Cleaning Up: Tackling Bedrooms and KP Duty
About the Guest
Author Kay Wills Wyma ended the entitlement attitude in her children with a one-year experiment in her home that would reward her kids for household chores. From making beds to cleaning toilets, her family experienced the ways meaningful work can transform self-absorption into earned self-confidence and concern for others.
Kay Wills WymaKay Wills Wyma, former White House staffer, international banker, and entrepreneur, is a mom of five who writes about seeing beyond life's pressures in order to navigate life and thrive together. She is the author of two books and blogs at the popular themoatblog.com and video podcasts at saysomethingshow.com. She has been featured on outlets such as The Today Show, CNN, and Focus on the Family, and has contribu...more
Kay Wills Wyma decided to end the entitlement attitude she saw in her children by kicking off a one-year experiment in her home that would reward her kids for household chores.
Cleaning Up: Tackling Bedrooms and KP Duty
Bob: When Kay Wyma started to notice just how self-focused and self-absorbed her children were, she decided it was time to give them some work to do around the house.
Kay: That’s the beauty of these chores! It sounds so silly, but there is always somebody on the receiving end. So, if they are folding laundry and their sister’s underwear happens to be in there, well, they get to fold their sister’s underwear. That is just like the height of service, really. [Laughter]
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, December 30th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. We’ll hear today about the revolution that took place in the Wyma household and about the benefits that have come as a result of it. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. Do you want to introduce our recovering enabler here on FamilyLife Today?
Dennis: I’d love to do that! She is the possessor of a book and a house—both titled by the same name, Cleaning House. That’s what she’s done here. Kay Wyma joins us again on FamilyLife Today. Kay, welcome back.
Kay: Thank you.
Dennis: She is the mother of five. She is the wife of one, Jon. She is living in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area, and she finally got sick and tired—sick and tired of doing it all for her five children.
Bob: In fact, there was a day when you walked up to your son’s room, and it was messy. You told him to clean it up; right?
Bob: How did he respond?
Kay: By telling me that was my job. [Laughter]
Bob: How did that go over, Mom?
Kay: You know, that is one of those things that, even saying it right now, kind of gets my blood boiling. [Laughter]
Dennis: But you had trained him to think that way, though; hadn’t you?
Kay: I guess I had! That’s the part that’s hard for me, but I am very happy to admit it: “I am an enabler.” That is the first place to start—is admit you have a problem. [Laughter]
Dennis: Yes, no doubt about it.
Dennis: Well, I know one of your kids was given an assignment at school. What he picked was quite extraordinary.
Kay: The great thing is that he didn’t pick anything, and that was the problem. [Laughter] He was given an assignment to provide some type of something that he would memorize for a declamation. They were given months to choose whatever it would be—it could be a letter, it could be a historical document, it could be anything—which he dragged his feet / he did not choose. He just kept waiting and waiting until, finally, his teacher chose for him.
I could not help but laugh when he brought home Teddy Roosevelt’s 1899 address to the Hamilton Club in Chicago. It was entitled The Strenuous Life, which I just had to say—I started laughing, even at the thought of it—that this is what he was going to recite. Let me read just a little bit to you because it’s fascinating—because these are the guys—Teddy Roosevelt—he’s the core of this country. Mentalities and personalities, like Teddy Roosevelt, are who made this country what it is today—or what it was before today. [Laughter]
Dennis: I loved this story too—
Kay: It’s so good.
Dennis: —because I’m picturing the President of the United States—
Kay: You bet!
Dennis: —giving this sermon,—
Kay: Oh, yes.
Dennis: —so to speak.
Kay: Yes, but the thing is that everyone bought into this. He wasn’t trying to teach people something that was counter to what they believed. That’s what was so amazing, and this is how far we’ve come.
Here is what T.R. had to say:
In speaking to you, men of the greatest city of the West, men of the State which gave to the country Lincoln and Grant, men who preeminently and distinctly embody all that is most American in the American character, I wish to preach, not the doctrine of ignoble ease, but the doctrine of the strenuous life, the life of toil and effort, of labor and strife; to preach that highest form of success which comes, not to the man who desires mere easy peace, but to the man who does not shrink from danger, from hardship, or from bitter toil, and who out of these wins the splendid ultimate triumph.
Bob: This is what your son had to memorize?
Kay: Yes—which is so funny—even as he did it, I was like, “Please let it sink in.” Then, I said to me, “Please let that sink in,” because T.R. is right. T.R. was financially comfortable, so to speak. He grew up in the state of New York—he was one of what would be considered the aristocracy of that state.
Dennis: He’s a Roosevelt!
Kay: Yes. So, this guy, right here, never gave his kids an easy road. If they wanted to do something, he made them work so hard for it. Nobody got a free ride in his family. The reason why they didn’t get a free ride—wasn’t just for the purpose of not doing that—but because he knew that if he gave it to them, it would do nothing but diminish their character. He loved his kids enough to force this on them.
Dennis: Kay, you don’t know this about Barbara, my wife—she embodies what T.R. just said.
One of her top five values—that she brought to our marriage and our family—was hard work. She believed in that strenuous labor that T.R. was talking about here.
Bob: Now wait, are you saying you were lazy? [Laughter]
Dennis: I’m saying that I was the second-born.
Dennis: I was on the spoiled side—
Dennis: —in terms of being indulged a bit; okay?
Dennis: I think, if given to me, I would have enabled our children a whole lot more than I ended up doing because Barbara—she had them in the yard, working; she had them with chores; she had them knowing how to do the laundry; how to cook meals.
I mean, one of the things they did, early on, was they knew we loved to have dates. So, we came back from work one weekend; and the kids served us a three- or four- course meal that was, again, very basic—it was potatoes, and corn, and hamburger or maybe tube steak/hot dogs. The point was—they owned it, as you are talking about.
They caught that from their mother; and they knew how to exercise their responsibility, as young people, and how to achieve.
That’s what you’re talking about in your book. You’re really challenging parents to really challenge their children to become all that God made them to be.
Bob: It’s interesting—as we’re talking about this too—I’m thinking what used to happen because it was necessary for family survival—kids got involved in the kind of labor around the house. You had to because everybody had to pitch in—it’s just how you survived. We’re not at that state anymore. So, unless parents are purposeful, intentional, and deliberate about this, kids will never get that kind of training.
Kay: Because we are at that state—that state doesn’t change. I love what you said because kids are grounded when they belong somewhere. Teen suicide rates are so high right now.
Kids get to colleges—you know, the counseling staff has gone up three-fold on most universities because all these terrific trophy kids get there—and they don’t know who they are because everyone around them is the best, and they are the best. Everyone is a superlative, and they don’t know who they are.
So, it’s the same state. These kids—you want them to belong / you want them to be grounded. They need to know that they are needed. When you have a kid integrally involved in your family’s life, it gives them a sense of “I belong here.” So, they aren’t looking around for the Porsche to give them some type of standing—they don’t need it!
Dennis: When we had four teenagers at one time and we had, I think, six cars in our family, that had over 700,000 miles, there was a quote by Alvin Toffler—I think the name of the book was The Third Wave—who said this: “The problem with teenagers in modern society is we no longer need them anymore,”—to Bob’s point about children being needed to keep the family afloat—to survive the winter / to get enough vegetables out of the garden to be able to live throughout the year.
He said, “We have so much ease, so much affluence and prosperity, teenagers don’t feel needed at home.” So, guess what they do to find a place where they are needed? They go to the culture and to their peers. We wonder why we have the kind of peer pressure we have today. It’s just kids trying to find an identity—of a place, to your point, where they do belong.
Kay: Right. There come—parents struggle so hard with screen time / limiting screen time. Why do they have so much to begin with? Because they don’t have the things around the house that are a part of your house working properly that could very easily be on their plate. It’s almost as if we need to foster the need. If it’s not there anymore, because of affluence, well, let’s make it be there because it’s worth it—what’s on the other side is worth it.
Again, I can’t help but go to the core of it—parents love their kids—we’re doing it because we love them.
Dennis: Right; right.
Kay: We’ve been told, “You need to make sure that their self esteem is intact,”—all these things. Well, if they get a “C” and the neighboring student gets an “A”—well, that could hurt their self esteem. So, of course, “I’m going to go in and make sure it’s alright before they turn it in,”—it doesn’t get you anywhere / it doesn’t get the kid anywhere when we do that.
Bob: I’m thinking about the word that I associate with the childhood years—and the word is “carefree”—that childhood should be a time when life is carefree. Even as I say that and we’re in this conversation, I’m thinking, “No.” Childhood should be a time when they learn to have some cares, and they are—they have some responsibility that goes with it. You don’t want them overburdened and overloaded with that; but if it’s carefree / if it’s all leisure—if it’s all playtime—you’re really setting yourself up for adolescence that’s going to be very difficult and adulthood that will be late to materialize.
Kay: It goes back to this ideology that we want our kid’s life to be better than ours, which probably started in the 1950s. It’s an interesting concept because “What are you defining as better than yours?” That’s where I think we might have gotten off a bit—equating that to financial comfort, which is really not the case. At the end of the day, we know that you could have millions and millions of dollars in homes everywhere; and that’s not going to provide you what you really need.
That’s the beauty of these chores! It sounds so silly, but there’s always somebody on the receiving end. So, if they are folding laundry, and their sister’s underwear happens to be in there—well, they get to fold their sister’s underwear. That is just like the height of service, really. [Laughter]
Dennis: Well, let’s talk about your system of rewards that tied some of these chores—
Dennis: —to really a kind of a bonus at the end of the week, where they could kind of celebrate what they’d done.
First of all, explain how you worked the reward system. Then, let’s talk about some of the domestic dirty jobs and some of the things you assigned them to do.
Kay: Well, what we did—I kind of piggy-backed off a friend who was doing something that worked in her home. What she had done was put together a jar that she put money in, at the beginning of the month. She put in a certain number of dollar bills—she did a dollar a day. I thought: “Why not? We’ll try the same thing if it’s working for her.”
Whenever the kids don’t do what they’re supposed to do—be it make their bed / whatever the chores are of the day for that child—they lose a dollar. So, that’s what we did.
Now, I didn’t want to have someone’s feelings get hurt because they might be losing something; and I made the mistake of offering them the choice: “You can either lose a dollar or you can have a dollar put in.” Well, all but one chose “lose a dollar.”
The one kid who chose to have the dollars put in each day was the only kid that really didn’t step up to the plate and do his chores, which I thought was so interesting until a business friend of mine said that there is so much more incentive to not lose a dollar than there is to gain a dollar. That is a stock market theory, which I thought was so interesting because I watched it play out in my house.
Needless to say, we had lots of moments—where we started and stopped, and backed up, and started over—in the money jar area, as well as in the kitchen. When I offered the opportunity that you could buy people’s meals instead of cook them—that was a complete disaster.
Bob: I want to step back from these rewards for just a second. I’m just imagining the turnaround that took place in your home when you said, “Kids, Mom has decided that we’re going to have this new system here at the house.”
Bob: This is the start of your 12-month experiment; right?
Kay: Right; and I did seek advice—that was very helpful—I had some women around me. I highly recommend to anybody just to have people around you that are older and have walked the road.
I asked them, “What would you do if you were going to start something new in your house?” A sweet gal named Dottie said: “If you’re going to start something new, they need to buy in. So, have a family meeting whenever you are doing something new and make sure there’s something that they buy into.”
So, we came to them with our family meeting and said: “This is what’s going to happen. How do you want it to work?”
Bob: How did that—take me to that family meeting—how did that go?
Kay: There were a lot of moans and groans and, “This isn’t fair,” and, “This is horrible; nobody else has to do this,” which proceeded throughout the whole year but got less and less as we went on. I got a lot of: “Henry’s mother cooks for him. Why are you not cooking for us?”
Dennis: Yes, but children need to be trained to know what to expect. If you’ve enabled them, and you’ve done it all for them, it’s going to take awhile to kind of change the course of the river—
Dennis: —because that’s the way they’ve been thinking.
Kay: Right. So, we started our limbo bar low—as low as you could get. Our first month, really, was just making their beds and cleaning up the clutter, which let’s just say—
Bob: Set the limbo bar high; right?
Kay: Oh, for us it was the low—nobody—we could barely—
Dennis: She’s talking about setting a low standard.
Kay: It was the lowest—
Dennis: It was a low standard.
Kay: —of the low.
Dennis: Don’t think dancing—just think of a very short—
Kay: You want that limbo bar to be low. We had it low because we couldn’t get over anything else.
Bob: You’re talking about jumping over the limbo bar, not trying to climb under it. Okay; alright.
Kay: It was at the very bottom—
Kay: —which they did—they even complained about the beds, and they complained about the clutter. One of them even said to me, “But Mom, my friends love my room messy.” [Laughter] I was like, “Nobody likes this room messy.” Until we were three weeks into it, and she actually stopped me and said, “This really does feel good.” It was enjoyable to watch them use their rooms / their desks—to actually do their homework on their desks or to play on their floors. They liked that feeling until the next month came.
As you get into the groove and it’s like, “Okay, this isn’t so bad,” then, the next task came, which was the kitchen—the cooking, and the cleaning, and that kind of thing.
Dennis: You called that the kitchen patrol?
Kay: I did.
Dennis: Explain what that’s all about.
Kay: KP in our house was cleaning everything up. There was a lot of cleaning in that too—they had to clean up before the meal / and they had to clean up after the meal, and run the dishwasher, and unload the dishwasher—but they also had to come up with their recipe for what they wanted to make. We had to go to the grocery store and get it. They had to come home and make it, set the table—everything.
Dennis: You allowed each child to fix one meal.
Kay: That’s what they chose to do. If it had been me, I would have said, “Hey, why not one kid take the dishes / one kid do the meal?”—you know, “Spread it out so that you’re not having to do everything one night.” They chose—this is how they bought into it. They wanted a night. In their mind: “I have to do it one night a week. Then, I am off for the rest of the week.” It worked—that worked for them—that’s what they wanted to do.
Bob: They had to prepare, cook, clean—the whole deal—one night.
Kay: One night a week.
Bob: That’s one child doing the whole thing?
Kay: Yes, let me tell you. We have a little kid—the youngest one that participated in it—he was seven when we started. We list him as eight throughout the book because we pop up—I mean, it’s a year experiment. That kid totally did it. Who knew that a kid that age could cook?
Bob: And you ate what that kid cooked?
Kay: Yes, and his was actually pretty good. [Laughter]
Dennis: I was going to say you had to have some mystery meals in there.
Kay: We did. We have one child that’s still cooking the same meal. [Laughter]
Dennis: Tell them about the trip to Wendy’s because I thought that was a classic.
Kay: It was devastating—it really was. This was the kid—you know, I gave them the option: “You don’t have to cook. If you’d like to buy meals out…” because I was thinking: “This is brilliant—they’re going to get to experience what we experience in the car, trying to figure out where to go to eat,”—which is a nightmare that you would even complain about going out to eat.
One of the kids said, “Well, I’m going to pay for the meal.” We gave them a little stipend. Then, they had—if it was over a certain amount, which I think we did $11, they had to pay from their own cash.
This kid goes to Wendy’s because he knew everyone loved Wendy’s. Well, apparently, that night, everyone did not like Wendy’s. He gets home—and the complaining started when he opened the door, which was devastating to him. Then, he opens up his hamburger, which is slogged with mayonnaise, mustard, onions, and tomatoes—everything that he can’t stand. I felt heartbroken for the poor guy—it was sad.
Bob: But you’re kind of chuckling about it right now.
Kay: Well, I am because it was a great lesson; but here’s another kind of beeping / backing up, again, for me. I thought that was a great idea on the cooking deal; but after three weeks of him buying everybody’s meal, he was a shell of what the others were. The others, you could almost visibly see the difference in them because they were getting this feeling: “Wow! I can do so much more than I thought I could.” That kid was shrinking. I had a moment of: “I really messed up. He’s now going to cook for everybody, too.” We just kind of had to admit that we made a mistake and start over.
Dennis: But it was proving your theorem that, if you take responsibility for the rest of the family—
Kay: It was—it is truth. It’s just God’s truth. His truth is pervasive in every part of life—you can’t negate it. We watched a lot of that play out—even just work, in and of itself. Work was introduced in Genesis 2, way before it became toil—it’s a part of who we are. We were created to do it. A big part of that is because there are other people on the other side. We are created to serve others and to live in an others’-centered type thinking. That’s where it goes well for us, and that’s a big part of what was behind all of these tasks—that I did not know, walking into it.
Dennis: Just listening to you, I can imagine there’s a mom or a dad thinking, “This sounds anti-American. You know, we’ve built these families today that provide all these good things for these kids. We have so much affluence today—we can just slather it on these kids, and just lay it out on a silver platter for them, and just take care of them.”
Kay: Wait—that is not the American dream. [Laughter] That is so far from what our founding fathers came and—
Dennis: I think it’s a lot of the experience of a lot of families—
Dennis: —and hearing you talk about this, they’re thinking: “You know what? We’ve made some serious mistakes by providing all this stuff and doing it all for them—so that when they do look at the laundry, they say: ‘Oh, that’s Mom’s job. That’s not my job, as a child; and it’s not going to be my duty, as a young man or a young woman, later on when I get married and have my own family.’” That’s really what you’re training these young people to be—they’re to be the husbands and the wives and the mothers and the fathers of the next generation.
Kay: I think, sometimes, when we read, “Train up a child in the ways of the Lord so that he will not depart from it,” we think of that just as Scripture—you know, just memorizing Scripture. It’s so much more than that—it really is walking through the daily process. We can head on up to the New Testament and get to the armor of God.
It’s one of those things—if my kid isn’t accustomed to wearing that armor, he isn’t going very far. So, I really want them to feel it—I want them to know what it’s like to fail because, if you’re going to get to success, there are a lot of failures that pave that road.
I need for them to know what that is so that they get back up on their own—and they don’t look to me or to their dad to pick them back up—because I want those legs to be running. I don’t want them to be limping and having to take things off so they can move.
Dennis: You know what you call a muscle that doesn’t have any weight against it?—it atrophies—
Dennis: —it shrinks. It loses its ability and what it was created for. Just listening to you, and what you’ve talked about and exhorted moms to do in their family / and dads too, you’re really encouraging parents to put the weight—and I like the idea of the armor—you’re putting the armor on these children, as they’re younger, so they learn how to bear that weight and develop muscles that carry that armor and the responsibilities on into adulthood.
Bob: I can imagine that there are folks, listening, who are thinking, “Okay, there are some things we need to do around our house; but honestly, I need some help knowing how to execute this plan.” That’s what the book, Cleaning House, is designed to do—it gives folks a template/a guide book for how you can engineer this kind of revolution in your home.
We have the book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can order a copy from us if you’d like. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the link in the upper left-hand corner of the screen that says, “GO DEEPER.” You’ll find, right there, a link to Kay’s book—you can order it from us, online. Again, the website: FamilyLifeToday.com; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY. You can order a copy of the book over the phone: 1-800-358-6329, that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY.”
Now, I know many of our listeners are probably taking a little extra time off here, between Christmas and New Year. That’s the case for some of our staff; but of course, we have staff coming in every day, as well, because we need folks to answer the phones, and to open the mail, and to check and see how we’re doing as we are trying to take full advantage of this matching-gift opportunity—
Dennis: It’s game time. It’s time to step up and make a donation because that’s what keeps FamilyLife Today on the air.
Bob: This sets the course for all of 2015—what happens in the next couple of days.
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Now, tomorrow, we are going to continue our conversation about teaching our kids how to be responsible with some basic skills around the home. We’ll talk about how that can actually help increase their self-confidence. Kay Wyma will be back tomorrow. Hope you can be here as well.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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