Which is faster and easier: cleaning your kid’s room, or getting your kid to clean his own room?
Yes, of course that’s a rhetorical question. I’m pretty sure that in the time it takes me to bug Joe and Belle about picking up their rooms, before they actually get the job done I could clean their rooms ten times myself. I think I could turn one of my son’s dirty socks into a cute puppet in the space of time it takes him to get it into the laundry room. I think I could actually read one of my daughter’s novels in the space of time it takes her to get it picked up off the floor and back onto the book shelf.
But the fact that it’s faster and easier to do most things myself doesn’t mean I’m going to do everything. Heck, if we wanted the easy way out we’d never have become moms in the first place, right? So most moms I know, including myself, struggle with getting their kids to do chores in the hopes that even though it’s harder now it’ll get easier later, that it will someday become their habit, that at some point the tables will turn and the kids will decide it’s actually less painful to just get things done than to put up with their mother’s constant nagging.
I’ve decided that summertime provides the ideal opportunity for a renewed focus on chores, since my kids don’t have the obligations of school, homework, and after-school activities. Part of my new approach, this summer, was to start with a list of ALL the chores that need to be done in order to run our household, not just the ones I want my kids to do. Some examples:
* Buy all the groceries
* Take out the trash
* Do all the laundry
* Feed the dogs and cats
* Maintain the vehicles
* Sweep and mop the floors
* Cook the meals
* Do the dishes
Obviously, there are some chores on our list that my 9 and 11 year-olds can’t do. They can’t do the grocery shopping, or keep the cars fueled and serviced, or do all the cooking, much as I wish they could. So when I asked them to sit down at the beginning of the summer and help me divvy up the chores, it wasn’t just about what they would have to do. It was clear there were a lot of big jobs their father and I would be doing. I think that gave them some perspective on the big picture.
And I did do some serious off-loading from my own list. One of Belle and Joe’s new chores this summer, for instance, is to do all the laundry. Joe does the dark colors, Belle does the whites. And yes, I’m talking about clothes I actually plan on wearing.
This requires a stiff upper-lip on my part because I know there’s a good chance that some things might get ruined, or at least dyed an unattractive color. Which brings up the second problem with requiring your kids to do chores. Not only will they never do them as readily or quickly as you will, but they won’t do them as well.
It’s important to do things well, but I think doing them in the first place is even more important. So I made up my mind at the beginning of the summer that I was going to live with the broken dishes, dyed clothes and dirty corners that would inevitably result from my kids doing their portion of the household chores. And I must say a reduction in criticism seems to have created a slight increase in Belle and Joe’s enthusiasm for the work at hand.
I’m hoping that as long as they see me working right beside them, and that as long as I make participation more important than perfection, they’ll find some real satisfaction in having made a contribution. In addition to the satisfaction of a clean t-shirt.
And maybe someday, getting them to do work won’t be so much . . . work.