Thursday, October 4, 2007

Systems Theory, I

The longer I've been a mother, the more regimented I've become about systems. I'm now obsessed with them. It may have all begun one day when I dropped off Roscoe at kindergarten. I sat in the car and watched the kids all play on the playground. They were intent on the play at hand. But the instant the ball rang, they all spun on dimes and ran--not walked--to line up--not mill or huddle--at the door.

What force commanded instant and unianimous compliance? The system, I believe. The bell rings, you run in. Thus it has always been and always shall be. A kid would have to rise pretty far on the scalliwag scale to even dream of transgressing the system.

Same principle with bedtime, choretime, homework time, table manners, teeth brushing.... If you succeed in creating a system the kids buy into, then the parent is magically off the hook. It's not that I'm telling you to go to bed, it's that it's bedtime.

My sister Nancy has a brilliant system that demonstrates how even the simplest system can save work and hassle. Her daugher Naomi wears the same nightgown for three nights. Then it goes in the laundry. If I had such a system I'd avoid both the oatmeal encrusted nightie (Haley) and the laundry hamper full of fresh PJs from each night of the week (Levi).

Here are two of my favorite systems:

The Kitchen Binder

You know all those papers floating in your kitchen, drifting into untidy piles? The ward list, coupons you intend to use, library slips, flyers about upcoming activities, receipts. Put them in a binder. Mine sports the kids' chorechart on its front cover. (A system I despised as a youth but have put to great use as a mother.) Inside is my list of monthly spending, ward list, kids' handouts, school papers, foster care training schedules...

(I'm a huge fan of three-ring binders and spiral notebooks--as well as cubbies and buckets. I'll tell you more of these systems later.)

Reading Time

Roscoe and Logan enjoy tonight's reading time in the morass of tween filth they use as a bedroom.

I thank my lucky stars every night that I ever thought of this one. Until Roscoe recently turned 12 and got smart enough to totally reject this, all my kids, the tall and the small, went to bed at 8:00 sharp. Eight to nine is reading time. You can pile your bed with as many books as you'd like. (I must shift piles of up to 37 titles--I've counted--before I can change Levi's sheets.) The little ones, of course, just leaf through pages and recite what they can remember--both important pre-reading skills.

The beauty of the system is twofold:

1. Mom and Dad maximize that essential window between kids' bedtime and parents' bedtime.

2. Kids naturally regulate to however much sleep they need. If they're sleepy, they'll fall asleep by 8:15. If not, they can read til lights out at 9:00.

Whenever I see a fun mom, I long to uncover her systems. I wish I could snoop through her drawers and files and closets and see how she does it. So how do you do it? What are your systems, however mundane, that keep family life flowing smoothly--or smoothlier?

As a bonus, pics of bright little Levi today. He comes home from school each day excited to practice what he has learned to write that day. He has a special notebook for this purpose. His awesome teacher has taught him to say things like, "I'm an expert on Brown Bear, Brown Bear" and "I'm not very good at writing Gs--I need to practice." It is so fun to watch the cogs in his brain twirl and spin.


  1. I have no systems except for the system of chaos. I have a lot to learn.

  2. I never thought of my "PJ's for two nights" as a system. So thanks for the thumbs up Ang. The other system I guess I appreciate the most is in the morning. We all eat breakfast together. Then there's a little bit of play time (in which Mom blogs these days) then Asher goes to bed and Naomi watches TV and Mom showers. When Naomi's TV time is done she plays by herself until Asher wakes up from his nap.

    I've been thinking of making a chore chart. I don't think I know any way to get kids to do chores without it - although, like you, I dispissed them in my youth.

  3. I love reading time. The kids can draw, read, or sleep, their choice. We do play time before that, which is why they go to bed at 7:15. So 7:15-8:30 is play time, and 8:30-9:15 is reading time. I have a myriad of other "times" of the day, school time, scripture reading time, quiet time (for Scott's naptime), etc. I am very much a schedule person.

  4. Oh no! I don't have any systems! This whole "mom" thing is WAAAAY more complex than I thought! Help!