The Parents Yap About Kids and Housework: Yes, They Can Do Stuff!
Long gone are the days when kids held down factory jobs and created the need for child labor laws. But have things gone too far? These days, kids don't seem to raise a finger, having their parents wait on them hand and foot.
The recent article in the Boston Globe raised this issue. Are we robbing our kids of fulfillment by taking away their work? What about the sense of accomplishment achieved from a job well done? Are we raising kids to be lazy, reliant adults? Or are we letting them enjoy their childhood with the knowledge that they have their whole lives to work?
This week, the Parents yap about kids and housework. Who does what at home?
“Hey, Mom! Look! I made a letter O!”
– Bruno, age three, proudly practicing his letters in the dust on my dresser
The article that inspired this week’s topic really hit home for me. I appreciated the way the author, Agnes R. Howard, wrote it. She didn’t sound preachy or heavy-handed to me, but laid out practical arguments and cited interesting statistics on chore habits of American children compared to those of other children around the world. Then, I felt sad that it struck me as so poignant and timely.
Our children are definitely expected to do chores and contribute to the household’s upkeep, but we lack the reliable, objective firmness of a chore chart or schedule. We basically have made our children understand that-- because they are part of the family and enjoy the “goods of the household,” (you know: food, clothing, shelter, Wii…)—they are expected to help in any way and at any time they are requested (“told,” really) to do so. They also have been told but keep forgetting that causing trouble or increasing “negative energy” in the house is likely to make me think of several chores that need completion at that very moment. (I consider this more productive and more personally satisfying than time-out. Why should they get to sit in time-out, resting and definitely-not-thinking-about what they chose to do which led to punishment??)
Compared to Howard’s approach, which suggests taking the opportunity to build an environment of responsibility, pride and investment with chores, the system at the Schools household probably makes its dependents feel like indentured servants, grumpily doing the bidding of their overlords. I’m basing this on the typical reaction of indignant outrage I get when I ask one of our kids to take out the trash, for instance.
Despite the occasional lack of cheerful attitude, all my kids do many chores (okay, not the baby…) ranging from picking up throw pillows and toys, to emptying the dishwasher and folding and putting away laundry, depending on age. A quick internet search of “age appropriate chores” will provide many ideas for those who are looking for a starting point or how to improve the chore situation at home. I love reading different lists to see just how much a child of how young an age can manage or even master.
The other piece of evidence I have which suggests my household chore system (“non-system,” really) could use some tweaking is the tireless cooperation I get from my kids-turned-worker-bees when they are helping to do something we are working on together. Winter shoveling? They are on it! Planting a garden? No problem. Mowing the lawn? Raking? Sanding/scraping our huge deck? Not so much as a whimper from any of them. My kids are not afraid of hard work.
I suspect that my kids are like most kids in that some kind of established routine that clearly spells out expectations would help take chores out of the realm of “Mom Telling Me What To Do. Again!” A chore chart could save a household oodles of time previously spent arguing about whose turn it is to do whichever job and who did it last time and who has to always do it, blah, blah, blah…”Check the chart!” I could say, confidently, with a sassy toss of my head as I walked away to go refill my wine glass. A chart could give some space and freedom for the kids to contribute to the household in a way that makes it feel more like an investment. Heck, it’s worth a shot. I’m going to go dig out that pocket chart and half-finished chore cards I started about two years ago. My next challenge after that will be to remember to rotate the darn chore chart. Ah, Consistency, you elusive minx, you!
When talking about expecting more from our kids with regard to chores, Howard hits on a good point when she states:
Youngsters will howl in protest. Parents should persevere. Kids who sign up for soccer, ballet, gymnastics, and Scouts all in one season should be greeted with looks of concerned dismay and asked when they will find time to get dinner on the table. Parents who sign children up for all those activities should be accorded the glances we give people who don’t put their toddlers in car seats. I’m ready for a competence revolution. It may be too much to expect cartoon characters on TV to crack a joke while dusting windowsills, but advertisers know the power of a trademark image slapped on something. Why not a Madagascar mop or an Ice Age window cleaner?
Why not, indeed?
Tasha Schlake Festel
I am a terrible mother. I make my kids do stuff around the house.
In a typical day, they are expected to:
- make their beds
- put their dishes in the dishwasher
- put their dirty clothes in the hamper
- unpack their lunch boxes and snack bags
- set the table
- put away all of their toys, electronics, and art supplies, which litter every flat surface of the house by the end of the day
They're very good about most of the items on this list. I really can't complain. And since I've expected them to do these things for as long as they can remember, I don't get a whole lot of guff about it.
However, "expected to" and "reminded to" are, sadly, two different things. The issue in our house is consistency. And the issue is mine. For the most part, my kids are happy to help out, doing whatever I ask, within reason, of course. Where it all breaks down is with me. I don't ask, they don't do. We forget. I'm not consistent enough to make it a habit. But that's all about to change.
I'm taking the author's advice to heart. My kids should be doing more. A hell of a lot more! And I should be doing less. Oh, the life of leisure I should be leading!
The night after I read the article, I brought in the groceries from the car. While I started dinner, I had my 9-year-old put them away. The next day, I had my 7-year-old son bring the trash cans up from the curb. And the next night, I had them work together to put the dishes away. How awesome! Why had I never done this before? These kids could do stuff!
This weekend, I plan on vacuuming and dusting. Oh, wait. Scratch that. I plan on having my daughter vacuum and my son dust. And that bathroom sink? Yeah, someone's gonna clean it and it ain't gonna be me.
I'm going to sit on the couch, watching my children work, pointing out the spots they missed, and enjoying bon bons. Just like every other mom in Wakefield.
Chores are an ongoing battle around here. Obviously, nobody likes housework, but one way or another chores need to be done by someone. More often than not, that someone is me. Only my middle child feels any duty to help out around the house, but she does it mostly out of sympathy for me. All three of my kids are capable of doing a lot more work around here, and some of them are even willing, but somehow I am still doing most of the housework. Chores are supposed to teach life skills and give kids a sense of responsibility, but whether I do the work myself or nag my kids into doing it—the burden of getting the chores done still falls on me.
We have a color-coded chore chart that hangs on our fridge that clearly indicates who has what job on what day. I was so proud of myself when I created it. I was sure that NOW my kids would look at the chart each day, see what they had to do, and do it. They are all old enough now to do real chores like laundry and vacuuming, so now the housework would get done and I wouldn’t have to nag anyone. It was perfect. Hurray! I think it worked for one day. It might not have even been that long. What went wrong? The chart is easy to understand, the chores are all very manageable and age-appropriate, so … why is my house still a wreck? Oh. The problem is me.
Ok, it isn’t all me, but I haven’t exactly modeled the joy and sense of accomplishment that comes from having a clean orderly home. Mostly I bitch and moan about what a mess the house is but I don’t do much about it. I was wrong in thinking that the chart would make these tasks all get done without me nagging and harping and yelling and reminding them all the live long day. My kids understand that chores need to be done. They don’t even think it’s unreasonable that they are the ones that have to do the work. They just don’t ever do it.
When they really complain, I remind them of the Little House on the Prairie books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. One of the books, Farmer Boy, tells the story of Laura’s future husband, Almanzo, and his childhood on a large farm in Upstate New York. It was never my favorite, maybe because Almanzo’s life seemed like an awful lot of work. At 10 years old he was up hours before dawn to clean out stables and milk cows, then came home after school to do it all again. He and his siblings had to pull up all the rugs in the house, hang them outside and beat them until they were clean. He was thrilled to finally be old enough to help his brother stock the family icehouse—a daunting task that included cutting the ice from a frozen lake (and falling into the lake) and filling the icehouse from floor to ceiling with ice packed in sawdust. I can’t get my kids to put their laundry away. Almanzo didn’t love his chores, but he always did them, and Mama Wilder wasn’t nagging him all day to do them. My kids should appreciate how good they have it.