When I got started as a mom, I decided I wanted my kids to be well-behaved, obedient, and ready to listen and learn. There were other things too, like reading a lot and using their imagination, but all of it was intended to serve the ultimate goal of their being well-prepared to leave the nest and live meaningful, productive lives.
Like most moms, I understood that the time I’d have with my kids was limited, and that I needed to make the most of it. I’m not talking about the “treasuring each moment” kind of time, but about the “train them up in the way they should go” kind of time; if they were going to become the kind of adults I hoped they would, I needed tools that would give me the biggest bang for my buck–big results with limited input from me.
My “secret weapon”– the tool that did the most to prepare them for a stable and satisfying adulthood–turned out to be good old-fashioned chores.
Lots of parents don’t require their children to do any chores at all, or just ask them to do little things from time to time–for example, set the table, take their dirty dishes to the sink, that kind of thing. Often, parents who decide regular chores are a good idea end up completely forgetting about the chore lists they put up for their kids; they don’t check to make sure chores are done, much less check to make sure they’re done well. Sometimes, Moms try assigning chores, but give up, saying it’s just easier for them to do those jobs themselves.
If I’m honest, I agree–it was much easier to do these jobs myself , and I could certainly do them faster and more thoroughly than my kids could, at least when they were little. But the hassle of teaching them to do chores was insignificant in comparison to the benefits that all of us gained from the process!
Here are just a few of the reasons why I believe chores to be one of the most powerful and important parts of family life.
Chores bring children fully into the life of the family as participants and contributors, not simply consumers with an entitlement mentality. This one thing alone makes the implementation of chores worth every bit of time and energy you have to invest.
If used well, chores teach attention to detail and thoroughness. For this to take place, mom or dad must make clear exactly what they expect the finished job to look like, then inspect it, and require the child to continue until the work standard has been reached, which is an essential part of being a good employee.
Chores take up time. Just today I read the results of a study that said the average child age 8-12 spends 4 hours and 44 minutes per day watching YouTube videos! That’s a kid with way too much time on his hands–a kid who should be contributing to the family by doing chores!
By the same token, chores also teach time management; kids learn that it takes a certain amount of time to do the work well, and how to organize their time so that they have enough of it left after chores to do more interesting and fun things.
Chores teach basic life skills. Every man and woman should know how to do laundry, vacuum, dust, clean the bathroom, and so on. Disclaimer: your child may not actually use these skills while he’s in college, but at some point in life these things will matter to him. Teach him how to do them, regularly and well.
Chores are a great antidote to boredom. When your kids say, “Mom, I’m bored! Can I play video games/watch TV/get on facebook?” you can say, “No need! I have plenty of things you can do!” My children learned very quickly to find books to read, games to play (not video), or some kind of outdoor activity to engage in, just so I wouldn’t “find” something for them to do.
Chores teach that hard work is not something to be feared, and that the results of it are very satisfying.
Oh, and by the way. Don’t pay them for these chores; there should be no connection between chores and money. Here’s why: with chores, you’re teaching good citizenship, the understanding that everyone in a community has to take responsibility to make things work–take out the trash, pay taxes, keep your home and lawn in good condition, etc.
The family is it’s own community; in the family, someone prepares meals, someone takes care of the lawn, someone sees to the maintenance of the car, etc. Nobody in the family gets paid to do these things, it’s just part of being in a family; it’s your responsibility. Paying a child for chores takes away this sense of responsibility and obligation, making the chores negotiable; “You want me to clean the toilet? I don’t need money that badly!” If you want children to learn the value of money, give them an allowance and teach them to give, save, and spend wisely. It’s a different lesson altogether.
Each of my five children started their chore careers around age three, with folding diapers and finding spots on dirty laundry to squirt with stain remover. Eventually, they did all of the household chores except meal prep, and that was just because I enjoyed it. This left time for me to do other things! Yes, it took a lot of work up front, especially with the first couple of children, but once the routine was established, chores were a given. My five all learned to appreciate order and hard work, enjoyed a sense of camaraderie and shared “suffering”, and gained a sense of pride in contributing to and being a part of something bigger than themselves–our family.