Podcast: That Pernicious Topic: Chores
The number one question I get is not how to prepare kids for college, or what you need to start homeschooling, or even about homeschooling at all — it’s about chores.
- Should kids be assigned chores?
- Should they be rewarded?
- How do we enforce them?
While we’ve got our little ones home all day, we’ve got to keep our house running and sanitary. We’re not necessarily looking for a perfectly presentable home, but we are looking for order and a sense that yesterday’s mess will not impede today’s progress.
Let’s go over three myths regarding chores as well as practical solutions.
What’s the secret to keeping a decent house?
The unsatisfying truth of it is just that “it gets better.” If you have young kids under 8, just know that this is a near impossible task. This is when keeping a tidy house will be most difficult and when it will be hardest to recruit your little ones to help — and even if they do, it won’t be to the level of an adult. If you have small children, give yourself some grace and know that this will not be your life forever.
That doesn’t mean to give up on today! You don’t have to wait until your kids grow up and get shipped off to college before you have a tidy house. But it will get better over time, and you may have to adjust your expectations while your kids are younger. As your kids get older, they will be able to help out more. You will get better at housekeeping and homeschooling. And eventually, you will find a rhythm that works most of the time.
Myth #1: Chores develop character
There’s a belief among parents everywhere that, by learning to wash dishes and vacuum the rug, you are developing a child’s character. The character development that most parents expect to be developed are responsibility, hard work, and teamwork. This is the number one way to require children to contribute to chores guilt-free.
So is it true? Do chores develop character? Does the execution of chores by someone who doesn’t want to do them automatically make someone a better person?
The answer is no!
Your kids can learn the skills, and that is surely valuable. But there are countless examples of people who grew up with tidy parents, who were forced to do chores, but ended up living in messy households as an adult. Just because we teach a child something does not mean it will become a value as an adult.
When kids don’t like something but we need it to be done, it’s hard to admit that we’re just taking advantage of our power and authority within the family. Instead of admitting that we have the power to make our kids perform these tasks, we turn it into a value in order to absolve our guilt. The correlation is just imagined.
And don’t worry, we’ll address how to handle this later!
Myth #2: Kids live here too, so they owe the family a responsibility to maintain it
This supposes the notion that because your children live in your house they have a responsibility to maintain it. It’s an understandable perspective.
Let’s get one caveat out of the way: If a child is a participant in making a mess, it’s reasonable to expect them to clean that up before moving on. This is when your child has created disorder and has to spend their energy restoring order.
But when you’re assigning tasks that the children have no interest in, and which have no relation to their usage of the house, that is where you will run into problems.
Myth #3: You can’t do it all by yourself
This statement is probably true: You can’t — and shouldn’t be expected to — do this all on your own. You just feel stuck. This leads to a feeling of guilt around asking our kids to do this. We all wish there was some way to get our kids to get our children’s cooperation and their happiness simultaneously. But that’s not how it works.
If you impose a set of rules on your children around how they participate with home maintenance, you can’t require a good attitude.
Kids do not have the same standards as their parents when it comes to home maintenance. They aren’t bothered by the mess, and therefore don’t see why it’s so necessary to contribute to cleaning it.
The missing ingredient
The missing ingredient to all three of these myths is the personality of your children. We usually approach this in a top-down manner: the parent decides the standard of home maintenance and assigns the children various roles in maintaining that standard. But if we’re truly going to teach responsibility, teamwork, and group participation, can’t we get there by involving them in setting the standards?
Our children were not involved in many of the decisions adults made regarding the type of yard, house, and standard of maintenance we have. It is not our child’s agenda. So how can we have calm, order, and maintenance, without turning our child’s discontent into a taboo.
Home maintenance, order, and happiness
How do we get all three? Here’s what needs to happen: Have a group meeting about all the things that need to be a certain way in our house. And start with our children’s ideas, not ours.
Ask them: What would you hope the kitchen looked like when you go in to bake muffins, make a sandwich, or blend a smoothie? Most people would say “I hope the counter is clear,” “I hope the dishes I need are clean,” or “I hope the blender was rinsed out.”
What about the family room? What would you hope it would look like if you wanted to play with toys on the floor? Surely you’d hope that nobody else left their toys from earlier, currently unused, just where you were hoping to play!
When we talk to them as if we are problem-solving for their benefit, we are helping them develop the character qualities we want them to have–being considerate, being responsible — while relating them to the activities they actually do. Hold them accountable to the standards they have for the home.
This isn’t really about chores. This is about how parents wield their authority. If you come from a position where you have a right to require chores from your children, you will be taking a big withdrawal from your emotional relationship bank. Think about what goal you are trying to accomplish and get your child’s input so they have a meaningful say in how they spend their lives.
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