Chore Theory

How do you teach your kids how to clean and care for your home?

Some mamas make elaborate chore charts. Or they use a complicated system to keep track of when who does what.

To me, keeping track is a chore.

I could, but I can’t. You know?

But I don’t want lazy or incompetent children either. I dream of teenagers leaving for college with the skills to cook a feast, deep clean a house, organize the papers that inevitably fill a home, and keep things neat and tidy. (Oh, and manage an income and budget–but that’s it’s own topic.)

Here’s my Theory these days. It’s subject to change, to evolution, to the scrap pile. First, I’m teaching my kids according to ability and size to do the basics. That’s not rocket science. Second, I expect them to do what I ask when I ask it. Third, if they need help, I will gladly teach them to do what I’ve asked (teach them, not do it entirely for them).

I believe the second point will help me reach my dreams of unintimidated teenagers. I don’t give myself a chore chart. I do keep a mental (and sometimes physical) list of what needs to be done and then I do what presents itself.

I don’t plan ahead to drop a glass bottle of vegennaise on the tile. That comes uninvited. With it comes cleaning up broken glass, wiping down cabinets, moping a bit of tile, and probably some laundry.

I don’t even plan ahead to make chocolate chip cookies. With that comes an impromptu run to the grocery store, a bunch of dirty dishes, and the discovery that oh boy the oven needs to be cleaned.

I don’t plan ahead for weeds to fill the decorative rocks in our front yard. With weeds come rummaging in the garage for tools, part of an afternoon of yard work, and muddy shoes in the laundry room.

I can’t possibly plan for every mess and every need our home will have in a given week. Call me spontaneous, but I don’t want to be roped to a chore chart. I don’t want to hear Mom, that’s not one of my jobs or But that’s not on my chart!

Instead, it goes something like this: I recognize something that needs to be done (floor swept, salad vegetables washed and chopped, groceries put away, sinks cleaned, etc.). If one of my kids is capable of doing it, I give them the responsibility:

* John, I need you to unload the dishwasher. (He’s eight.)

* Hava, please get all the garbage and toys out of the van and put everything where it belongs. (She’s six.)

* David, go round up the library books and put them back on the library shelf. (He’s four.)

* Kids, your clean clothes need to be put away. Please take it to your room and put it away in the correct drawers.

* Alright guys, the homeschool room looks like a pigsty. How fast can you get it looking right?

And if they don’t choose to cooperate then they get another chance to practice helping the family (ahem, another chore).

I don’t want to say “Please help Mom put away the laundry” if it’s their laundry. I try to use responsible language: “please do this” notplease do this for me.” It needs to be done, no matter who notices the need.

I want them to take ownership of this home where they are spending their happy childhoods, not to identify it as their parents’ home (and therefore their parents’ sole responsibility). I try to say “Please don’t slam our doors” not “please don’t slam the door” or “don’t slam my door.”

This work in progress is my Chore Theory. What works for you?

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