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Put the Kids to Work

Doing Chores Is Part of a Well-Rounded Education

I sometimes get asked, “how do you do it all?”— “all” meaning teaching three boys, occupying a four-year-old, laundry, cooking, and other stuff normal people do.

My answer? I don’t. My kids may be getting a great education, but as I mentioned in my previous column, my housekeeping skills are sorely lacking. What’s a mom to do?

Put the kids to work.

I’m a firm believer in chores. Of course, that’s like a car salesman saying, “I firmly believe you need to buy this car”— completely and utterly self-serving. But I do not apologize for that. Chores serve the greater good (a.k.a. my sanity), and I believe I’m a better parent for it. But there is more to it than just that.

I rarely watch Oprah, but a few years ago, a self-help person was featured. I don’t remember who it was, but I will never forget one key phrase: “Never do for children what they can do for themselves.” It’s been a motto of mine ever since.

Chores are logical. I didn’t sleep in that bed, so why should I have to make it? I didn’t wear your jeans; why should I have to put them away? I didn’t eat off that plate; why should I have to put it in the sink? Even a three-year-old can understand this logic. If your 14-year-old can’t, you may want to get right on that.

About three years ago, my then-four-year-old was largely responsible for the food under the table. I had this conversation with myself: “Sweeping under this table is not easy. In fact, I hate it. He’s smaller. He can fit under there. Why doesn’t he sweep it?”

And so he has. He’s getting really good at it, and he’s also keenly aware of how much food he’s dropping on the floor. When you are required to clean up your own messes, you tend to make fewer of them. Win-win.

Chores are character-building. I’m stunned when I hear of moms who put their kids’ laundry away. If my child can walk, they are old enough to put their laundry away, and they do. My daughter is four and has been putting away her own laundry for two and a half years. That’s about two and a half years longer than most teen-agers I know.  

I do the laundry and I fold it, but that’s where my job ends, although I am teaching my 11-year-old to do his own. If he can reach the knobs and comprehend the philosophy, why not?

Chores are a life skill.  It’s vital for children to learn that they are responsible for their immediate surroundings, that a home is a group effort, that if you don’t pull your weight, there are consequences. Call me crazy, but isn’t that what being employed amounts to?

We do our children no favors when we coddle them. Daily responsibilities accompany any decent career. If a child is going to grow into a productive adult, it’s better to teach these principles now rather than at 22. By then it’s often too late for many, as they have already developed a strong propensity for laziness and the inability to see what needs to be done around them and just do it. And that’s not someone who will be employed long.

Upon hearing my “chore lecture,” I’ve had parents say, “Oh, Johnny would never go for that.” Meanwhile, Johnny is sitting on his petard playing video games, texting or watching the latest in brain-mushing entertainment. It seems to me that a little deprivation would go a long way in adjusting Johnny’s attitude.

Johnny’s parents growing a backbone would certainly aid in turning things around, also. I’m always amused with parents who care about their children being upset with them. I’ve observed this is not the most successful parenting style, unless you enjoy cleaning up other people’s messes and not getting paid for it. But, alas, that is not the life for me.

I hope that I will inspire some parents to reevaluate their workload, their children’s abilities, and the relationship between the two. Not only will it serve you well, but their future boss will thank you for it.

Oh, looky there! It’s chore time already…..

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