Doing DIY Projects with a Toddler in the House

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What is the #1 obstacle when it comes to getting work done in our house?

This beautiful boy:

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The Boy was born in  2013, and out of necessity, we took a pretty long break from DIY. Pete did the mowing, and I did regular house stuff, but all progress on the house really stopped for a while. I felt like I missed a whole summer! And another one, really, because he was only 12 months old the next summer. But I think we’ve finally figured out how to get at least some work done on the house while The Boy is around.

Over the last few years, we’ve learned how to work with/around our toddler, so here are some tricks and tips I’ve been meaning to share on the subject:

Accept that you will get less done. But less is still better than nothing. This has taken a while to learn, and I’m not always 100% zen about it. Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t sit still. Last time Peter suggested that I sit down, I sat for about 45 seconds before realizing I’d forgotten to do something, and I was off again. However, we have learned that often, getting something done means that one of us will be on baby duty, and one of us will be working.

The working person often feels guilty about getting to do their own thing, but we’ve talked about it, and we just have to let that go. We’re not always great at this, and it’s difficult not to keep an internal ledger of who has had what time to do what. But we’re both more content at the end of the day if we’ve gotten to cross something off our list. So first, realize you will not do all the things. You will only do some of the things. And then accept that that’s okay.

And also recognize that time with the toddler doesn’t suck, either. Even if you’re watching Chitty Chitty Bang Bang again.

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Baby duty doesn’t have to be completely fruitless. This really only applies to certain tasks, and it lends itself more to summertime tasks, but if you can get the kid outside, and don’t mind working at a slower pace when it is of paramount importance that you go excitedly inspect a bug your kid just found, you can do jobs that don’t involve power tools. I often get him outside and keep one eye on him while gardening or painting. Unfortunately, my other eye is often on the dog, so I feel like I’m being tugged in three directions, but overall, I’d say I actually work at least a third of the time Peter is working. I let The Boy pick out a couple of toys to take outside, and then I just constantly remind him to stay near me.

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Oh, to have a totally fenced in-yard. I’d be unstoppable.

Get Kid involved if possible. Trick him into thinking he’s involved if involvement isn’t actually possible. We try to let The Boy join in on (or at least mimic) what we’re doing. Under close supervision, he’s allowed to have a shovel…

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…or an Allen key…

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…or to help at the lumber yard…

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…or to climb the (short) ladder, throw sticks on the brush fire, ride on the mower wagon, and hit things with a rubber mallet.

He wants to help us, and I would rather cultivate that desire than squash it. Sometimes we have to take a tool away or tell him something is “not a toy”. Sometimes this provokes screaming, but lots of times, it just sends him on to the next thing that is okay for him to do.

I grew up in a “teamwork” household. We lived in a converted corncrib on 10 acres and there was a lot to do. My mom, in particular, made it clear that living on a nice property and all the fun that involved came part-and-parcel with a lot of work. It was important that the family was a team working toward the common goals of making life enjoyable, protecting and growing my parents’ investment in their home and property, and lots of times, learning and having fun in the process.

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The corncrib.

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My childhood gave me a work ethic and a love of doing things myself. I’d hate it if The Boy stopped wanting to help because he was repeatedly told that what we were doing was adult work. I don’t want his first reaction to the phrase “we have work to do” to be to go sit on the couch, and I don’t want it to be a groan, either (though I’m sure I’ll hear them eventually). I want him to, if not excitedly, at least cheerfully go find his work gloves and ask how he can help. So, while he’s little, if that means that at least one of us is carefully watching to make sure he’s only playing with the appropriate tools and not undoing the work we’ve already done, then so be it.

I guess what all of this boils down to is that working on your house or apartment or hobby or part-time side business is important, and having a kid doesn’t mean you need to or have to stop doing that work. It means you modify the way you go about that work. It means you do your work more slowly. It can mean frustration and boredom, sometimes, but in the best of cases, it means you pass on the how’s and why’s of that work to your kids and it teaches them important lessons.

We’ve only been doing this parenting thing for 2.5 years, and we have so much more to learn. We’ll have to figure out new ways to accomplish what we want to accomplish. But hopefully, our kid will learn with us as we figure it all out and he’ll become a lifelong lover of doing it right.

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