Many parenting resources will list the many reasons why children need to do chores. And they are all true: chores teach children essential life skills; chores cause children to focus on a non-preferred task; chores instill delayed gratification; chores give children a chance to earn their allowance; chores teach children to plan and complete a task. Every one of these things is important, and they’re all good reasons to enforce a regular set of chores with your children. I already know that some of you are very, very good at this.
But. Confession time, y’all: I’m not good at this. I am very, very bad at this. I have allowed an immense amount of slacking on chores in our life together.
But I am thinking about chores today in the context of our new social distancing way of life. I think this may be a small turning point in my management of household chores. In my home right now, I’m not thinking about allowance or life skills, but I am thinking about how to get through these weeks together. So I am enlisting my child to do chores she never had to do before. It’s my hope that it will help her to learn some important lessons about teamwork, endurance, and effort while we are at home together.
Chores give children a chance to practice cooperation to complete a task. Children, as we all know, are naturally rather self-centered. It is normal that they would prefer watching TV over unloading the dishwasher. But participating in household chores gives your children a chance to work together with the rest of the family to complete a task – even if it is as simple as all pitching in to tidy the kitchen after dinner or to sort and put away a pile of laundry. Completing tasks in is not only an essential school skill, but also a way of creating a sense of family solidarity. This takes growth and practice; it has taken us years to progress from fighting about chores to completing chores grudgingly to pitching in together.
Chores give children a chance to practice endurance. Moms and dads, you’re working hard right now. I hear from some of you that you are working from home full time, with all your kids at home trying to maneuver distance learning, you have way more cooking and dishes to do than you ever thought possible, and the laundry never stops. We are beginning our seventh week of distancing; this is an endurance event, and perhaps one of the most valuable lessons that we can share with our children is how to keep putting one foot in front of the other, because we don’t have a lot of choice. Let them practice a little grit and endurance – it will benefit them at a time in the future when there is a lot of unglamorous work to be done.
Chores give children a chance to practice appreciating the labor of others. I know many, many moms who feel – at least at one time or another – that their work at home feels unseen and unappreciated. Though my daughter still rolls her eyes a bit when drafted to laundry or dishwasher duty, she has also begun to express that she sees – and even appreciates – what’s done for her each day because now she understands, a bit more, how much work others do for her benefit. It’s not the appreciation of me personally that I desire; I don’t desire to be praised. But I want my child to appreciate others and see the labor they do as valuable, and I think sharing in everyday work is a helpful way to promote that appreciation.
Friends, I have drafted my family to do things because they need to get done and I can’t do it all myself. I have often thought that I needed to start teaching my child how to wash dishes and do laundry and vacuum and other things, but those are just process skills that can be learned fairly easily. But perhaps more importantly at this moment in time, I want us to pull together as a team to get through each day. I need my family to pitch in. I am not Supermom and my energy is finite. This in turn creates an opportunity for my family to respond to my humanity, and to rise to the occasion. It’s an imperfect process – it probably is for you, too.