The Age Of Chores

Chores. The dull drudgery of family life. Setting the table. Cleaning the dishes. Folding laundry. The very phrase, ‘this feels like a chore,’ is a cliche for describing a task that’s become boring and unpleasant.

Few of us at any age want these jobs, but they must be done. Training children to do them is the topic of much hand-wringing, gold-star-awarding and punishment. It’s a subject of constant debate among parents.

Today, Motherlode asks the seemingly simple question: what chores are appropriate to assign to children? At what age?

The question looks simple, but it begs others: do you assign children chores at all? How do you hold them accountable if the chores aren’t done? Do you reward them for doing it right? How do you decide what a chore is anyway?

There’s no chore wheel in my house. No sticker chart. No assigned tasks. We all just sort of pick up as we go along.

The result: I often struggle with the kids over picking up their own toys, but they’re eager to participate in my tasks. They help me fold laundry, put away dishes, wash floors. As long as it piques their interest. Which, let’s be honest, is all the effort I put into these chores as well.

My approach is a lot like my approach to food: model good behavior and hope the kids will make good choices. If I keep the house clean, they’ll want to live in a clean house. When they grow up and it’s their house, I think that will carry more weight than whether or not they were required to check off a list of domestic tasks each week.

This strategy has paid off so far. I have a 16-year-old who offers to do the dishes unprompted, does his own laundry, knows how to cook and offers to lend a hand when he sees me cleaning. He clearly knows how to keep a house, and feels OK about doing those tasks. That matters a lot more to me than whether or not he takes the trash out every Tuesday or always sets the table.

On the other hand, turning my kids into assistant housekeepers has some appeal. Running the household is a lot of work, and if I could farm some of the drudgery out to smaller hands, so much the better for me. Bonus points if it builds character.

What are kids’ chores like in your house? Do you have a system or just wing it?

Photo: chefranden

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