Letters from Miss Jill: Leave the Dishes, and Other Tips for Spending More Time Together

I had a fantastic childhood growing up at the base of the foothills with the sun and outdoors playing a key role in our lives. My mother tempered our household with an elegant harmony of order and chaos. There was an underlying schedule and sense of order, but we freely messed.  

My brother and I put on shows, experimented with art supplies and constructed Legos. Mom regularly took us to the mountains or downtown to museums. We were happily busy children. Perhaps, this is why our house was not the neatest in the neighborhood. But despite random complaints from my hard-working father about the state of the house, my mom never seemed stressed.

Jill Carstens

When we were in the zone of play and creation, she might’ve been doing laundry, but I also witnessed her partaking in art herself, or catching up on paperwork from various organizations she volunteered for.  She had a life too, and modeled a wonderful balance.

As my son grew into early childhood, I yearned for such a breezy household. As a single mom, that was difficult to achieve. If I gave all of my “free” time to Jack, when would the darn household chores get done? I shared this dilemma with an older woman in line at a coffee house once and she answered simply, “Leave the dishes, hon. They grow up so fast.”  

So, I channeled my mom and, especially in the summertime, when I had the fortune of time off as a teacher, Jack and I flowed through our days seamlessly. We slept and watched PBS Kids together. He created with Legos or Hot Wheels tracks while I casually cleaned up the kitchen and maybe read a few pages of a book. We then got outside and did whatever we wanted. I took him to the mountains and the museum and the swimming pool. It was heaven.

I am sharing this simple epiphany because I observe many parents struggling with time: stressing to do your part if you are a stay-at-home parent or feeling even more helpless if you work full time. I did both and I do not regret having a less- than-perfect household.  

I did learn some tricks though. Here are some of them. They all worked on a teacher’s budget:

I randomly have the laundromat do my laundry.

I make lunches the night before and a big pot of something on Sundays that will last most of the next week for dinner. We often use a delivery meal plan; two meals each week were less than $50/week.  This lessened my trips to the grocery store and the time I spent planning dinners. These meals also helped my teen try some different foods and experience more portion control.

When he was young, I provided my kid just a few choices for clothing so getting dressed on school days was a simple endeavor for him.

Jack made lots of messes and, unless they were really in the way, I let him leave them out if he was working on a specific project. One day, he spontaneously decided to sew his own sock monkey at the kitchen table – it was really cool.

My son engaged in sports: soccer for several years and then fencing. There are many views on the importance of sports for kids, but we were not hardcore enough to continue when games required driving a distance of an hour and a half.  Instead, since he was about age 9, we began mountain biking together and now he enjoys a sport he does well, that he can do the rest of his life, alone or with others, while enjoying the mountains.

We get up early during the week so we have time to eat breakfast without rushing.

I use a big paper calendar with two months up at a time. Making a ritual of going over it a couple times a month keeps everyone on the same page.

He is mostly grown now, but Jack and I have our own groove, our flow. Our home is our haven where we get to establish the state of being, our speed, so that we can go out into the world having been comforted, not stressed.

Leave the dishes. They grow up so fast.For inspiration, I love the book “The Art of Familyby Gina Bria.

Jill Carstens is a proud Denver native, a passionate mom and a teacher her entire adult life! She picked North Denver as her home base in 1997, and has run Milestones Preschool since 2011. If you have ideas for an article or further questions for Miss Jill, you can email her at jillatreadytolearn@gmail.com


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