Kids and Chores: Chilling The Chore Wars
When it comes to kids and housework, the blasted terrain is familiar: a dirty house, balky children, and frazzled, frustrated parents.
Tired parents try it all, from chore charts to screaming fits. Canny children engage in housework sabotage, selective hearing or childish irresponsibility to duck assignments. The noise levels--and stress levels--rise along with the stacks of dishes.
How to negotiate a peace on the issue of children and chores? Try these family-tested strategies to calm the conflict and gain the goal:
The Buck(et) Stops Here
We have met the enemy, and it is us! Lingering ambivalence about our family's life and our own choices can keep us from successfully gaining kid cooperation where household chores are concerned.
Perhaps we grew up in a home heavy with sex-role stereotypes but have chosen a different viewpoint. Maybe we work, and feel a lingering guilt. Some of us may still harbor childish resentment against our own parents, and feel uneasy about "making" children do household chores.
Whatever the reason, an ambivalent mindset can sabotage attempts to enlist children in the fight. Too often, we announce a new regime of household chores in a moment of anger and frustration. Elaborate chore charts are made and ignored after the third day. Family meetings are held which settle nothing more than another layer of dust on the television.
This time, resolve to succeed. The place to start is with our own thinking. Housework is an inevitable part of life. Just as we prepare our children for their adult lives by sending them to school, so we need to prepare them to manage and maintain a home. Housework is an integral part of life for everyone, man, woman, and child. In today's busy families, there's no excuse for anybody to shirk their portion of the necessary work.
A parent who knows this truth in his or her bones has a huge advantage. No more peaks-and-valleys cycles of "You will help with the chores!" followed by a relapse into "Ehhh, why bother? It's easier to do it myself!" Calm, determined parents who view household work as just another life skill are inoculated against childish manipulation and evasion. Motivated by parental love and responsibility, you'll go farther than fits-and-starts efforts fired by anger and frustration.
The easiest way to secure your children's assistance with housework is to train them to it from the time they are small. A one-year-old will giggle if handed a clean diaper to dust the legs of the furniture. Preschoolers enjoy being with parents, working with parents. Nothing can be so much fun as washing a car with a five-year-old! (A pause for a tear-in-eye here, remembering my five-year-old younger son staggering from the garage with the car-wash bucket and supplies, and announcing, proudly, "Mommy, we're the Clean-Up Chappies!")
Problem is, these little ones' efforts don't yet have the power to be of great help. In truth, you'll probably have to follow behind that one-year-old with his diaper duster, removing the specks of dirt he's rearranged. Even when you match the chore to the child, the early years require some extra work from you.
Listen up, parents of tiny children: just do it! You have two tasks during these years. The short-term goal is to get the house clean; the more important duty is to teach your children to work. Focus on the first task to the exclusion of the second, and you're going to have "They think I'm the maid!" days, weeks, years in your future. An investment in your child's learning now will reap abundant fruit in just a few years. Neglect this job, and you're walking into a lion's den once little ones are little no longer.