Edgy Mama: Can we get a little more child labor around here?

“I’m not going to clean up my room unless you help me,” says the boy.

“Do NOT give your mother ultimatums,” I say.

“But Mom, I don’t have any old tomatoes,” he replies.

Experts say that chores help kids learn responsibility and build self-esteem. That’s great, but I need more non-negotiable child labor around here.

We’ve tried a variety of ways to implement chores, from tying them to allowance to making chore charts to telling the kids that this is what you do when you’re part of a family, no reward needed.

Our problem is consistency. Potty training was the last time I was able to be truly consistent. And though I’d like more help around the house, I don’t have the same motivation I did while toilet training. If you’ve ever changed a 3-year-old’s poop-filled diaper you know what I mean.

If you read the parenting literature, you’ll find a variety of views on chores and how to make them a part of our kids’ lives. There are folks who are hard-core about tying monetary rewards to chores, those who are hard-core about non-monetary rewards, and those who believe chores are part of life and shouldn’t be rewarded. I find myself liking the latter camp, because I think it’s good for people to learn early that they have to take responsibility for chores with no rewards other than a job well-done. After all, no one pays me or gives me candy for vacuuming the house or cleaning the kitchen.

If you need help, you can print age-appropriate chore lists off the Internet and tack them to your fridge. Every once in a while, my girl, who has an organized nature, will sit down and make herself a chore list. But after a couple of days, we forget about the list, or she hasn’t remembered to check off the boxes, and generally, completing the chore list becomes, well, a chore.

I did look at some of the lists to see what my kids were and weren’t doing that was deemed age-appropriate by someone who knows about these things. Turns out my 7-year-old’s doing pretty well-he cleans up his room, feeds the pets, helps empty the dishwasher and clear the table, and occasionally vacuums under the breakfast bar. My 10-year-old has basically the same chores, however, so she hasn’t moved up to more age appropriate chores such as cleaning the bathroom. Cleaning the bathroom? A 10-year-old? Yes, that’s on the Internet chore list. That seems a bit much as I’m sure I never cleaned one until I was in my 30s. And that was only under duress-and the fear that the mold would grow into mutant sentient goo and take over.

When I think of farm kids and wonder if I should be tougher on my kids. Make them suffer a bit. Make them earn their keep, as the elders say. At my suburban farm, I could send them out into the back yard at 5:30 a.m. to feed the squirrels and milk the dog. OK, strike that. And by the way, I’m not getting up at 5:30 unless there’s a damn good reason.

What seems to work for our family is for everyone to have clear chores that take place at the same time each day or week. In the mornings, the kids take turns helping empty the dishwasher. After dinner, they set and clear the table. On Sunday afternoon, they’re required to clean their rooms. When the sumo cat begs for food, they give him some (of course they’re motivated by the fact that he’ll bite their ankles if he doesn’t get a full bowl immediately).

Like our kids, Enviro-spouse needs clearly proscribed chores. When he’s in town, his jobs are to clean the kitchen, do the laundry and take out the trash. All of which he does without complaint or reminder. However, all other chores are officially off his radar. If I ask nicely, he might vacuum on occasion; however, he thinks clean floors are over-rated. He wouldn’t notice a dust bunny unless it nibbled on his ear.

So, in a way, E-spouse has taught me how to assign chores to the kids. I need to be clear, and, somehow, consistent (we know I can be consistent if you wave a dirty diaper in my face-that’s not only gross but impractical). For example, I’m trying to get the kids more involved in the laundry routine, though that’s provoking arguments. It seems, however, that just as us adults fold in front of the TV, kids can be cajoled into doing the same. Extra screen time is a rarely used but much-coveted reward. I know, I’m against rewards, but as I’ve said before, laundry is the Sisyphean stone of parenthood, and I’ll take help with it however I can get it.

Chore battles will continue and probably worsen as our kids become teenagers. And yet, at some point they’ll learn that if mama’s happy (i.e., the house is relatively straightened up and no one’s in danger of dust poisoning), everybody’s happy. And mama doesn’t want any old tomatoes.

Anne Fitten “Edgy Mama” Glenn writes about a number of subjects, including parenting, at www.edgymama.com.

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3 thoughts on “Edgy Mama: Can we get a little more child labor around here?

  1. restless

    My boys, 9 & 11 have been “cleaning” their shared bathroom for probably two years. My oldest has improved in his technique but my youngest, not so much; I can’t tell he cleaned. Every now and then (when i’m forced to use their potty because someone is occupying the other bathroom in the house, and i notice how foul it is in there) i have to go in and “reset” their bathroom, cleaning the black scum set up in the sink and toilet. This is the only chores they do consistently – every Friday. We don’t pay for chores but i recently charged my oldest $20 to clean his room while he was gone on a field trip. He’s keeping it pretty clean these days.

  2. Elisa

    I swear, Anne, we send sisterly vibes to one another. I am about to blog about chores and allowances when I read your piece. Now I have to incorporate it at MotherTalkers! :)

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