Children mopping featured image for article the case against chore charts

The Case Against Chore Charts

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By Bridget McNamara

Today my four year old is working. He has counted the eggs that his brother collected from the chicken coop and he has placed them gently into the carton that he found in the cabinet. He discovered his Lego guy with play-doh stuck in a cranny and, after I provided him with a bucket of warm water and a towel, he proceeded to gently bathe all of his Lego guys. In the yard he picked up every single stick he found and put it into a perfect little pile. He sprinkled gerbil food all over the cage so they could have fun looking for it instead of eating it the boring way—out of their dish.

Today my seven year old son is working. He crushed all the aluminum cans in the Ultimate Can Crusher that his dad installed in the garage. He ran around collecting our chickens to put them away when he saw a hawk in the sky above our yard. While he was there, he collected the eggs and deposited them on the kitchen table. He ran and got a towel when his sister spilled her water on the living room floor. He volunteered to help his little brother on the library computer so I could go to the adult section for a few minutes.

Today my nine year old daughter is working. She played My Little Pony with her little brother so I could do my yoga. She found crumbs in the silverware drawer, dumped out the entire contents, and organized it in a way I’m not even capable of. She helped me carry the groceries in from the car and took our rowdy dog down to the shoreline with her to get those puppy wiggles out.

They did all of these things either completely on their own or after my asking them kindly, one time. Each task they fulfilled, I thanked them simply and genuinely.

I don’t enforce chores in any way. They don’t earn a gold star if they do it and they don’t lose their Minecraft time if they don’t. And they are unceasingly helpful and considerate.

Something I’ve learned over the years is not to get hung up on someone helping me with the jobs that I think need to get done. Yes, I empty the dishwasher. I cook.  I sweep the floors and do the laundry and pick up Legos a bajillion times a day. No one else scrubs the toilet and it’s a rare day when anyone goes near the dog pooper-scooper. But that’s okay with me. It really is.

It wasn’t always. I used to stomp around and feel overwhelmed and under appreciated. I used to interrupt whatever they were doing to help me and they would cry and stomp around just like me. We felt no joy in caring for our home or caring for one another. None of us felt the intrinsic value of being a helpful person because our ability to find joy in our tasks was completely clouded by guilt, resentment, and fear.

I simply changed my perspective and the entire energy of our home was lifted. My children are helpful and grateful. They do appreciate everything I do for them. I signed up for this job of caring for them and it’s completely unfair for me to do it begrudgingly.

I feel sad when I hear my friends talk about throwing their children’s toys away if they don’t clean them up. If someone did that to me, I’d have lost my sunglasses, car keys, and coffee mug a hundred times over. It feels less like guidance and more like revenge. “See what happens when you don’t follow my orders?” It hurts and it breaks a sacred trust. You can’t call it a natural consequence because, by definition, a natural consequence happens naturally. It cannot be enforced. I can’t think of one single real life situation where your belongings, from inside your house, disappear when they don’t get put back where they belong.

Let your children find the joy in the tasks that are important to them. Acknowledge the work they do. I promise if you look closely, you will see that they are working. I promise if you let them find the true value in doing the jobs that make the home and community run sufficiently, that over the years, the jobs that they do will evolve. Someday they will see the value in picking their shoes up, loading the dishwasher, and scrubbing the floor. The sooner you get out of their way, the sooner they will learn.

Until then, thank them for washing the Legos and crushing the cans.

About the Author

Bridget McNamara

Bridget is a homeschooling mother of three energetic, curious, freethinking children. She has earned her Early Childhood Development Associate Credential, with over a decade of professional experience in the field. Above all, she considers herself a devoted advocate for the rights of children.

Content image by ThreeIfbybike via Flickr under CC

Comments

  1. I’ve heard this theory before, and I have been doing it for the past handful of years. I admit my house is a mess. I can’t keep up with the mess three people make when I am the only one cleaning or doing chores, plus the only one earning income, plus the only one caring for the car, yard, house, bills, and life in general.

    My kids do not help. Seeing me work, they sit and use the computer. Needing a clean spoon or dish to eat with, my 18 y/o washes one for himself and leaves the rest piled up in the sink or on the counter. If I ask for help with something (like emptying the dishwasher), he usually forgets and doesn’t do it. Every week I cook every meal, do all the laundry, stack up all the dishes, do all the grocery shopping, do all the tidying and putting away…it’s exhausting. I literally can’t do it all, so the house becomes a mess. And we live in it. And I HATE the mess. I just am resigned to not having the time an energy to do it all myself.

    I don’t know how people who do this make it work. I truly don’t get it. The only time my kids really help is when we have someone coming to visit and we spend 3-4 days cleaning to make the house presentable. With someone coming, there is enough motivation for them to help. I try to keep it up after the person goes home and I gradually lose the battle. 3 people making messes and 1 single mom cleaning just doesn’t allow me to keep up with the tasks.

    If someone has more details on how you make this work, I’d be grateful. I can’t figure it out.

  2. I disagree with most of this post. Giving children jobs to do and expecting them to do it with out reward is part of growing up and gaining responsibility. In our house every one does their share according to their ability. We don’t have charts, but everyone knows they are responsible for taking care of certain things. I don’t agree with throwing away toys when they are not put away, but there is a real life scenario here where items disappear if you don’t put them away. For example, if you leave things laying out in the yard, and they are no longer there the next day. There are natural consequences for not doing your share around the house – based on the jobs or help they are to provide. I think the author’s way of running a house leads kids to feel entitled to never have to do any housework that they can’t find “intrinsic joy” in. That is not the real world and it is not a parent’s job to make sure their children only experience joy throughout childhood. Many, many times people have to do things they don’t want to do because it’s the right thing to do, it needs to be done, or it will lead to delayed gratification. I’m not saying this author’s children are not helping, it sounds like they are, but they aren’t helping run the house according to their abilities. This is one person’s prescription, based on their narrow worldview, which does not seem based on preparing children to be responsible future citizens.

  3. Thanks for the feedback! Just to clarifying, I originally wrote the heart of this piece two years ago, as a journal entry. My kitchen do are now 6, 9, and 11. Their chore duties have definitely evolved. My 11 year old cleans the kitty litter boxes, picks up and vacuums the playroom, prepares meals and snacks, continues to care for her little brother. My 9 year old folds laundry and empties the dishwasher. My 6 year old puts his own toys away and cares for the pets. So, they are indeed learning to care for our home, doing things they don’t necessarily “want” to do because they understand it needs to be done. This works for our family and wanted to share this method with others, in case a fresh perspective could help another family. Best wishes to all in doing what works for your family!

  4. Hey Bridget!
    I have been “Parenting by Connection” for a couple of years now. Reducing my expectations was a big part in allowing me time for connection. My boys 6 and 8 help with a few things, but not at the cost of Connection. They clear their plates, put away​ folded laundry and help clean up toys. I do more than I used to but we have more connection. However there are times I flat out need help! Sometimes they are helpful and sometimes it’s a fight and sometimes if they are trying to save up for something, I pay them for certain chores. Recently I pointed out to my son that I needed help with dishes and laundry because I had taken him to a playdate instead of stay home and do chores. I explained that he didn’t “owe me”, but simply that we are a family and we work together, there is give and take, he responded well to that. But I don’t feel like we are quite where your family is and I would love to hear a little more details on the in-between, how did you get there from when you initially changed your parenting style?

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