Household chores for kids: do you need a list?

This post is partly inspired by a recent twitter conversation I had with Samantha McGarry (@samanthamcgarry) but the topic had been brewing in my head for a while. This is what we do about household chores now.

* * *

You wanna know what doesn’t work for us? Lists or charts of chores the kids have to do. Frankly it’s just too much work for me (what with the follow up and reminders, constantly).

child chopping vegetables

Even 5 year olds can help with everyday chores

You also wanna know what else doesn’t work? Financial incentive. Or at least my financial incentive in the form of coins for certain jobs done above and beyond the non-financial chores. He may have been more motivated if I had offered a crisp twenty-dollar bill for sticking a brush down the toilet, or emptying the dishwasher, but hey, no one pays ME twenty bucks to do those things.

He’s a math kid. We had him sit and calculate how long it would take him to buy x or y if he did extra chores for money and he shrugged it off. He knew it wasn’t likely he was going to make enough money for whatever electronic gadget he wanted and he also knew it was somewhat unlikely that he would get said gadget as a gift from someone. Even when we offered to meet him halfway, he was kind of meh about it.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. (I’m a big believer in making do with LESS. Less stuff is always better than more stuff.)

Still, being the only one to do most household chores all by my lonesome hasn’t been particularly conducive to my moods. I’m just as tired as they are and likely had a lot less fun getting tired, so why do I have to schlep around without help? Doesn’t seem fair. Especially since both kids are perfectly able to assist me, or us, in the household.

Particularly since most of the mess is their fault, too.

I put my foot down this summer. Took the list off the wall and threw it in the backyard pool. (Not really the pool, but I wanted to drown it. Or at least smudge the useless writing on it.) It wasn’t working anyway because they still needed incessant verbal reminders to follow through on the everyday routine items they were to complete. Make bed. Brush teeth. Why isn’t your bed made yet. I can smell banana on your breath, you did NOT brush your teeth…

I announced at the beginning of the summer that the chore list is officially declared as utterly useless and as of immediately, everyone will pitch in when chores are required doing. The adults can delegate to the children as they see fit in order to have them participate in the immediately required activity (clear dishes after dinner, sweep up) or be encouraged to keep their eyes open to take action when they feel a chore needs doing. (Ok, that second matter is a work in progress…)

These conversations are happening frequently at our house:

“Sonja, before you turn the TV on [again] please go into the bedroom, take the laundry basket and sort all the underwear. Make four piles and I’ll help you put them away.”

“Benjamin, most of the shoes by the door do not need to be in that pile. Sort them and keep out the ones each family member needs today, and put the rest in the closet.”

“Guys, one of you grab the vacuum, the other the broom. Start near the guinea pig cage and make your way over to the other side of the room.”

Theoretically, the chore list still exists, only it resides in my head. Partly this is annoying since it’s usually me that has to do the verbal reminding, and I’m getting rather sick of my own voice. On the other hand, I want them to be more observant and notice that things need doing. Understand that there are repercussions, consequences, for not helping out.

“Yes, Benjamin, I know your starving, but no one set the table so dinner is delayed until someone does so.”

“I know you’re tired, Sonja, but if I have to make all the food myself without any help, it’s going to take longer before we can all eat and relax. Why don’t you chop the vegetables for the salad here with me now.”

“Yes, you do have clean socks, they’re in the clean laundry basket on the bed. Why don’t you be proactive and sort and pair up all the socks while you look for the pair you need now. No this is not a request, helping out with the laundry is a responsibility that all of us share.”

It takes work. And I’m planting the seed that with the coming schoolyear, where for the first time both children will be in school all day, our lives will get busier than they are used to these days. Which is why we are practicing now, in the dog days of summer. I want this new habit formed by the time we hit school and hockey and gymnastics and rep hockey and birthday parties and all the rest of it.

Will this new method be smooth? Likely not. But I keep saying to myself, they are getting older. Certain things should get easier over time, and participating in the household activities is not a choice, but rather a part of life.

Work has never hurt anyone, and who knows, perhaps down the line when they’re closing in on adolescence and their responsibilities increase even more around here, a financial incentive may appeal to one, or both of them. If not, I’ll put that money in a jar and save up for a spa visit for myself.

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