Three Cheers for Chores
“But you don’t understand. I have my life to live and there are things that are important to me. Mowing the lawn is not one of them. If it’s so important to my dad, why can’t he just do it himself? He knows how much I hate to do it. Besides, he always wants me to do it when I want to do something else. Being with my friends may not seem very important to him, but it is to me. The grass isn’t going to die if I don’t mow it right now. Doesn’t he remember what it was like when he was my age? I’ll bet he wanted to be with his friends instead of having to milk the cows or whatever it was his old man bugged him about all the time.”
There may be a few kids who do chores regularly without griping—but not many. As long as there have been parents and children, there have been hassles over chores. When God banished Adam and Eve from paradise and made them start working for a living (Gen. 3:23), that’s surely when the grumbling started.
And it continues today.
Children are born with a chore allergy that worsens at adolescence. Historically, kids did a lot more around the house than they do now and with less objection primarily because there was a greater need for their help. But with the increase in labor-saving devices and the shift from living on farms to living in cities and suburbs, the need for raising children as workers has significantly decreased.
So children don’t contribute much to families anymore. In many families, chores have become all but obsolete—a trend which has unfortunately contributed to the inability of many young people to make a successful transition into adulthood. Ever wonder why kids from rural America grow up with more respect for family values and traditions, and seem to have less difficulty becoming contributing members of society? In most cases, it’s because they have had chores to do.
Why are chores important? First, they endow kids with skills they’ll need to lead successful adult lives. Domestic skills are no less important than any others. Everybody needs to learn how to wash, iron and fold their own clothes, prepare meals, run a vacuum cleaner, take care of pets, scrub floors, mow grass, weed a garden, polish brass, wash a car, rake leaves, clean toilets, shovel snow, remove dust from furniture and so on. If kids are doing such things regularly at home, they will not only learn these skills, but they’ll learn to appreciate the effort that their parents put forth to provide and maintain a home for them. This is something they might otherwise take for granted.
Second, chores increase a young person’s sense of significance. Everyone needs to feel needed, and kids are no exception. In the past, kids knew they were an important part of the family because they were contributors to it. They were considered assets instead of liabilities. Your kids may not have cows to milk, but they can be given age-appropriate responsibilities around the house to make them feel more connected to the family as a participant. Doing so will build on their feelings of worth and self-esteem. If their chores are legitimate and necessary, and appreciated by the rest of the family, they will probably do them without objection. After all, it feels good to know that you are needed.
Third, chores are character-building. Chores help instill such character-building qualities as humility, respect, charity and good citizenship. Kids who grow up without having to do any of the “dirty work” around the house are more likely to look down upon those who do. They may develop an attitude of superiority, believing that mundane or work without pay is below them and only for those who aren’t smart enough to avoid it. Kids who do chores, however, are likely to be less selfish and more apt to develop a servant’s heart. Good citizenship begins at home, and when kids learn to give back to their families, they will be more likely to give back to their community, their country or their God.
Fourth, chores provide opportunities for kids to learn responsibility. When kids are doing chores, they are doing more than work. They are learning how to fulfill obligations, honor commitments, meet deadlines. They are learning to arrange their lives in such a way that they will be able to do both what they want to do and what they have to do. They are learning that work has worthwhile benefits. Kids who don’t have to lift a finger to receive all the amenities of life learn soon enough that anything can be had for nothing. That’s a powerful message sent to children by parents who make no demands on them whatsoever.
Despite their benefits, many parents don’t require their kids to do chores. Some of the rationalizations given:
“It’s more of a hassle to get them to do chores than it is for us to do it ourselves.”
“Kids today have so much pressure on them, we don’t think home should be one of them.”
“We have a cleaning service and a yard service that come in once a week. There’s nothing for them to do.”
“I enjoy doing the housework myself, and besides, if I do it I know it will be done right the first time.”
“Our kids have so much homework they just don’t have time to do chores.”
“If we DID assign our teenager chores, he would just refuse to do them. We don’t want to fight with him over something so unimportant.”
But they are important. They are worth the hassle, worth the time, worth the job not being done right the first time, worth whatever temporary inconvenience or grief might result from their implementation.
There’s only one way for kids to learn responsibility and that’s by having some. Your kids won’t become responsible by reading about it, hearing lectures on it or watching others do it. If you want your kids to become successful and self-reliant, don’t deprive them of chores.
Making Chores Work
It’s best to give kids chores when they are young. Even a three-year-old is capable of picking clothes up off the floor or putting away toys. Kids who had chores as children are more likely to do them as teenagers without complaining. Here are some tips for making chores work in your family:
- Assign chores to everyone in the family, including parents. Teenagers aren’t servants, so don’t just make them do all the things you don’t want to do.
- Make sure everyone knows exactly what his or her chore is, how it is to be done, and when it should be completed. Be specific and reasonable.
- Don’t punish kids by assigning them chores.
- Make sure your teen has (or knows how to get) all the necessary tools and knowledge to complete the job successfully. For example, if his job is to mow the lawn, make sure he has a lawn mower that works properly and has been instructed on how to use it and maintain it. Try to help your teen be as self-sufficient as possible in his or her chores.
- Don’t do your teen’s chores for him or her, even though it may be convenient to do so. That will only encourage your teen to wait and see if you’ll do it again next time. Avoid doing someone else’s job unless you are asked to do so or a special situation requires it.
- Make chores age-appropriate. Teenagers can and should do something more meaningful than take out the trash. They can help with laundry, meal preparation, taking care of pets, automobiles, lawns, gardens, family finances, etc.
- Let kids have some choice or flexibility in the chores they do and also how they do them. Example: “The family room, hall and bedrooms need vacuuming once a week. You can do it on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday. Your choice.”
- Give each person in the family his or her own chores rather than assigning shared chores. This will reduce arguing, finger-pointing and blaming when the chore isn’t done.
- Create a family “chore chart” if that helps. All chores are listed with the names of those responsible, and can be checked off when done. This monitors progress and completion.
- Don’t pay kids to do chores. It’s better to give them a set allowance (a portion of the family income) separate from chores. If you pay kids to do chores, then they won’t do the chore unless they need money.
- Connect chores with privileges and consequences. Kids need to learn that privileges come with responsibilities. If your teenager doesn’t want the responsibility, then he or she will be faced with giving up a corresponding privilege.
- Don’t expect perfection. Resist the temptation to “fix” a finished chore even though you know you could do a better job.
- Learn to delegate and distance yourself. Don’t hover over your kids or pester them about when they are going to get the chore done. Just be clear about what, how and when, then leave them alone. If they fail to complete the job by the agreed-upon time, they simply lose a privilege or suffer a consequence.
- Always show appreciation when a chore has been completed. Everyone likes to know that his or her efforts have not gone unnoticed.
- Give your kids some constructive feedback they can use next time. Coach rather than criticize the work they do, offering suggestions and ideas for improving their work.
Hang In There
Accept the fact that chores may not get done, or may get done poorly, or may be a constant source of hassling. You may have to continually nag your kids to get them done—but don’t quit trying. They will eventually get done, more or less.
One of our son Corey’s chores was to put our trash barrels at the end of our long driveway every week so that they would get picked up by the trash collectors. I always had to ride him about doing that, and for a long time it just seemed like a battle of two wills, his against mine. It got so bad that I was tempted to take those garbage cans and dump the contents on his bed just to make my point. This went on for months, maybe years.
But one day I suddenly realized that several weeks had gone by without my having to remind him or scold him for not getting those trash cans out there. Had all the nagging finally paid off? Did I finally win out? Actually, I think it had more to do with Corey’s growing up than anything else. As he got older, he matured and got to the point where his own sense of responsibility prevailed over his childish need to avoid work at all costs. He just made a decision to go ahead and take care of those trash cans for us, and it became a habit.
Wayne Rice is a life-long youth worker, Christ-follower and bluegrass music nut who spends most of his time these days writing, speaking, consulting, playing his banjo and trying to be a good husband, father and grandpa. Wayne co-founded an organization called Youth Specialties, as well as a parenting organization called Understanding Your Teenager, which is now part of HomeWord.com. Wayne has written over 30 books, including the parenting book, Generation to Generation. You can follow Wayne on his blog at WayneRice.com.