“You’re lucky, Mom, you don’t have any chores to do.” That complaint was courtesy of my four-year-old whose only responsibility that Saturday morning was to empty three wastepaper baskets. It is true that my four kids were being trained to shoulder household responsibilities, and eventually they maintained the whole house. (‘Course that really made me sad when they left for college, one by one. My tears may have been related to the prospect of Saturday mornings without free labor!)
The Hard Work of Training
But I’m here to tell you, that training process was grueling. I started them young, and contrary to my expectations, that enthusiasm they started with didn’t actually produce good fruit. It’s because they discovered the joys of helping. Helping, in that regard, means (bar graph please) a 10% increase in breaks, 50% increase in spills, and 100% increase in time and effort. It calls for serious Spirit-controlled patience. For instance, at 18-months old, my daughter “helped” me unpack groceries. After giving the apples the “bounce test” and the bananas the “mush test,” she proceeded to remove all the labels from the canned goods. (We arranged them by size rather than content.) It took me two days to find the coffee, and the only way I discovered the four rolls of toilet paper sent to the other bathroom was by the peculiar smell permeating from that part of the house. My little one had put the toilet paper—where else—in the toilet, which, unfortunately, had not been flushed. It was a tongs and rubber gloves job, to say the least.
The Long-Term Goal
What do we conclude from all this? It’s that teaching chores is time-consuming! And sometimes seems in vain. Often, we feel like giving up, pushing them aside, and just doing it ourselves. At least it would be done right. Right? Well, of course not because although we’d get the house done the way we want it, we’d be abdicating our responsibility of raising our kids to be independent, capable adults. Ask any spouse who resents shouldering most of household responsibilities while their partner watches helplessly. From the couch. In front of the TV. But I digress.
You’d be surprised at how early children can manage chores. At three and four, they can empty waste paper baskets, separate laundry into lights and darks and put it away when clean and dry. Five and six year-olds can clean sinks, sweep, and wipe down counters. Seven and eight year-olds are ready to set and clear the table with breakable plates and glasses, clean toilets and bathtubs, and mop floors. And on it goes. I know many moms who stop doing their teenagers’ laundry. Not because they don’t love them, but because they do.
To train my kids to be thorough, I created lists on what each room required for tip-top cleanliness. Saturday morning, they took their list to their assigned room and checked off the items as they did them. They rotated areas from week to week.Did they like it? Heck no. Do I love dusting and vacuuming? Nope, but I worked alongside them so that we became partners in our misery. In fact, we will still call each other from our domains while washing dishes, just to make the time pass more pleasantly.
Children and chores—a challenge in itself. Eventually, mine all left the nest, armed with cleaning supplies and complete confidence in themselves. Mission accomplished; job well done.