Chore Time

Sharon June 26th, 2009

I’m a mean Mom.  By this I mean that I make my kids do chores.  Don’t get me wrong, they don’t labor all day in sweat shops while I eat bon bons.  But when my husband and I say, clean for the Sabbath, guess who is expected to help out?  Each of the children is responsible in part for helping to tend the menagerie – Asher feeds the cats and collects the eggs, Isaiah feeds the bunnies and brings them dandelions, and fills their water bottle.  Eli feeds the dog and helps brush her, while Simon makes sure the goats have hay, water, minerals and baking soda at all times.  Everyone helps get ready for the Sabbath, everyone helps haul wood and weed the garden, as well as do the big harvesting jobs.  Eli collects laundry and puts it in the baskets and loads the washer,  Isaiah makes the kids’ beds and sets the table  (and is awfully proprietary about it once it is made - I think he may have gotten the tidiness gene that skipped his parents ;-) ), Asher puts away towels and cloth napkins and helps hang the laundry,  Simon wipes down the bathroom and gets the beverages.  Once per week, each boy picks the meal, and must help cook it. 

 As they get older, they can do more – I’m sort of astonished by how much they alread do.  Last week, Isaiah made a pan of cornbread all by himself, with only adult help with the hot pads, the oven controls and with reading the recipe.  He just hit the 5 1/2 mark - I thought that was pretty good.  Simon has already mastered chocolate chip cookies and making tomato sauce.  We allow Simon and Eli to take turns with the hatchet, chopping kindling, with heavy supervision, and Isaiah has declared that he will start using the hatchet this year.  These are words to strike fear into any mother’s heart – but also to fill it with a certain pride and delight.

By the standards of the past, my children get off awfully lightly.  At 7, Simon is only allowed to use the hatchet with help – by the time he was seven a hundred years ago, my son would have been expected to keep the woodbox filled.  I have no daughters, but had I, a 7 year old would have been able to tend the fire and produce a simple meal, as well as sew a fairly neat seam.  Simon’s seams are graceless, and I won’t trust him with an axe or a fire – and for the latter two, I think that’s probably wise.  And yet we never cease to remind ourselves that balancing keeping them safe and letting them be competent is a balancing act – too much on either side, and you tip. 

I must admit that my children are both more willing and better workers than I was – although I think most of my memories come from adolescence, and I may find that my children’s willingness dries up somewhat then.  I still remember the outrage I felt at my two step-mothers, both of whom rightly felt that since I made use of the household, I should do some of the work.  “What do you mean I not only have to do *all* the dishes but wipe down the stove and counters too?”  I remember that thought all too well.  I take comfort in the fact that I probably wasn’t any more spoiled and callow than any other 13 year old, but still…  I do not want my children to ever believe that toilets magically make themselves clean, that dinners simply appear, or that any part of life comes without honest effort.

That said, however, I understand why many well-intentioned parents just do everything themselves – quite honestly, a lot of times, it is much more annoying to train your child, as they say, up in the way he should go, than to just do it yourself.  One of the least-favorite things I’ve ever heard come out of my own mouth is: “I know you want to help me cook, but I just have to do this fast and you can’t help.”  That this is sometimes the reality is not much consolation.  But I have found that the time I invest in doing it with them, or even occasionally sneaking around fixing what they do is mostly worth it – I can see in my older kids the seeds of competence.  That corn bread was really good.  So are were the cookies. 

My kids still find helping appealing for the most part – they particularly love to be engaged in a collective process.  For example, they love harvesting herbs and food – picking is a kid-appealing job.  The younger ones will happily dig deep planting holes, and the older ones enjoy showing how much wood they can carry at once. In fact, every one of my sons enjoys proving his strength as much as I did at the same age. It takes some practice in schooling your face to watch a three year old first carry, then drag, then roll a long that is too big for him, and some practice to stop yourself from asking if he wants help, when he’s already said he doesn’t. 

Up to now, we’ve not paid allowance – they children have tzedakah (charity) money to give away, but other than the occasional windfall from family, they don’t have their own money.  But we’ve decided to add on earning chores, which can be paid for in either cash or in popsicle sticks (the home currency) to be redeemed at yard sales, or in our “home store.”  These will be larger jobs that, hopefully, actually save Mom and Dad work, or contribute to our well being, like weeding a whole garden bed (or more if you are bigger), tidying your room, herding the goats into the back field to graze, entertaining a brother who needs supervision or stacking a certain amount of wood. 

Besides the competence, I want my children to have a full sense of what it means to be a participant in any human relationship – whether a nuclear family or a larger community.  And a whole lot of that is work.  I want them to have a sense of the whole range of work – the annoying jobs that no one likes that have to be done, and are better done cheerfully and with grace, the jobs that become pleasures as you do them, the work that can be integrated with play, the work that takes all your attention.  I want them to balance remunerative and subsistence labor, because most of us need to find such a balance. 

There is an ongoing debate among parents about whether chores should be done for pay, or because you are a member of the household.  My thinking is that it is no bad thing to work for pay from early on – but that I also don’t want my kids to expect to be paid for every contribution.  So one of the things I do when we are doing the chores is try and point out (as often as I can without being boring or pedantic)  how useful these skills are or will be to them, or how these skills potentially invest them in the farm as a whole.  So, for example, I point out that the wood they split for kindling keeps them warm, but also that our neighbor, a young man in his late teens, makes a fairly good income over the years selling firewood that he cuts after school on his father’s land.  I point out that when they are older, they too could cut wood, and that the work might keep them warm, and help their family stay warm, or might make them some money.  The same is true of baking, mending, milking or cleaning – these are jobs that can be either subsistence labor or a source of income.

My favorite of Joel Salatin’s many excellent books is his _Family Friendly Farming_ book, where he makes the point that if we want to keep our children down on the farm, we must help them find ways to envision themselves as having a viable future there – that means everything from teaching them the work itself to helping them start businesses of their own to treating them as apprentices and junior partners in the shared family agricultural project.  I suspect this is good advice for most families, not just farming ones.  Fostering as much competence and independence in children as possible, is, I think a tool for making viable and connected futures.  The idea that children’s proper work was making good grades, and achieving at sports, and that parents should handle household labor was not only an artifact of a period of long economic growth, but also an artifact of times when families were not expected to stay together, when the right and proper order of things was that children should grow up, move out, go to college and then start their own place somewhere else.  But that model is not fully viable in the face of our collective reality, and I think teaching our children to be competent at home carries with it, not an insistence on proximity, but preparation for it to move back to our lives.  Right now, millions of high school and college graduates and students have no summer job, have returned home, after living their whole lives in places where “work” was something you did outside of home.  Making space in the home to share the subsistence work we’re all going to need is part of preparing for the future.

I realize that it is a long step from Isaiah’s pan of cornbread, or Eli’s starting the washer to them producing their own crops, managing their own household (or a portion of mine), raising their own livestock or starting up their own businesses. And I realize that by the time they are men, things will be different and it is possible (I don’t think likely, but possible) that we will have shifted back into another mode. But it is a step, I think – that is, the things are linked contiguously – they are getting a sense of what work is, and how work will be the way they spend their lives.  I hope they will learn to enjoy working, to get through the parts of every job that are drudgery, to delight in the parts that are engaging, and to enjoy working together with others. 

I sometimes run into people who advise against making children do particular kinds of work because their parents made them do it, and they hated it.  They had to weed the garden or carry wood, scrub the toilet or do the shopping, and the injustice of that shaped forever their relationship to that work. I admit, I sort of identify – my sister and I had to share the dishwashing chores, and I still rather dislike doing dishes, more than 20 years later.  On the other hand, I have yet to find a way to compel magical elves to do the dishes for me, and so, I do them.  When people tell me that their mother made them weed the garden and thus, for 30 years, they never touched dirt, it makes me think that the problem was not the cruelty of their parents but the lack of ubiquity of gardens ;-) , that is, that had their most-hated job been something they had no choice but to suck up and do, they’d have gotten over their repression much faster and been the better for it.

That said, I’m fully expecting my children to write a tell-all book someday about me.  My prayer is that the very worst thing that will be said about me (unlikely, but a girl can hope, right?) is that she made her sons pull weeds, wash clothes, cook dinner and get down and dirty, keeping house with their parents.


29 Responses to “Chore Time”

  1. Kerr says:

    Unfortunately, my first response was: Your CATS lay eggs?! We all knew you were a miracle worker, but this? What else have you been hiding from us?!

    “Asher feeds the cats and collects the eggs”

  2. Kerr says:

    I have a different perspective on the “my parents made me do that and I still hate it!” contention. My mother rarely if ever made me do chores, or even welcomed my help– I can still hear her sigh “No, dear,” in response to me asking if I could help with any of the various and sundry tasks she did, seemingly resentfully, around the house. I grew up thinking that I was inept at regular household tasks, and I still hear myself mentally criticizing my dishwashing and bathroom-cleaning technique, which of course makes me feel reluctant to get in there and do it.

    What she did do, though, was show me that women could fix cars and computers and build things, so I’ve never prejudged a woman to be inept at these tasks the way I judge myself to be inept at so much else!

  3. Amy says:

    I am most guilty of doing it myself because it’s quicker and easier. Hopefully, after September, when I am home full-time, I won’t be in such a rush. The boy is very interested in helping in the kitchen.

  4. Erika says:

    Gotta chime in: I thought you said your cats lay eggs, too!

    On the subject of chores, though. My son is 9, and he has more chores than any of his friends, many of whom have to do nothing more than make their beds and tidy their bedrooms, if that.

    On any given day (i.e. every day) he has to put away the clean dishes, put away his laundry, feed his fish, clean the cat-litter boxes, tidy his toys from the living room, put his dirty clothes down the chute to the basement, take out the compost, and clear the table after meals.

    Once a week he has to take out the trash and recycle to the road, bring the bins back in the next day, change the sheets on his bed, vacuum his bedroom, the living room, and the dining room, refresh the cat-litter boxes, clean his fishtank, take the recycle from the kitchen to the basement, empty the trash cans in the house, sweep the basement floor, and clean up sticks and toys in the yard. We’ve been experimenting with him doing the lawn-mowing (I’m working on getting the lawn turned into crop, but we’re not there yet!) since it’s a riding mower and a large yard, and he’s doing OK with it.

    On a supplementary basis he helps weeding, gardening, planting, other housecleaning, and LOVES window-washing.

    Granted, there are only 2 people in our little household right now, and he shoulders a heavier portion of the burden than he would if he had brothers/sisters, but I don’t pay him for it, either. I offer “other” jobs, extra stuff, for earning money, and he can choose to earn or not. But he does know that if he doesn’t help and take care of the household, it won’t get done, and if it doesn’t get done we might not eat, or have clothes to wear, or the cats might get sick and die…or whatever. He knows it’s part of being in a family. That, and Momma gets crabby when he gets lazy and leaves it all for me or makes me nag :P

    Oh, and when we have guests, I usually put them to work, too. Somehow it’s more fun and goes faster when everyone pitches in. I haven’t had any complaints yet, and guests do ask to return.

  5. Christina says:

    Excellent post. My own children have always been expected to contribute to the household, and we too have a system of work-for-credits for earning additional things (including a day off from chores if they choose such extravagance ). My youngest is 3, and we have begun formalizing his chores; he is expected, with guidance and support of course, to put away his own laundry including his cloth diapers, and to do three simple chores a day (the total increases with each birthday through childhood, the olders at 10/13 don’t have numbers anymore; and the difficulty will increase with developmental ability). Our chore lists are always flexible and we use a white board in the kitchen to outline responsibilities (chores and others) at the start of each day. We try to prevent resentment by allowing the kids to reasonably avoid the chores they most hate – although we don’t permit a universal refusal of anything, just a respectful minimization – and by switching things around frequently. Everyone’s chore list includes taking care of their own messes around the house (“personal chores”). I should probably put my own name up there, but my list as chief of operations would take up the whole board… Might help the kids put their lists into perspective though :-)

  6. ctdaffodil says:

    I’m showing my hubby this post. He seems to be of the mindset that since I’m home I should do these things – And get off the kids backs about helping/picking up etc.

    His mom goes nuts when she hears him since he and his sib had chores to do daily…mine are nearly 8 &10

    I’m not asking for biggies but these are mine:

    If you wear it – put it in the hamper so it can be washed.

    If you ate from it – at least get it into the sink so it can be washed.

    If you took it out or played with it – put it back where it belongs.

    When mom wants to vacume – get your toys off the floor.

    Make your bed – doesnt have to be perfect just made.

    If you pee on it – (I have boys) wipe it up!

    hubby thinks that taking the recycling and the garbage is good enough for chores….

    Clearly we need to talk…..

  7. Florence says:

    “That said, I’m fully expecting my children to write a tell-all book someday about me. My prayer is that the very worst thing that will be said about me (unlikely, but a girl can hope, right?) is that she made her sons pull weeds, wash clothes, cook dinner and get down and dirty, keeping house with their parents.”

    The first step toward growing up is realizing how rough you have it at home with your parents. The second step usually comes a few years later when you realize that it wasn’t so bad after all.

  8. Jen says:

    I’m right with you with the household contribution. My 5 yr old: waters the garden, helps weed, & plant. She cleans the kid’s room, makes teh bed and picks up their play area as well. She watches over her other siblings when asked and sometimes now reads the bedtime stories if I’m busy with teh baby and dh is tired. I occasionally give her money for her bank, but coins are enough for now. She will sweep up the floors bit when I’ve put them in a pile and love to do windows. I try not take advantage of her willingness! I would love to let her cook more, but with our tiny kitchen it has been too stressful for me. Daddy is better with that aspect and since we are moving into the new dream kitchen, I plan to teach her more. I regularly cleaned growing up and cared for siblings as well. My 3yr old son is eager to do what sis does so we adjust things to his scale. I think it’s very important for their self-esteem and that they are contributors to the household. My kids are packing as I write, doing what I ought to be doing!

  9. Heather G says:

    Yup, we all had chores, both personal (get laundry down to the laundry room, change/make bed, clean room, etc.) and general house/yard stuff. Weeding was probably my least favorite, but anything was better when done in company, even scraping paint off the very uneven walls of the garage (which was horrid, but being an extra chore we got a little money for it). As my mom would say, if we don’t learn to clean and cook when we’re kids, when _are_ we going to learn? Nobody can assume that when he or she grows up that there will be someone else to do that for them!

  10. Brian M. says:

    I think that most of the arguments you give for having kids do chores, are ALSO arguments for have some kind of at least token allowance early on. One of the tasks in our society is learning to manage our money and our budgets responsibly and well. We sure aren’t taught this in school. We learn it by practice, and seeing our parents do it. I am proud of my kid when he helps to make the pancakes. But I am equally proud of him when he decides not to buy something he kinda wants with his money, because he is saving up for something he wants even more. Do they get the allowance just as part of the household, or for specific chores, or some of both? I see good points to all those positions. But somehow you want them to be able to practice managing money in early safe ways, so that they can make mistakes and learn, and be proud of good money management, etc. Further, it gives the kids some insights into what things cost, and why parents make decisions. I remember learning money lessons when young, both from my parents, and from doing various things with my own allowance. My wife, did not, and had to learn a lot of money lessons the harder way by experimentation during college, and it was far costlier for her. In my wife’s family money issues were completely opaque, undiscussed with kids, and not subject to experimentation, and no only did she not learn all the skills, but she felt helpless, unempowered, and often thought things were worse than they really were. Further her only way to get things she wanted was to wheedle for them, so she got good at that. In my family, there was a lot of intention to teach us about money slowly via lots of techniques, including giving us some power over small amounts of money. In the same way, that cooking cornbread, or weeding, or chopping wood, are “baby steps” to more adult projects of keeping the family fed, growing food, and keeping the family warm – so allowances are baby steps towards the adult project of family finance, and these are ALL necessary parts of home economics. You have to give your kids power over a small number of ingredients to let them try to cook, and it isn’t really that differnent from giving them power over a little money, or over a tool that your not quite certain they are ready for, like a hatchet.

  11. Sharon says:

    Brian, I agree kids need to learn how to manage money, although I just don’t see a compelling argument for mastering it super early – developmentally speaking, my oldest child is 7, and I agree that it is important, and now is probably a good time to introduce it. But like using the hatchet, it could be introduced at 7, or at 9 or at 12, and all lead to competence, as long as you are giving them comparable other work – that is, it would be perfectly fine for me to prioritize sewing over kindling, and introduce one sooner and the other later. What’s more important to me than that they have their own money early, is that they participate in family economic situations – that is, understand that Mommy and Daddy work to earn money, and help distribute tzedakah, discuss what we can afford and not. Sure, at some point they should manage their own money, and there are plenty of theories about how, when, why, etc… I’m agnostic on that.


  12. risa b says:

    We both grew up feeding the cats and collecting their eggs. I think it was good for us. So our kids did too — and they tell us it was good for them. At school (after several years of home school) one of them shocked his friends by asking: “An allowance? What’s that?” He was growing up on a percentage of work as a kind of room and board, and a percentage in wages. Now he and his siblings are EXPERTS on cat eggs! ;)

  13. dex says:

    Both growing up and as a parent, doing the dishes seemed to be a big catalyst for chore resentment. I think the reason was the adults were using their influence/control to get out of doing something they want to do. Kids pick up on that, and they rightly resent it.

    (Not suggesing that anyone here does that — just sayin’)

    Similarly, I found that it’s a lot easier to get my daugher to help with chores if I’m also visibly doing them *at the same time*.

  14. Teartaye says:

    I just want to say it is wonderful you’re making your kids work. Or, I should say, teaching them how to be part of a family.

    My parents never really taught me anything in the way of chores… mostly because they hired someone to do 90% of the housework to avoid fighting (amongst themselves) as to who would do which chore when.

    I moved into my second place (the first I didn’t need to do anything not personal) and ended up feeling really useless, suffering low self esteem, embarrassed that I didn’t know anything, faking laziness to try and cover my ignorance up (and hating how messy the house was), etc.

    So even if your kids don’t like doing X right now, they’ll be glad they know how to do it when they’re adults… even if they don’t realize it. ;) And I sure wish my parents had given me a chance to learn when I was young.

    And I totally agree with dex… dishes seem to be the bane of every household I’ve ever been in!

  15. SuperMom says:

    Our children were expected to help out around the house from the time they were old enough to pick up a toy and toddle over to the toy box. As they grew older they were taught how to do other tasks around the house, yard and garden. And when we lived on our acreage; to feed and water the animals.

    These things were expected of them as members of our family. They were not paid for chores.

    They were however given an allowance based on how old they were (one dollar for each year) every other week. They got paid when we got paid.

    And then when they reached the seventh grade they were then given a monthly clothing allowance. They had to budget that money to buy all their clothes with the exception of big ticket items such as prom dresses. Whatever they didn’t spend on clothing, they could spend or save as they wanted (within reason.)

    I admit that the clothing allowance started as a solution to stem the battles when our girls began to ask for the expensive jeans, etc that their school friends had. It truly was an amazing thing to behold how suddenly the $75 pair of jeans weren’t the must have piece of clothing when it took this month’s and a good portion of the next month’s allowance to pay for and in the meantime there was no money left for other things. But now that I look back on it, this taught them how to carefully budget their money, to decide what they were willing to spend their money on and if they still decided they had to have those $75 jeans; they learned how to forego other things in order to have the one thing that they wanted.

    As a result, our young people left home (one still at home) with the skills they needed to take care of themselves both physically and financially.

    I’ve often been asked by other parents, how we got our children to do all the things they did to contribute to our household and to not sulk and complain while doing it. And I think the biggest key is to make sure that they know that their work is acknowledged and appreciated. Everyone likes to hear the words… “Thank you, good job.”

    Oh… and I take every opportunity (hopefully without being obnoxious about it) to brag about what great kids we have and how proud we are of them to other people when the kids are within earshot. Now… there were times when they were in their early teens that I got the… “Aw Mom, you’re embarassing me” glare but I’d also see them stand a little taller and turn away to hide a smile.

  16. Wendy says:

    We went back and forth on paying our children for chores. We wanted to believe that we should pay them, because we believed that children need to learn how to manage money, but in the end it seemed wrong to PAY them for doing things around the house. These “chores” are tasks that need to be completed to keep our house comfortable and safe – for all of us, not just for Dad and me. The bottom line, for me, anyway, was that they aren’t working for *me* when they do chores – they’re working for the good of the whole house.

    In a “paid” job, the one who reaps the benefits is the one who pays the money. If my kids bring in firewood, it means that we all stay warm, but in the job I do for money, the only benefit I get from it is the money my clients pay me. Otherwise, the work is quite a drain on my time and energy, and if I weren’t getting paid, I wouldn’t do it. The same is not true of the household chores. They have to get done regardless of whether there is a financial incentive.

    So, in paying them to do little things like fold (their) clothes or wash the dishes, it seemed like I was sending them the wrong message by paying them. If I pay them to do the laundry, who pays me to do the same chore? And if no one is paying me, why is my time less valuable than theirs?

    In the end, my husband and I decided that we all live in this house, and so we all have a responsibility to keep it livable. No one has an “assigned” chore (except my oldest, who puts away the clean dishes after Dad washes them :) , but when they are asked to do something, they know that it is their responsibility to see that it gets done.

  17. Michelle says:

    I, too, have a mix of paid and unpaid chores. Everyone is responsible for clearing dishes from the table, tidying up after themselves, etc. Paid chores include feeding the dogs, caring for the rabbits, vacuuming, scrubbing the toilets, cleaning up after the dogs in the back yard, etc. I make a point of letting them know that ickier jobs pay better (that is, since nobody wants to do them, they carry a premium) since I think that will serve them well as a life skill. Sometimes they ask if they’ll earn allowance for doing “for the greater good” things, and I say no. But they’re getting really good at doing some simple tasks, and it has lightened my load considerably. I would like to think that we have enhanced all of our standards of living in this household. I just asked my younger son today if that pack of baseball cards really was worth 13 25 cent chores… and he felt it was. Ok, more power to him! As long as he learns the critical thinking to make that choice deliberately, I’m happy.

  18. Mark N says:

    When we were young kids in the early ’60s my grandmother ordered my brother, cousin, and me weed her flower beds in the sun. We were kept at it until heat exhaustion symptoms forced us to collapse one by one. Damn I miss those days. All three of us still love to garden.

  19. Brad K. says:

    Your line “I know you want to help me cook, but I just have to do this fast and you can’t help.” interests me.

    Most of the time we don’t want to tell our kids, “Look, when you are working, or helping, most of the time I am training you. You are learning or developing a skill. After you learn the skill, you have to learn how and when to apply it. Along the way, your training becomes actual work, and a real help to the family.

    I know you like to help. Usually, watching you, keeping everyone safe and unharmed, keeping tools and things intact and unharmed – these are an important part of my job. But sometimes I have another job, that keeps me from having time for training.

    Once you are better trained, and more experienced, you will be a greater help and asset to the family. There will be a day that you will do the work that I am doing today, including training and teaching your own children how to work, and how to be helpful. For now, please sit quietly and read, or watch. I may or may not be able to do my task and answer questions at the same time. Hopefully we will be back to normal, with all of us working and learning together, soon.”

    . . . Do cat eggs work in brownies as well as chicken or guinea hen eggs?

  20. squrrl says:

    Here’s a relevant question: Does anyone have a workable alternative to the word “allowance”?

    See, my take is that, as a stay-at-home mom, I contribute only indirectly to the household economy, and yet obviously I would be really P.O.’d if one day my husband decided to give me an “allowance”–how generous, he _let_ me have some money of my own…you know? Of course, as adults and partners, the arrangement is that I get to spend money at my discretion, and it is expected that I will make reasonable decisions, which is not a terribly workable formula for kids no matter how liberal a parent you are. But I do think that the principle holds that if, as a child, I am contributing to the household economy by doing chores beyond the personal chores (the doing of which I consider just part of being a whole person), I don’t deserve to be told that I am being “allowed” to decide what to do with a little of the household money. It’s relevant to remember that my grandmother and others of her generation DID get “allowances” from their husbands, in her case a very tiny one, and how one reacts to THAT should definitely be permitted to color the situation, I think.

    Granted, as a kid I don’t think I would have made any such complex analysis of the semantics of the situation (I got an allowance that was not contingent on chores, but it was very small and I understood that that was because we were very poor, which was a good lesson too–actually, it may have been my mother’s largest weekly discretionary expense, come to think). But as an adult and a parent, I think that _I_ would be aware of the distinction. There is a subtle difference between “giving” someone money and apportioning what you determine to be their “share”, even if both are ultimately completely under the parents’ control.

    Now that I think about it, I wonder if I am comfortable with monetizing _any_ work within the household, and if other rewards, along with the provision of opportunities to earn extra income outside the household, mightn’t suit me better. Fortunately, I have a while to decide, since my child is still at the “sometimes remembers the word for three” stage.

  21. Karin says:

    My three year old has been helping out for a while now. In many ways I find it easier to have him tag along and help out with what I am doing than to have my attention divided with my current work and his little realm. So he is chief stirrer of muffins, pancakes, crackers and bread. He help with the washing of the dishes. He helps to bring the wood in. He helps in the garden with planting seeds, watering. Harvesting is a different matter because he eats what he picks but then it is the only time I can get him to eat green food so it is a bonus;)

    Recently is older brother (16) has shared his coveted big kid legos. It is so great to see them play together on the livingroom floor like that together. When the play is done his older brother has him help to pick up the legos. After the task is complete he says,” I am a good helper!”

  22. TLE says:

    My experience with chores was: Since Mum has insisted Dad has to do chore around the house, we now have a roster. Dad has to clean the bathroom from time to time, and the kids have to do chores too. Just don’t mention the weird atmosphere that surrounds the whole arrangement, whatever you do.

    The underlying tension between Mum & Dad was *not* resolved by the roster. I thoroughly recommend that any parents who have tension around division of labour get *very* clear on their relationship, so they can honestly say “everyone in the family shares this work”.

  23. Mary says:

    Don’t forget singing. We took turns choosing the song while we did dishes. Rounds are particularly good for mindless tasks. I always felt competent biking to the store for milk, snipping beans, filling the canning jars (my hands still fit into a quart jar), mending things, shovelling snow, doing dishes. Mom even loaned us out–the morning after homecoming (the only time I ever had my hair “done”) my sister and I were sent to Grandma’s house to take down the screens and put up the storm windows. I remember it better than I do the dance.
    I got to sleep over at the grandparents’ the night before they had the whole family to dinner because I was such a good helper.
    No money for helping at home, but my parents found us jobs elsewhere. Weeding, rockpicking, babysitting. The summer I was fifteen, I helped a dressmaker from 8-12 for $1/hr. At the same time her son helped my Dad for $1/hr. And both her son and I were made responsible for buying our own clothes. Keeping money close to home.
    As an adult, I’ve found myself attracted to competence.

  24. The way we’ve handled this in our family is to try and look at the system as a whole: paycheques are needed for a variety of things, so, the paid grownup jobs are a contribution to the system’s operation. However, we also need fences mended, eggs collected, sheep fed and watered, laundry done, the table set, dinner made, all those kinds of things. There are places where everyone can contribute, and we’re all happiest if people can do the things they prefer when possible.

    So, we made a big list of all the stuff-that-has-to-be-done (including “earn enough money to pay mortgage, property taxes, and fuel” and “maintain vehicles”, not just the stuff that had the potential to be done by either kids or adults), then we talked about who was best suited to do what jobs. Who earns the paycheque? Well, child labour is illegal, so I guess us grownups will do that part. Who buys the groceries? Well, mom works in town, just down the road from the store, so I guess that should be her. Who makes dinner? Well, dad works from home, so even if mom’s the better cook (which she was at the beginning of the arrangement, but that’s no longer true), if dad cooks we can eat an hour sooner. Dad it is.

    That leaves the household work. My 13 year old son is ideally suited to be the one who feeds and waters the animals: he is big enough, he is home during the day (he schools at home), and can do the jobs when it is still light outside – I am gone from before dawn until after dark for a third of the year, given where we live. The smaller kids can keep their rooms tidy, feed the bunnies, and help with jobs like egg gathering and picking dandelions. As they get bigger, they can do bigger jobs.

    As for the money, we ‘share’ the money the way we ‘share’ the work. So, I go to work and earn a paycheque, but my son does a bunch of the work at home that I’d do if I wasn’t off at work (taking care of the sheep): he shares some of his labour with me, I share some of the money I earn at work with him. It’s conceptualized as ‘everyone putting their contributions into the pot, and then everyone taking from the pot what they need’.

    We do often have to discuss the idea that ‘everyone contributes and everyone benefits’ – the concept isn’t intuitively obvious, at least not to my kids, and they need to be reminded that they are contributing members of a shared venture, not slave labour, no matter how hard-done-by they think they are. I’ve also told my son that he is an apprentice adult – apprentices learn to do by doing, following along and gradually taking more of the task for themselves – and the sooner we start the apprenticeship, the sooner he will attain mastery and be able to do things on his own if he chooses to. That idea actually worked pretty well, he’s in a hurry to grow up!

  25. dewey says:

    I can confirm from personal experience what happens if you don’t teach children competence. My mother was an OCD case who would not let her young kids do any chore that involved “germs” or sharp objects. By the time she might have trusted me to take the “risks” of scrubbing the toilet or cutting meat, I would have nothing to do with her, and she was horrified when I fled home and embarked on a life of total slobhood. She might have taught me to appreciate a sparkling clean house, but she hadn’t taught me how to achieve it! I am still a slob, and am only now (at nearly 40) learning to cook beyond the “open can and shake ravioli into bowl” sort of recipe. I wish my mom had been more like Sharon….

  26. Rain23 says:

    I grew up in a house where if anything, I had too much responsibility. I hated it… until I started noticing adult acquaintances who just couldn’t seem to take care of themselves. They couldn’t get their laundry done when it needed to be, so they showed up at work smelly and/or wrinkled. They didn’t get the bills to the post on time, so they were late and ruined their credit. They learned at home that if you “don’t wanna” you whine or blow it off until someone else gives in and takes on your chore. That doesn’t go over so well at work.

    While kids shouldn’t take over responsibilities that belong to their parents (keeping the house safe, making sure there is food, providing clothing), having some stake in the business of being a family and keeping things going smoothly is invaluable in adulthood. Now we have a house rule: “Whine while you work.” You can hate laundry/dishes/patio cleaning, and you can whine about it for about 2 minutes — while you are doing it. Go over the 2 minute mark and everyone in earshot starts playing the air violin. We laugh a lot, and we also get things done, albeit rather messily when there’s a toddler involved. I doubt anyone will ever thank us, but if they are happy and busy and safe, that’s good enough for me.

  27. Lori Scott says:

    I totally agree with all the comments re: children helping. With one proviso. We found that they all had different talents and abilities and were glad to accomodate these in what had to be done.

    For instance, one child was a miracle with an axe. The other was so uncoordinated it was a risk. Guess who cut the firewood. And its not always gender based or age based, its just their talent.

    Through life, we all have to do what has to be done but we chose to spend longer amounts of our time working in fields where we have skills so household jobs were managed the same. Asking them to act beyond their capacity was counterproductive.

  28. Sharon says:

    Dewey, that’s a really sweet thing to say.

    Lori, I agree with you – my autistic eldest may never use the hatchet without assistance, while my 7 year old probably will in a few years. We divide chores here by taste (Eric does floors, because he notices floors, I do laundry because I don’t mind it and he does), by innate ability (Eric is afraid of heights, so I do roofs, I have a ummm…large chest, so I don’t go under the car ;-) ) and habit (I have no idea why it is that I tend the piano, since it is his, but I got in the habit and I kind of like it).

    The one caveat I would add is this – as they get older, natural inclination *where there is basic normal ability* shouldn’t prevent them from becoming basically competent. That is, it is fine for one child to chop wood and not the other most of the time, provided that both children go out of the home knowing how to chop wood should they need to keep warm. The same with laundry, or sewing or whatever. I also do think that when natural ability and inclination line up with traditional gender roles, it is really important to put some effort into not naturalizing them – that is, my son Simon has extremely poor fine motor skills, and dislikes fine handwork like sewing a lot. But I’m not letting any of my sons off the hook on knowing how to replace buttons or mend their clothes, in part because I think it is really important that they not develop the “Moms do this” assumption – he doesn’t have to do it well, just with enough competence that he’s never helpless.


  29. [...] and More Sharon Astyk drops some wisdom on us from her blog.  Even though I don’t yet have children, I have been thinking about this type [...]

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