I love contributing to family. I hate chores. As a child, chores were tasks to be checked off a list so I could get on to other things. A checklist made clear that I’d either succeeded or failed. I often felt ignored. Patted on the head for tasks that meant nothing to me so I could disappear into a hobby that meant everything to me.
“The experts” say chores are good for kids. That kids who do chores get better grades in school. Good grades are another overused measure of success or failure. A regimented household of chore charts and good grades can be miserable… especially for the parent who has to police and punish accordingly.
These same experts would also tell us that kids are over scheduled — so pick your poison.
I Want A Better Way
The short-term rant of any parent resorting to a chore-chart is that they just want a clean house. One that everyone participates in keeping livable. But the same kid who just swept the floor as expected will litter that same floor with her shoes five minutes later and that fact will drive you nuts. Tensions build. We bicker about little things that have little meaning, but what’s the end goal?
What Chores Represent
The larger lesson is what household contributions prepare kids for down the road. Are you preparing them to take care of themselves and their own home when they are grown? Are you teaching them to value their contribution to their family and their communities?
The kitchen can be a great place to experience both. After school, I serve up a glass of milk or a bowl of popcorn and listen to the stories of my child’s day. I pretend not to look if they tear up over a spat with their friend or when they have trouble with a teacher. I wash dishes or cook dinner and I listen.
I hand them a potato to peel, a jar to open or a dish to dry and put away as I go. Though less regimented and with no charts to check, contribution to family is valued in my house. I may not have a chore list but I expect my kids to help when asked or where they see that help is needed.
My kids are also required to volunteer outside of the home. They choose to help in ways they find meaningful. One daughter planted spring bulbs on the library grounds. The other volunteered on the inside, stocking books. One traveled to Costa Rica and planted mangrove trees. The other mucked horse stalls for an equestrian therapy stable. I value all of these experiences over an unloaded dishwasher.
I have no daily checklist of duties for me or my children. Instead, my kids contribute to the greater good when the need arises. I hope they see the value and also know they are valued. To me, that’s family. That’s community. That’s the way the world turns more gently and kindly around.