Monday, July 1, 2013

Book Review! Cleaning House: A Mom's 12-month Experiment to Rid Her Home of Youth Entitlement

I realize I already spilled the beans on the book Cleaning House: A Mom’s 12-Month Experiments to Rid Her Home of YOUTH ENTITLEMENT by Kay Wills Wyma, but here’s the rest of the review.

As I said last week, I loved the premise of the book. However, some of Wyma's methodology left me scratching my head and reaching protectively for my wallet. That said, I’d still recommend it to any parent and think it will have a huge impact on your parenting no matter how you feel about the strategies presented.

Just in case you didn’t read my post last week (what? Unthinkable!), here’s the premise: Our children feel entitled because we do everything for them from cleaning their rooms to cooking their meals to fighting their battles. Many times this is because it's easier and more efficient to do the work ourselves. This leaves kids with the message that we don’t think they are capable and this process snowballs into children who can’t clean, cook, or handle tasks they will need to survive as adults. We rob them of problem solving opportunities time and again.

Wills organized her plans around a list of 12 skills she wants her children to have mastered before they are adults.

1 how to make a bed and maintain an orderly room
2 how to cook and clean a kitchen
3 how to do yard work
4 how to clean a bathroom
5 how to get a job…outside the home
6 how to do laundry
7 how to do handyman jobs
8 how to hos a party
9 how to work together
10 how to run errands
11 how to put others first through service
12 how to act mannerly

The first thing that smacked me in the proverbial wallet time and again was that just about every task approached involved the parent spending a significant amount of money. In the first month of making beds and cleaning rooms, Wyma gave an incentive to ensure her children’s cooperation by placing a jar in each room with 30 one dollar bills in it. Each day she would remove a dollar if the bed wasn’t made and the room clean. She has five children, so we’re talking about an expenditure of $150 a month. Plus, she drove them to the Container Store and allowed each child to pick out their own container for the money. The Container Store is not cheap. I’d need a small loan to finance this approach.

I couldn’t help wondering if she was sabotaging her mission right off the bat by paying these kids to do something they should be expected to do. I agreed with her argument that kids should learn to keep a room clean because we all have to do things we don’t want to do. And I agreed with her belief that once the kids experienced a clean room they would be proud. But she kept paying them month after month, and that’s more than chump change for this mom. I want more for my money.

I took on this task with my own kids, but I approached it differently. I sat my brood down and explained that they needed to learn to keep their rooms clean because their future boss, spouse, and roommate would appreciate it. I told them it was my job as a mom to be sure they could do this before they left our nest. Lucky for me, my kids understood this concept without me plopping a fancy jar of cash in their rooms. They looked at me wide-eyed, perhaps surprised that I was already thinking of the roommates and bosses to come. I was taking them and this task seriously. Surprisingly, I got very little pushback. We haven’t had that much luck with making beds daily, but the rooms are much better and it is a caveat for inviting a friend over that their room must be tidy and bed made.

Money was no object for Wyma again and again. When planting a garden, she took all five kids to the Home Depot and allowed them to pick out carts full of plants, soil, tools, fertilizer, etc. Major outlay of cash once again. When it was time to learn to cook dinner, she drove each child to the store individually to pick out their groceries. My mind spins at the cost and logistics of this approach on a weekly basis with three kids, let alone five. My kids cook meals too, but they have to plan in advance so that the shopping can be done in one haul each week. I appreciate her point of teaching them to negotiate a grocery store, but there are plenty of opportunities for that and frankly I’m surprised she’s only now discovering the game of teach-your-children-math-while-you-shop. I’ve long utilized my children’s young legs to go back and find all the things I forgot in the previous aisles.

When it was time to find a job outside the home, Wyma quickly discovered that it’s hard to find work at 14. So, she found volunteer work for her eldest and then paid him herself. Again, I shook my head. My eleven-year-old raised several thousand dollars for a People to People trip by taking care of neighbors’ pets, making and selling crafts, and babysitting (at our home). With proper motivation, kids can find the road that leads to money. If the message is they should solve their own dilemmas, then please, let them.

Each chapter progressed like this for me. I loved the idea behind the activity, but I rolled my eyes as time and again money flowed like water. Each kid was asked to host a party and given a budget of $50. It would be different if the money came out of the kids’ pockets, after all they’re earning $30 bucks a month just for making their beds, plus more for the cleaning tasks assigned them in the next chapter, and the big bucks earned by “jobs” outside the home.

All the free-flowing cash aside, Wyma is a fun writer. She’s entertaining and open about her experiences, freely admitting when a task didn’t go her way. It was easy to read the book and I appreciated the real-life stories about her kids.

One thing the book doesn’t warn you about is the Christian-speak throughout the book. If you're a practicing Christian from a relatively conservative church, you may find this refreshing. Wyma makes regular references to her faith and the Bible. The book makes no mention of this in the introduction, back cover, or promotional materials. From what I can tell, church is a big part of this family’s life. Fine for them, but I think the reader needs a little advance warning, particularly if they are of a different belief system. This book has an important message for all parents, not just Christians.

When it came to imparting “handyman skills,” Wyma suffers her largest failure because she and her husband were not on the same page when it came to youth empowerment. This quote from that chapter sums up the message of the book beautifully,

“More often than not, I think, parents miss opportunities to nurture responsibility because we buy into the line that doing it ourselves will be safer, more convenient, less time consuming.  Or we procrastinate, telling ourselves, ‘I’ll show them next time.’ Each time we opt for practicality, our kids receive a message about their own ineptitude. Is it any wonder this generation struggles with critical thinking and problem solving? It seems a hefty price to pay for our convenience and control.”

To sum up – great message, entertaining read, and some excellent ideas if you can afford them. This book not only helps a parent rid her home of entitlement, but it also provides incentive to fill her home with youth empowerment. A good message in any form. I highly recommend this book but suggest the reader might want to find her own way to implement the ideas presented. As with so many good resources – you need to adapt it to meet your own needs.

NOTE: Just in case you’re reading along, I’m switching July and August’s books because I’m flying on an airplane this month and don’t want to lug the huge book I picked for July on my carry-on. Here’s the schedule –
JULY: Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin

AUGUST: YOU: An Owner’s Manual – An Insiders Guide to a Body that will make you Healthier and Younger by Michael Roizen and Mehmet Oz

I’m open to suggestions for September, but the month is already crammed packed, so it needs to be an easy one.  


  1. Your book is really amazing and also helpful to clean house very quickly. I will try these all activities for my house cleaning. Thanks for sharing this informative post.

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  6. I am 50/50 with you here. I agree with paying yours kids because that way they feel like it's a reward for doing something good. The reward factor is a big incentive for children. That being said, I disagree because they might get used to it and once you don't have enough money to pay them they might not clean anymore.

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