My kids are getting older now (10 and 14) and so are accomplished at helping out with chores. I don’t pay them to help because I don’t get paid and I want them to understand that they are part of a mini-community called ‘a family’ and in communities we all have to pull our weight.
It helps that we do go on community holidays where kids are expected to lay tables, wash up and prepare vegetables along with the adults. Weird though this may sound; they enjoy it because they do it with other people and they have time to chat and laugh whilst doing the chores.
Not slave driving, but contributing
At home they hang washing up, take it down, put it away. They load the dishwasher and unload it. They keep their own rooms tidy and help tidy up shared spaces. They go to the local shop when we need something and they can both get themselves breakfast and tea as well as light and tend a bonfire to burn the garden waste.
Am I a slave driver? They certainly do more than my mum asked me to do; she would still be up to her elbows in soapy water whilst my sister and I were relaxing. The deal with us, particularly at the weekend is that no one sits down until everyone can sit down; so, if I’m still sweeping and mopping the floor, then the kids are putting washing away. This way we all get to do the work together, and we learn to delay gratification so that when we do all sit down, we do so together.
I used to be able to feel my mum’s resentment that she was still busy when we were old enough to be helping and I know that before I got the kids involved in chores, I would feel resentful when I saw them reading as I put away dishes. When children are involved with chores they appreciate what it takes to run a house and can see that the house is a home for all of us and so we all have a common interest in helping run it smoothly.
I have sons so it also seems crucial to me that they learn how to look after themselves. I don’t want to set up any future flat mates or partners for a life of servitude. Boys need to see that they have a part to play. My boys see me and my partner sharing chores equally; there is no ‘men’s work’ or ‘women’s work’ there are just things to be done which we help each other with and that is really important for the boys to see.
Also of course, I am teaching them life skills. I left home and didn’t know how to use a washing machine; my kids do. My eldest son can cook a roast dinner which I struggled to do when I was in my late 30s. Neither of them will starve or go unclean and I think this gives them a head start in life to know that they can change a bike tyre, a light bulb and can use a drill as well as a food mixer.
Pride and self- efficacy
I think it gives the kids confidence to know that they can fend for themselves. I don’t baby them by telling them they aren’t old enough; they have been lighting fires and using saws and knives since they were young. We supervised them, but we also trusted them to be competent and they were. They also feel hugely proud when they have sawed a pile of wood or cooked something which we all love to eat; it is an opportunity to celebrate them and their burgeoning skills.
I also think it teaches them self-discipline; they learn to keep their room tidy because if they don’t it is they who are faced with the big clear up job which takes hours during the school holidays. They learn that if they don’t put their clothes away tidily then they are the ones who have to wear screwed up t-shirts. They learn about cause and effect and responsibility. If they forget to light the fire, then they have let the team down when we come to a cold room to chill out.
They learn time management and planning; if you want the Yorkshire puddings to be ready at the same time as the roast you have to put them in the oven before the meal is ready. If you want to go to footy, but you have to do your homework, have tea and then help tidy up before going, it really teaches you how to manage your time efficiently.
They also learn social skills like co-operation and motivation as well as obligation. There are some things in life which just have to be done and cooking and preparing food is just one of them so we have to just get on with it. I hate hoovering, but I like it much more when we do it all together; where one of us is hoovering, one is picking up and one is dusting, we chat, we co-operate and we achieve something together.
I see my job as a parent as preparing them for independent living and they need to know how to do double entry book keeping and how to sew. If we don’t teach them that at home, where else will they learn it?
We do not serve our children by making life too easy for them, life is busy and full but it doesn’t have to be hard and drab. Chores are unavoidable and the sooner they learn how to do them and how to do them together, with the music on and whilst chatting, the more smoothly their adult lives will go so show them how to use the washing machine today.