Chores. They have to be done and almost as soon as we do them, they need to be done again. Frequently, I wish I could just get rid of all the chores, or pay someone else to do them for me. And then there’s a part of me that’s proud of being able to manage all that I do. How did I get so capable? My parents made me.
My parents were real taskmasters. They MADE me clean the bathroom. They MADE me fold clothes. They MADE me do yard work. They MADE me clear the dishwasher. The list goes on and on, chore after lousy chore. My list of “what I’d rather be doing” was as long as the chore list, and I felt VERY imposed upon. Probably acted imposed upon, too, which I’m sure made my parents’ day bright and cheery…. Looking back, I had plenty of time for my want to’s, and I am highly skilled and capable because my parents made sure I attended to the need to’s.
As a parent, I now get to provide the need to’s, and I recognize the lessons my kids learn from doing chores. First and foremost, they learn that they are an integral part of our family. They play an important role in how our home looks and operates, and their contribution means there is more time for family connection. They also learn responsibility, work ethic, follow-through, and pride in a job done well. Oh yeah, and they learn the actual skill of completing the assigned task.
Notice that the learning is less about the actual skill (the skill level of most chores is not typically high) and more about the self-management, which takes years of practice. So while it seems easier in the moment to think, “Oh, I’ll just do it myself,” when I do that, I stunt my child’s self-management growth.
There is no right or wrong level of expectation for chores, but kids should learn to do what they CAN do. They need to be grounded in the belief that they are capable, and they need to feel a sense of belonging and significance within the family, so parent follow-through is key to helping children learn that the expectation is there and their contribution to the family is appreciated. When they grumble and complain, parents can choose to overlook the negativity and simply say, “Thank you for getting that done.” Or model respect by observing, “I know you don’t like doing that job, but your grumbling feels disrespectful to me.” Noticing without arguing or condemning allows your child to have his feelings, know the impact his grumbling has on you, and yet not be able to manipulate his way out of doing the chore by starting an argument.
The short-term angst is worth the long-term payoff: gradually more independent, capable children who are proud of all they can manage as they look back and say, “I’m glad my parents made me.”