Why you shouldn’t tell your daughter to clean her room

This was absolutely too good not to share.

Australian journalist Annabel Crabb put us straight in Woman’s Weekly this month: “Why you shouldn’t clean your house”. She says she grew up in a cluttered house where her mother placed more emphasis on creative crafts and time spent with family than on dusting and tidying, and she’s employing the same joyful approach in her own home with her three kids (two of whom are daughters). She

She says in more eloquent words what I have been trying to say for years. There is seriously WAY too much pressure – especially on women – to maintain a clean and tidy environment. And she suggests that we not put this pressure on our own children.

I moan at my kids almost constantly about the state of their rooms (and don’t even get me started on the play room), but then I look at my own office and it would duplicitous of me not to blush. Perhaps, I reckon humbly, there is a middle ground.

Meanwhile, just in case Woman’s Weekly tidy (horror!!) their archives and this story is one day lost, I’m copying it right here. Please enjoy it and share it:

Annabel Crabb: ‘Why you shouldn’t clean your house’

Wife Drought author and Journalist Annabel Crabb writes why a bit of mess never hurt anyone, and reveals the hidden benefits in a cluttered home.

If as a mother, there’s one little tip you can pass on to your daughter that might help her enjoy a productive, happy and neurosis-free life, I reckon it’s this: don’t tidy your room.

I mean it. And here’s why. Amid all the extraordinary changes that have befallen Australian women over the past half-century (the surge into the workplace, reproductive freedom, no-fault divorce, military combat roles, Botox, the periodic arrival and departure of high-waistedness as a fashion trend), there is one significant feature of life that hasn’t changed very much at all; women still do about twice as much housework as men.

Now, there are two ways you can approach this disparity, as a gender.

You can whine and moan about men doing more. Or you can take the radical option and just do less yourself.

The Canadian writer Stephen Marche recently observed that, “housework is the only political problem in which doing less and not caring are the solution, where apathy is the most sensible and progressive attitude”.

And that’s the approach I have taken to heart. My house, where my partner and I and our three children live, is a glorious tribute to all the things that are more important than housework. Mine is one of those homes which would – should we ever feel like selling – need about two weeks of concerted scrubbing and sorting, and dusting-of-high-ledges and a vicious targeted eradication of old craft projects.

Mine is the sort of home where guests for lunch present – apart from menu planning – the added unspoken question as to whose job it will be to clear the dining room table of its drifts of paper, unopened letters and things that people dumped there on the way in from school.

Deposits of useful items (sticky tape, the rare and invaluable Pens That Work, the keys to my son’s toy handcuffs, spare batteries) cluster together on vulnerable surface areas like mice in a haystack.

My partner, Jeremy, is an intrepid housework-sharer, talented launderer and instinctively much tidier than I am. Yet we both work full-time and the numbers don’t lie; the hours in the day just aren’t sufficient to accommodate two working lives plus all the time we need to spend with our children.

And if it comes down to a choice between tidying the living room and making gingerbread with the children, then in my view there is no contest. Consequently, my house is what it is.

When The Weekly’s Editor-In-Chief Helen McCabe (in her matchlessly charming way) suggested a chat and possible family photograph after I published my book The Wife Drought, my policy was clear: sure, you can come and take pictures in our house, but I’m not tidying up.

Posing in an artificially tidied home, pretending we’re a relentlessly ordered family, would be a fib. Our house is messy. Messy is what it is.

In the end, we ended up in a studio, romping about self-consciously for photographs in an artfully disordered but controlled environment.

However, I like the way my house is. It’s like my parents’ house, on the Adelaide Plains farm where I grew up and where friendly disorder always reigned; Lego citadels, intricate costumes made out of paper shopping bags and the serial projects of my crafty, kitchen-innovator of a mother. She made her own soap. She wove her own baskets.

In a fabulous burst of activity, she once knitted a blanket from wool she had carded, spun and dyed herself, with wool shorn from our own sheep.

That blanket is – in any future will and testament – the only thing on which I really will insist.

My room was always a mess and it still is, and sometimes I think not minding about that is the greatest gift my mother has given me.Genuinely not minding that the kitchen cupboards are dusty – or that my desk is still cluttered with notes, splayed reference texts and illegible little Post-It notes from a book I finished writing nearly a year ago – is like a season ticket to the happiness that comes from doing other things.

One of the reasons the housework debate is so diabolical – and why, in countless households across Australia, the dishes and the recycling, and the timeless dispute about whose job it really is to clean the toilet carry such potential for discord – is that men and women often have asymmetric standards about what constitutes an acceptable level of clean.

It’s one thing to agree that housekeeping will be split equally, but it’s another thing entirely to reach agreement upon the absolute minimum that must be done and this is where the frustration often erupts.

One party might think that a kitchen bench is clean if it’s been given an optimistic swipe with a dingy Chux. The other, meanwhile, might be incapable of sleep until it’s been fully cleared and disinfected.

Why do women, on average, have higher standards? Well, it’s not the case in my household, so I’m an unreliable witness, but my best guess is that it’s because women have more skin in the game than men.

An untidy house belonging to the Brown family is far more likely, in local gossip, to be “Mrs Brown’s filthy house” than “Mr Brown’s filthy house”.

And, you know, every now and again, when I’m rampaging through the house looking for nail scissors or that birthday present I bought two days ago for the kids’ party to which we are, right at that minute, already 20 minutes late, I do feel the siren call of orderliness and wish I had one of those houses in which minimalist furniture sprawls languidly across vast empty planes of dust-free space, interrupted only by the odd witty vase or coffee-table book about wallpaper.

Yet then I remember. Skiving off housework is my international ticket to more fun things, like hanging out with my slightly dishevelled children. A bit of mess never hurt anyone, after all.

Annabel Crabb is the author of The Wife Drought, published by Random House.

This story was originally published in the March issue of The Australian Women’s Weekly.

The Key

In this frenetic world we seldom feel (or are) fully in control. We do what we can to try to stay on top of things, and leave the world a better place than we found it, but life sometimes gets the better of us.

Like this morning. Once again, I found myself looking for my keys. This   ALWAYS happens to me! It’s usually the last thing I do before I walk out the door, so I’m generally in a rush, shouldering a handbag, laptop bag and nappy bag, with a toddler on my hip and dragging one of her brothers in each hand. That is NOT the time to start having to run up and down stairs, scouring every cluttered surface for my keys.

So I made a decision. I may not be able to prevent deforestation of the Amazon today. I may not have time to found an organization to distribute food to all the starving orphans in Africa. I might not even get to the bottom of the festering mountain of laundry that’s waiting for me in the back room. But I can sort out one thing: my keys.

I went out and bought a hook. I returned home and put it up on the wall. And I hung my keys on it. From now on, the keys will go from my hand to the hook to my hand, so I’ll never have to waste time scratching around for them while my toddler unpacks the nappy bag and the boys are late for school.

There’s still a lot that needs my attention, but at least now I won’t be frazzled and late, so I may actually do a better job of it. The key, I think, is to take things one step at a time.

I bought this hook from Owen, a wire artist on Mackeurtan Avenue (outside Checkers). This business is his only income to support his family, so in doing some good for myself, at least I’ve helped do some good for others too. He has some really beautiful stuff, and he also makes to order. If you pay him a visit, tell him I say hi 🙂 

Why you need to get your kids into the kitchen

It fosters their confidence to learn new, grownup things.

It helps them to feel like a contributing member of the family.

They learn maths through measuring.

If they’re old enough, they can practice reading.

They learn sequencing through following the steps of a recipe.

They build upper body strength through mixing, kneading or rolling.

They practice their fine motor skills by pinching, cutting and grating.

Getting their hands dirty teaches them about textures and encourages tactile development.

They learn about nutrition as you talk them through ingredients.

They learn about science (melting butter, dissolving sugar and making mayonnaise are hands-on chemistry experiments)

If there’s more than one of them, they learn to take turns.

They learn about consequences (lumpy brownie, anyone?)

They learn about responsibility (cleanup time, or no licking the spoon!)

Tasting new things encourages curiosity and creativity.

You can do it even on a rainy day.

You can get supper done while still spending quality time with them.

BEST JOBS FOR KIDS IN THE KITCHEN:

Cleaning fresh produce Set a race between siblings or let your child beat the clock. If you’re brave enough, let them have a water fight with the water that’s left in the sink afterwards!

Setting the table An important part of eating, and a measurable, manageable job even for smaller children.

Prepping Cordon Bleu chefs call this mise en plus, and it includes chopping, peeling, grating, etc. There’s no time pressure, and you can help fix any mistakes with ease.

Kneading Kids love this, and it’s great for their arm muscles. Next time your kid’s in a foul mood, whip up some dough and let him take out his frustrations on that!

Greasing Use a pastry brush to “paint” oil into a tin, or an empty butter wrapper to rub every last bit of butter.

Anything repetitive Rolling patties or falafel balls, layering lasagnas or potato bakes, cutting cookies.

Anything messy Tossing salads with their hands, stuffing veggies or cannelloni. Kids love to get their hands ‘dirty’!

Washing up Perennial favourite with the littlies; older kids may need the incentive of dessert…

Harvesting If you have a herb or veggie garden, let kids gather what you need for each recipe. It gets them out in the fresh air and reminds them where food really comes from.

Just a little note:

ALWAYS SUPERVISE CHILDREN WITH KNIVES,

NO MATTER HOW OLD THEY ARE. DUH.

 

How to discipline your child: take him to the beach

Seaside selfie

They say there’s nothing that can’t be cured with salt water: sea, sweat or tears.

When you want to rip your hair out over your children – and you will, no matter how many positive parenting books you read or zen meditations you listen to – you may both just need a change of scenery and some headspace. What better place to get this than at the beach? (Advance apologies to all landlocked readers. You can achieve very similar results at a lake or a nature reserve with a stream. But somehow the beach just trumps.)

After coming head-to-head with my seven-year-old about his homework one day, I was ready to hammer his head into his neck with his lunchbox. I’d asked nicely, encouraged, cajoled, explained the rational reasons why homework is necessary and to his benefit, warned, threated, begged, and yelled. No go. Eventually I stormed out of the room. Why couldn’t I get through to him? What was wrong with him? What was wrong with me as a parent?

It was too early to start drinking, so I had to get creative. This homework was NOT going to get done now. Ignoring the problem wouldn’t make it go away. There was a disconnect between us – how could we reconnect? I decided we needed some “special time”, so I strapped him in the car and drove down to the beach.

He was a little surprised at first that his misbehaviour had resulted in a treat, but he rolled with it, bless him. I let him loose on the sand and he went wild, letting out pent up energy and no doubt frustration. I climbed up onto a rock and let the waves hypnotize some calm into me.

He clambered up next to me and sat down. I put my arm around him. For a while, we didn’t need to speak.

When I did speak, he was ready to listen. We talked about the homework: he told me it was boring and “not fun” and he didn’t want to do it. I heard him and repeated all my logical arguments. He nodded. We brokered a deal. I told him I loved him. He told me he loved me too. Must be the sea air.

Veggie braai

Who says vegetarians can’t braai?

Pictured here: braaied mielies, beetroot (skins on – my preference), brinjals, beetroot (skins off – hubby’s preference), peppers and broccoli.

We basted the veggies with seasoned olive oil. The mielies and brinjals need to be cooked until tender; the rest should still be slightly crunchy – they retain more of their flavour and texture.

Served with a yummy salad (recipe below), some crusty bread, and walnut brownies.

 

BOILED EGG, PARMESAN AND POTATO CROUTON SALAD

Ingredients:

1 head cos lettuce, washed

2 potatoes

2 Tbs olive oil

Rosemary (4 sprigs from the garden, a small punnet from the shop, or a good sprinkle from a bottle)

1 tsp sea salt

2 eggs

Parmesan shavings

Ingredients (dressing):

3 Tbs olive oil

1 Tbs white wine vinegar

1 tsp Dijon mustard

Pinch of salt

Pinch of white pepper

Grinding of black pepper

Method:

Cut the potatoes into roughly 2cm cubes and boil until just tender; drain. Toss the cooked potatoes in olive oil, rosemary and salt, and roast at 180° C until crispy-edged. (These are irresistible, but try not to eat too many at this stage or there will be none left for the salad.)

Boil the eggs for 8 minutes. Rinse in cool water to prevent further cooking (and to make them cool enough to handle!). Peel and slice into wedges.

Make dressing by whisking ingredients together (this can be done many hours ahead and kept in a jar in the fridge. Simply shake and pour).

Toss the lettuce in the dressing, then arrange the rest of the ingredients on top as elegantly or haphazardly as you will.

Courgette tagliatelle with rosemary cheese sauce

Courgette ‘tagliatelle’ with rosemary cheese sauce

I’m not necessarily into Banting, but I’m all for upping the veggies and not overdoing refined carbohydrates.

This recipe came about because I had some courgettes lurking in the fridge and I wanted to use them up. I was feeling far too lazy to make ‘spaghetti’ (which you can do using a spiraliser, a julienne grater, a sharp knife and plenty of patience, or by buying ready-cut courgette spaghetti from a growing number of supermarkets like Woolies or Pick-n-Pay), so I simply sliced them. The result was a more satisfying spoonful, in my humble opinion.

For the kitchen-illiterate: courgette, zucchini and baby marrow are all different names for the same veggie.

RECIPE

Cut about 400g courgettes into 1 cm slices.

Place courgettes in a single layer on a greased baking tray and brush with up to 60 ml olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and bake for 10-15 minutes at 180° C until soft and going ever so slightly crispy on the edges. You could probably steam or microwave the ‘pasta’, but I love the flavour and texture of oven-roasted, olive-oily veggies.

Meanwhile, start on the sauce by melting 50 g butter in a pan and mixing in 50 g flour to form a roux (fancy word for paste in this context).

Add 1 tablespoon chopped rosemary (fresh or dried, whatever you’ve got on hand) and cook for 2 minutes.

GRADUALLY – and you need to be patient here – add up to 500 ml milk (I used full cream, you can try other varieties) in small pours, stirring well to incorporate all the milk into the roux before adding more. This GRADUAL mixing in of the milk is what will prevent lumps and give you a smooth, glossy sauce. (If you do get lumps, use a whisk to beat them out.) Cook the sauce for 5-10 minutes to thicken, then season with salt and pepper (a sprinkle of cayenne pepper or mustard powder wouldn’t go amiss here if you like a bite.)

Stir in 1 cup of grated cheese. (You can use any cheese you like – or have around – for this. Harder cheeses like parmesan will give a more pronounced flavour, while softer varieties like mozzarella will result in a gooier, unctuous texture)

Plate the ‘tagliatelle’ and nap with the cheese sauce (I’ve always wanted to say that! 🙂 )

MIX IT UP

This sauce would work just as well on steamed green beans or skinny sweet potato chips (baked not fried).

Strawberry fields (in your own back yard)

I have a recurrent argument with my kids each time we go out for milkshakes – they beg me for strawberry flavour and I say no because I don’t like the idea of synthetic red colouring and sweetener (and it seems to send my eldest a little hyper).

I’ve explained that there is nothing strawberry at all about most commercial “strawberry” milkshakes, and have been pressed to ask the waitstaff what goes into the shakes to prove my point. My point has been proven every time. Answers range from “I don’t know” (go and ask, dumbass. And you should know your menu better) to “syrup” to “it’s this powder thing” to “pre-prepared shake mix”.

So Mom wins and the kids can choose between vanilla (read “plain” or “white” as I’m pretty confident there’s no actual vanilla in there anyway) or chocolate (which at least is vaguely natural). Thank the lord they’ve never asked for “lime”.

But really, we all win, because I’m teaching my kids to KNOW about what goes into the things they eat. And that’s a life skill that will stay with them longer than the pleasure of a milkshake.

That said, I decided to make an actual strawberry milkshake (recipe below) and it was the easiest thing and passed the juvenile taste test panel. Smiles all round!

Veggietot Mom’s strawberry milkshake

OR

Strawberry milkshake as it should be

Ingredients:

Strawberries

Milk or yoghurt (the latter makes for a slightly thicker shake)

Ice, if the strawberries are fresh out the garden and you want the shake cold immediately

A little honey if you really want it super sweet

Method:

Blend.

Simple pleasures.

Moms and Tots Spa Day? Totally!

Spa trips are always a luxury, but I find it easier to justify when I know that my enjoyment is bringing employment and dignity to previously unskilled women from my own greater community. That’s why I’ve always loved Mangwanani, “The Original African Day Spa”. Their philosophy of indulgence and revitalisation over skin-deep treatments resonates with my soul, and I love their policy of employing women who otherwise would have no other means of income to support themselves and their families (in 2013, the last available data, 95% of their staff fit this profile). It sits well with my Veggie Tot values.

Until now, I’d always believed that spas were where mommies went to escape their children for a while (sorry), but I’ve now been proven wrong. Mangwanani has pioneered a Kids Spa concept that lets moms AND their tots enjoy a little pampering in a totally kiddie-friendly – indeed, kiddie-centric – environment. I took my almost-three-year-old daughter down to Ushaka Kids World to check it out and we had a wonderful time. She felt like an absolute princess and I didn’t have to stress when she climbed on the empty massage chairs or got up halfway through a treatment to wonder over to the window and wave at the swimmers tubing it down the Dizzy Duzi river.

It’s not often you find activities that both parent and child totally enjoy, and it’s so special to be able to share these together. Like regular spas, this is a special-occasion treat rather than something you can do every day, but the memories are worth the investment. Check out more on their website.

Frolicking Fairy Manicure (includes adorable stick-on nail art)

Twinkle Toes Pedicure (includes Orbeez fun soak – the colours and textures are great for sensory development)

While the little ones are enjoying, moms (and dads/uncles/aunties/grannies/grandads/etc) can relax and enjoy a little pampering themselves, all within eye- and ear-shot of their kids.

Click here to check out my story on whether children should go to spas on Parent24.com!

How to organise your recycling cupboard

Step 1: Find several large containers.

Cardboard boxes work just fine, as do wicker baskets or large plastic tubs. A stack of deep drawers is also nice, and may or may not fit inside your cupboard as well.

Step 2: Label containers:

PAPER     PLASTIC     GLASS     CANS     ETC

TIP 1: Find out what is recyclable in your neighbourhood, and what may go together, for example paper and cardboard; plastic, Tetrapack and polystyrene. You may even subscribe to a collection service that takes the whole lot in one fell bag in which case this entire organisation process is entirely unnecessary, but surprisingly fun 🙂

Tip 2: Laminating the labels will keep them from getting tatty, therefore retaining your pride in your recycling cupboard system, therefore spurring you on to continue the good work you have started.

Tip 3: Visual labels (i.e. photos) are helpful to help small children learn about sorting (great for left brain development, according to our preschool teacher), as well as saving the planet. Bonus! Here are some visual labels I made that you might find useful:

Tip 4: Keep a separate container for Useful Things, like cereal boxes, toilet roll inners, yoghurt pots, bottle caps, bits of ribbon and string, and old plastic/polystyrene containers. If you don’t use them for arts and crafts at home, your local preschool will love them! This is called upcycling, and is even better than recycling because reusing things takes even less global energy than recycling, let alone the energy that would be required to make new ones.

Step 3: And this one is VERY important…

Keep your toddler out of the recycling cupboard!

Earth Touch Update

My latest on Earth Touch:

AN AVIAN ENIGMA, THE MARBLED MURRELET EARNS PROTECTION FROM HUMAN TRASH

Good news from America’s Pacific coast – at least for one endangered seabird species. A new agreement this week between the Center for Biological Diversity and the California Department of Parks and Recreation will significantly increase protections for the marbled murrelet, a chubby-looking seabird with a pretty unusual avian lifestyle…

Read the rest here.