muted those messages in my mind.  All I could think was “Why am I killing myself?  They don’t even notice or care.”  I am a really good teacher. I really am, but aside from academics, I also nurse broken hearts, help kids with other classes, open my room for lunch, write numerous college recommendation letters, work through my own lunch and prep time with kids, among other things. I felt so deflated. Obviously, I don’t do this for recognition and this was a lesson in humility for me, but I was still a bit heartbroken. Remember, my back was killing me and I’d been sitting on bleachers for three hours. Thursday morning I was hurting badly but got through the school day and barbecue. I came home and broke down. I was sobbing and uncontrollably crying. (Thank goodness my parents had taken my young daughter to dance class for me, but my teenage boys got to witness “my crazy.”)  I cried on my husband’s shoulder for awhile, talked with him about maybe changing careers. Remember, I was feeling dramatic and emotional. Then I got it together, stopped at Starbucks then went to chaperone movie night.

teacherWhen I got home late Thursday night, I came across my favorite Psalm; a Face Book  friend posted the last few lines, and I decided to read the Catholic translation before I went to bed. I went to work Friday, thankful it was my last day of full classes. My first class came and went, I let them watch a movie and draw on the board, since we were finished reviewing for exams. Then my first junior class came in. One of the girls handed me a big stack of notes and letters. I started to read them, and each one told me how much he or she loved the class, how prepared they felt for their national exam and how grateful they were to me, and what an impact I had on their lives.  It was so incredibly surreal, and I started to cry. They too watched a movie;  I put the notes away so my students wouldn’t notice my tears. Another class, then lunch, then my second junior class came in– same thing, a stack of notes and cards, and more tears. Then one of the moms came in with a huge container of lemonade and nachos for the class and a bouquet of bright yellow daisies and mums.  I was just beside myself.  I asked one of them, “Did my son tell you I was a little stressed (understatement)?” She said, “No, Mrs. Smith, we just ‘know’ you and we could tell something was bothering you.” I cannot even describe how that made me feel. Last class– my tough class– watched a movie and drew on the board. They were actually pretty well behaved, and they each hugged me as they left the room. These were my BIGGEST challenges this year, and they were so sweet and loving to me. I turned on the lights (remember, movie) and I went to erase my chalkboard. It was COVERED with little “I love you” notes and hearts and flowers and “we will miss you” and “you’re the best teacher ever…” all from my little crazy freshmen. I have no idea how this all happened to me!

teacher-and-studentIt gets better… There was a knock at my door and it was a former student of mine who is currently in the seminary. I was elated to see him, and we talked for quite awhile, until he said he had actually come by to thank me. He had discerned the priesthood as a child and tried ignoring it in high school (when he discovered girls). He remembered my (and another teacher) telling him that I thought he would be a magnificent priest and he should discern the vocation; I remembered that vividly.  He graduated and tried engineering in college and hated it. He talked to a deacon and he listed pros and cons of different vocations and realized his calling. It was beautiful! He said he was so grateful because he never forgot my words and it confirmed what he felt all along. That was the end of my school year last year.

I believe God gave me a calling to be a teacher, and He sent me signs that day.  I hadn’t been listening well, so He screamed them at me, and I am very grateful.

Here are the Psalm verses I prayed: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.” Psalm 139: 23-24


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Pay Attention!

Raising a Holy Family

The importance of being engaged in family life is key to raising a holy family.  Our goal as parents should be to raise saints, also known as holy people, that will one day make it to heaven.  On a more practical/secular level, we want to raise children that make good moral decisions, make good grades, and lead successful lives.  Like it or not, we as parents are the people who have the most influence over our children.  No one can take the place of a child’s parents, even in cases where, through no fault of their own, one or more parent is no longer involved in a child’s life, the effects on that child are indisputable.untitled-42
The task of raising well balanced, holy children is not complicated, but it does require a lot of hard work.  Through prayer, play, and being engaged in the life of our children, we will be more successful, guaranteed.  During one of our family retreats, Michael Gormley spoke eloquently about the importance and mechanics of family prayer, and I agree that personal and family prayer is an essential ingredient in raising saints.  Family play is also a key component in this quest, but even if you pray all the time for your kids, lead them in a daily rosary, and play games with them from time to time, unless you really participate and engage in their lives, you will fail to reach your goal.


I asked a priest friend of mine who was recently a campus minister at a university what it was like after being an associate at a large urban parish.  He said it was easy ministering to college students because it was simply a ministry of presence.  If you knew this priest you would understand why he considered this an easy job.  He is one of the most personable, friendly people I know.  He really cares about everyone to which he ministers.  He is laid back and has no problem giving a gratuitous amount of time to an individual.  He truly lives in the present and doesn’t appear to be overly concerned about the future.
FFD-45I was struck by this idea of a ministry of presence.  I immediately thought about the advice we give to families about how to raise a holy family.  Youth ministry and college ministry are just an extension of what should have already been started within the family.  The family should be a place of prayer, a place of joy and a place of community.  It is within this aspect of community that this ministry of presence falls.  Our children are usually people that we created with the help of God, they are the most like us of anyone in the world. We should love them more than anyone else after God and our spouse.  This is where our families model the love of God represented in the Holy Trinity.
This ministry of presence is simple to explain, but extremely difficult to actually do.  If you want to know how to do it, watch a young child.  They only care about being with you, if they are putting a puzzle together, they want you to watch them; if they are reading the same book for the 10th time, they don’t care, as long as you are reading it to them and giving your time to them.  While it is easy to see this ministry of presence at work in our younger children, it really doesn’t change in our older children, they still desire our time and our interest.  The difference is that they realize that they may be rejected if they ask for it.  Little children trust you completely and they will ask for things without worrying about being told no.  But teenagers and young adults know that rejection is a real possibility and so they tread lightly and if they perceive that you may reject their request for your presence, they may not take the risk.

Long Hoursdsc_8908-2

Our teenagers and young adults are looking for acceptance, they are looking for mentors, they are looking for friendship.  There is no one better to meet these needs than someone who has known them for their whole lives, who is made up of the same DNA, who looks similar, who has a similar worldview and loves them unconditionally.  The challenge for us as parents is to make the time to be present to them when they need us.  In our family this often results in less sleep due to early mornings with the little ones, FFD-44-2and late nights with the older ones.  It involves being interested in things that are not high on our list of interests, talking through decisions that would be easy for us but difficult for our children, and it involves giving of our precious time in a scandalously gratuitous way.  Our time is valuable. Our sleep is valuable. Do we value our relationship with our children more than these?  This doesn’t mean that we have to entertain every request for attention, but we may need to give until it hurts initially to build up a level of trust and prove that we really care about our children.  Our children are a precious gift from God, one that cannot be replaced, they are entrusted to us for a short time, before we know it they will be on their own, giving generously to their spouse and to their children, hopefully we have given them a good example.

What are the main obstacles to being present to our children? Being too busy, even with good things like volunteerism or excessive work commitments, TV, Internet, Social Media, and keeping your kids too busy with outside activities that take them away from spending time with you and the family. We don’t always need to be busy; being too busy makes it hard to give your time to your children, because you have less time to give and when your children are too busy as well, your relationship suffers.
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Plan B: When is a Right Simply Wrong?

Tuesday, the federal government threw in the towel in an ongoing fight with a  judge; which will result in the Plan B Morning After Pill being made available over the counter with no restrictions.

Some women’s groups are lauding the move as a victory for reproductive rights and for women of all ages. They are touting the benefits of unrestricted access to safe birth control.

Whoa! Stop right there!

When is a teenage girl a woman?

And since when is hormonal birth control safe?

Let’s back up and take a look at this…

This week, the Appellate Division of the NY State Supreme Court is hearing an appeal regarding the repeal of Mayor Bloomberg’s soda ban.  Despite this ruling being struck down before it could take effect, arguments are once again being heard in favor of the ban.

What does soda have to do with the Plan B ruling, you ask?

Well, if the ban goes into effect, a teen girl would be not be able to order an extra large Coke while she’s out to dinner with her family, but she would be able to purchase a cancer causing drug without her parents’ knowledge.  The World Health Organization has classified hormonal contraceptives as Group 1 Carcinogens.  The Plan B pill is, in fact, almost as strong as an entire month’s worth of doses of a regular birth control pill.

“Don’t drink that soda dear, but, here, have a dose of cancer, please.”

Some months ago, I took my daughter to get a second piercing in her earlobes.  I had to show a valid ID and sign a permission form.  The employee who did the piercing handed me the care instructions and gave me the verbal explanation.  Why?  Because she realized that teen girls are…distracted…by lots of things; phones, friends, iPods, etc.  A teen girl may not be responsible enough to follow through on the aftercare of a piercing.  My daughter did fairly well, but I still had to remind her on occasion to twirl her earrings and clean her lobes.

“Here’s your Plan B…don’t forget to read the entire insert before taking it!”

If a teen takes Plan B and experiences severe lower abdominal pain 3 to 5 weeks after ingestion, she may not realize that the pain could be linked to Plan B use.  This could indicate an ectopic pregnancy, which would require immediate attention by a physician.  What if she thinks she just has a stomach bug or food poisoning and doesn’t get to a physician?

The list of drugs that interact with Plan B is quite extensive.  What if a drug interaction occurs, and she is unable to tell someone because of the reaction?  How would medics know how to treat her?

In  our country, a teen has been deemed not mature enough to vote for public officials or drink alcohol; she can’t be dispensed pain killers at school or even go on a field trip without permission from a parent. Why, then, is she considered responsible enough to handle this drug on her own?

To me, this doesn’t sound like a right which should be celebrated.  It simply sounds wrong.

Domestic Church Ink Slingers Michelle Motherhood Parenting Vocations

What to do When Your Child Becomes Possessed

Oh, wait, that title should read, “Help! I Have a Teenager Now!” Of course, it might seem one in the same though. A funny thing seems to happen almost the moment our children become teenagers- they seem to morph into something so very different that it’s hard to know if they are possessed or if they are just hormonal.

Even the best of kids will go through a bit of this experience.  As parents it’s hard to see our children, our babies, work their way through this tumultuous time.  We want to tell them that this stage won’t last forever.  We want to take way the stress and heartaches that we know that they will go through. And we might even want to shake some serious sense into their pretty little heads!  Of course, most of the time we can’t take those approaches because well, we are mom and dad and we have never been teens so how would we know what they are going through?  You are reading the sarcasm, right?

So what do we do to help our teens through this time in their lives?  If you are a stay at home, homeschooling parent like me, you are surrounded by your cherubs each and every day, day in and day out.  You ride the crazy train all day, every day.  You don’t want your spouse to come home to find you in the corner, with a dry erase board that says, “Help!” in scrawled handwriting from dealing with the rollercoaster ride that teens often put us through.  Of course if you are a working parent you don’t want to come home after a long day at work only to have to face off in an epic battle of wills and hormones the minute you walk through the door.  So what do we do? Without picking up and draining a wine bottle each night, how do we cope through these wild years?

First of all, remember, this possessed-like child is still your baby.  You know the one that you counted his tiny fingers and toes the minute he was born.  The one that gave you open mouthed slobbery kisses when he was a toddler and you reveled in each and every kiss.  The one who as a preschooler couldn’t pronounce some of his words which you thought was so cute that you still use those words today.  That same child that couldn’t wait to come home from grade school and tell you about his day, sharing his joy and excitement and looking to you to hug him when he had a bad day.  Remember that this teenager is still that person, just in a bigger body that has raging, crazy hormones.  When you can remember that it’s so much easier to deal with the ups and downs that come along with teens who are struggling to find out who they are and where they belong in this world.

The second thing I do to get through this stage is to remember that my children are overall great kids.  I think about all their good qualities when that urge to shake some sense into them threatens to overtake me.  They are kind and loving, giving and compassionate.  They say yes mam and no mam, please and thank you to not just me but to others as well.  They snuggle with their younger siblings, play dress up with them and beg to go to the park so they can play tag and push them on the swings.  They constantly ask me if there is anything they can do to help me out and when they know I am tired or sick they practically fight each other with swords to see who gets to take care of me.   They still get disappointed when their father is not going to be home to eat supper with us at night.  They like to spend time with us and with the family.  Yes, they truly are good kids.  When I keep their good qualities in mind it helps me to deal with whatever our newest problem might be.

Of course this leads me to my next point… all kids, no matter how amazing, are going to make mistakes and bad decisions sometimes.  When we keep this in mind it makes it a little easier to deal with the times that they choose the wrong path.  We still might be heartbroken at what our child has decided to do but at the same time we understand that our kids don’t have all the answers.  Shoot, we don’t have all the answers and we still make mistakes, it’s only natural for our children to do so as well.  We can hope we have given them the right tools to make wise choices, but sometimes they won’t.  We need to prepare ourselves to face that heartache and pain of watching our children suffer the consequences of those decisions.  As a parent I think it’s one of the hardest jobs we have to endure.  However, if we prepare ourselves that maybe, just maybe, our really good kids might make a really bad decision, we can head off a tiny bit of that heartache before it ever reaches us. In the end that helps with the healing process and how we will handle our kids and the consequences that follow.

Mike and I really were once teenagers!

A big way to help our kids through this time in their lives is to remember what it was like to be a teen.  I think that many parents forget how hard it is to live through this age.  Oh the angst!  Oh the drama!  Oh the crazy fashions!  When we remember how much we just wanted to be liked, to be included, to feel like we were someone special, and how every single feeling we felt was magnified by a thousand, we can understand our teens better.  Remember the stress you felt at school, at home, at work… every day seemingly weighing on top of you with some new problem.  Peer pressure ran rampant whether it was to get the best grades, drink or do drugs, have sex, go to the best parties, wear the best clothes, or any other number of things.  Today, our kids have it even harder than we do in that regard.  With technology at their fingertips they have a whole new set of temptations to deal with in ways we could have never imagined.   Remembering how we felt with these pressures and then keeping in mind that our kids are dealing with these things we can perhaps begin to understand why they might make the wrong choices.

When you think of your own teenage years, think about what you wanted your parents to do for you to help you through these tough times.  Sit down and talk to your child and ask them what they need in terms of help.  Listen to them.  Don’t discount their feelings.  Sure some things may seem silly to you knowing what you do now, but think about when you were a teen and the problems that seemed so overwhelming to you then.  Were they silly to you then?  No?  Your teen’s problems aren’t ridiculous in his eyes either.  Validate his feelings because, after all, they are his feelings.  Equate it to something you might have gone through and tell him how you got through it.  Tell him what worked for you and what didn’t.  Let him know that even though you are older than dirt now and your memory is only hanging on by a thread that you remember all those feelings and how much you hated it.  You don’t have to share your entire high school years and all the mistakes you made but connecting with your child to say “I’ve been there and I understand” goes a long way to help them through the toughest of times.

Lastly, pray for your child.  I know this sounds like a given but sometimes we get so angry and so overwhelmed with what our kids are doing or saying that it’s the last thing that goes through our minds.  We need to put it first.  We need to remember that with God all things are possible, even helping the most troubled child through the worst of times.  It may seem that our prayers are falling on deaf ears but they aren’t. God hears us each and every time we cry out to Him.  In addition to praying for your child, pray that God helps you to be a better parent.  Sometimes when we focus on doing things differently on our end we find that our teens will respond in kind.  Our children don’t have all the answers and neither do we.  Remember that parenting is hard.  Just like our kids, we aren’t perfect.  We will make mistakes along the way.  We have to recognize our mistakes, apologize for them, and take a different path the next time.

Loving our teens unconditionally is sometimes hard, especially when there are moments that we think their heads might spin around backwards and we feel like running to our parish priest to beg for an exorcism.   But our teens deserve our unconditional love.  They are our still our babies, even if they tower over us and occasionally think they rule the roost.  They are still the precious gifts that God blessed us with so many years ago.  Whether or not they want to admit it they still need us and want us in their lives.  There will be times we want to run and hide out of frustration or maybe even pure terror, but we can’t guide them if we aren’t there.  Resist the urge to douse them in holy water when their eyes roll back in their heads. Be present and active in their lives. Be the parent that God is to us… be loving, understanding, forgiving, and yet firm.   Trust that the seeds you are planting now will bloom into the most beautiful garden you have even seen when they are grown.

Two of my amazing, yet hormonal, teens plucked from God’s beautiful garden