5 Ways to Survive Housework with Toddlers and Babies

My two-year-old was screaming at me from his highchair, where he was buckled for safety. My one-year-old was crying in his crib. And I lay face down on my bed with a pillow over my head, sobbing. It was only mid-morning, and motherhood was already crashing in on me.

Do you think I got a speck of housework done that day?

Um… no.

You and I have spent the last several weeks together learning about home management tips and cleaning hacks through the “Help for Frustrated House Cleaners” series. Learning new skills and tips is great, especially when they actually work for your family!

But how do you manage a home (let alone keep it clean) when simply surviving motherhood is the theme of most of your days?

I remember how frustrating – or nearly impossible – it is to get housework done with babies and toddlers underfoot.

When my kids were little, the most encouraging way to get myself motivated was to read stories about other moms living real #momlife. Their stories comforted me and also provided fresh ideas to try.

Today, I’ll share with you a mixture of housework advice and true mom stories from my own life.

These anecdotes are meant to be both practical and encouraging.

Please hold on to the stories that help you, and by all means, let the rest go!

How to Survive Housework with “Littles”

1.      Determine Your Own Standard of “Clean”

I used to feel bad about how seldom I cleaned my bathroom. Like I was unworthy or a failure due to how dirty it was.

When my children were babies and toddlers, my bathroom got cleaned maybe once every two weeks. Sometimes, once a month. My record was two months (try not to gag, please), although I did give the tub a super-quick wipe-down between the kids’ baths.

My cleaning record may seem gross to you, but the truth is none of us got sick from a dirty bathroom.

My kids were loved, fed, changed, bathed. They had everything they needed.

A clean bathroom just wasn’t a priority for me at that time.

Today, my bathroom is cleaned once a week. Sometimes more. Sometimes less, if we’re going through a rough patch. Life changes. Kids get older and can help out more.

You won’t be in the baby and toddler phase forever, but while you are, give yourself a break.

Determine your own standard of cleanliness, and don’t feel bad about it.

2.      Break Up Your Work into Tiny Jobs

After I had my second baby, dishes became an impossible task.

If I wasn’t rocking a baby, I was changing a diaper, giving a bath, tidying toys, prepping snacks, clipping someone’s toenails, nursing, changing diapers again, trying to fit in a shower for myself, reading stories to my toddler, and then changing another diaper.

If I ever found a moment in my day where both boys were occupied or sleeping, it was a guarantee that after less than one sink-full of dishes, one of them would start crying again.

Most days, I’d give up and leave dishes for late evening, even though I knew how exhausted I would be by then and how I would wish I’d gotten them done somehow during the day.

One day, my mom gave me the best advice ever:

“Sara,” she said, “a diaper can wait for just one sink-full.”

I realized she was right. I’d been running around putting out baby and toddler fires, and never able to even wipe the bathroom sink clean, never mind wash a counter-full of dishes. I needed to break down my dishes project into smaller chunks.

So, if you want to clean your bathroom…

  • Wipe the bathroom sink, then change the diaper that smells.
  • Clean the tub, then rock the baby that’s crying.
  • Scrub the toilet, then play playdough with your toddler who’s asking.

Break your housework up into tiny jobs.

A little at a time will go a long way, and baby will be fine waiting for just one sink-full.

3.      Sing the “Clean Up” Song with Your Toddler

When my children were young, I was determined to teach them to help around the house. Even if all they could do was pick up their toys, I wanted to train them from an early age that families work together.

But how do you convince a two-year-old that they want to pick up their trains and building blocks?

We sang the “Clean Up” song. It was amazing what a difference that little jingle made.

I’d start singing the song and putting toys away, and my toddler would often start helping – willingly! – because he recognized the tune, which made cleaning fun for him.

(And don’t forget these four ideas to make cleaning fun for your kids!)

4.      Highchairs Are a Mom’s Best Friend

Babies and toddlers want to be near you because you are their safe place.

And there’s something about kids sitting higher up that helps them to feel like they’re still close to you while your hands are busy with some other task.

So, drag your toddler’s highchair into whatever room you want to clean. Then, buckle them in and give them a sippy cup of milk or juice, and maybe a safe snack. You can also give them a toy or two to keep them occupied.

For newborns and younger babies, try bringing a swing or bouncer into the room.

BONUS TIP: This works great when you need to take a shower, too! My babies were often content to wait, securely buckled in their swing on the bathroom floor, while I sang to them from inside the shower.

5.      Remember the Truth; Reject the Lies

Lie #1: Post-Baby Housework Must Live Up to Pre-Baby Standards

After my first child was born, I suffered under the delusion that I should be able to keep my house clean to the same standard that I maintained before I had a baby.

What a lie!

The truth is:

Family dynamics change constantly due to work schedules, additional children, finances, recreation, or even health issues.

Your priorities, therefore, will need to shift around, including how much time you spend on cleaning your house.  

As you shift into each new season of life, your standard of cleanliness will need to shift, too.

Lie #2: You’re the Only Mom Who Can’t Keep Up

I don’t understand why, but it seems like almost every mom feels like they’re the only ones who can’t keep up with housework and take care of their little ones at the same time.

I’ve often caught myself thinking the following:

  • I must be lazy, since I take naps rather than wash the floors.
  • I’m the only mom who quickly wipes out the tub before giving my toddler a bath, because it’s been two weeks since I last cleaned my bathroom.
  • I’m failing: Other moms know how to juggle it all, but I’m not like them.

Each of the above is a lie.

The truth is:

Bonus Survivial Tip:

Try to Accept (and Enjoy) the Season You’re In

When my kids were babies and toddlers, I was tempted to believe that once they were older, I’d finally…

  • get my house in order;
  • have more energy;
  • feel happier;
  • be a better mom;
  • etc.

The reality is…

“The next phase” isn’t the blissful paradise we imagine it to be: old challenges will simply be replaced with new challenges. So, enjoy the season you’re in!

Remember that your current season of motherhood (and of life!) is beautiful. It’s challenging, yes, but it’s also a gift. Don’t spend it wishing for the next season.

This week, I pray you’ll know deep in your heart that:

  • You are a good, good mom.
  • Your season is a beautiful gift, and the grass really isn’t greener in “the next phase.”
  • Whatever motherhood struggle you find yourself in today, God is with you. He’ll never leave you on your own.

With love,

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