Nov 10

What About Chores?

I recently received an email about chores, and it’s a question I’ve gotten a LOT.  I’ve written about the topic on my blog before, most recently here, but I wanted to answer the question publicly again.  Sometimes hearing something on a different day, in a different way, makes all the difference.


How did you handle chores? Or keeping the house clean? Until the children decided that they would help, did you do all of cleaning yourself? What about their rooms? Cleaning off the table at dinner?
The most useful thing I ever did when it came to chores and housekeeping was to shift my own perspective. Yes, we all live and work together as a family, and yes, it’s completely appropriate to ask for help when you need it.  But the fact is, my children don’t owe me anything.  They didn’t ask to be here.  It was the other way around! We chose to bring them into the world, and we chose to bring them into our family.   I think part of my job as a mother is to show them what it means to give unconditionally … of my time and my attention of course … but also to give them a nice, safe home, and a clean space.
We all go through phases when it comes to chores, kids and adults alike.  Some things just need to be done though, no matter how we feel about it.  So we just do them, and try to do them as cheerfully as possible.  :)  I do do most of the cleaning myself, but it’s not because people won’t help me (they almost always help when I ask.) I do it because it needs to be done, because I can do it quickly, and because it’s a way to bless my family.  If I feel myself being grumpy about it, or feel like I’m becoming a martyr, then that’s a sign that something is “off” – usually within myself! – and that I need to address it.  
As for their own rooms, that’s their space, to keep however they’d like.   There have been discussions about things like food for sure (apple cores = ants), and I’ll put out a general call for dirty clothes when I’m doing laundry.  And if I literally can’t walk to their beds to say goodnight, that’s a safety issue, and they’ll gladly clear a path.  :)  Other than those caveats, their rooms are theirs, to keep as messy or neat as they see fit.  Every so often, I’ll ask if they want help cleaning/sorting/decluttering, and if they say yes, we crank up some music and work on it together.  
Simple things like clearing off the dinner table?  We’ve always brought our own plates up to the sink.  It’s just become a habit. Sometimes I’ll do the rest.  Sometimes my husband will do it. Sometimes I’ll ask for help.  And with 6 people in the family, a simple request of “Can you guys help get this stuff put away?” gets it all done quickly.  :)
In our house, there was never really a “until the children decided to help.”  They’ve always helped, save for a time or two when they’ve opted out (just as I’ve opted out.  Just as my husband has opted out.)  But yes, if people weren’t wanting/able/willing to help, I would absolutely do it myself, and wouldn’t even begin to expect others to help me until I could make peace with doing it cheerfully myself.

  • Jennifer Lehr

    Personally i dislike the word “chore”! While it can mean “a routine task”, culturally we lean more towards this definition: “an unpleasant or burdensome task.” So just starting there skews our perception. Parents so often want to know: How can i get my kids to do unpleasant and burdensome things (with a smile!)? Essentially I agree with you. I love what A.S. Neill (founder of Summerhill) wrote about this topic:

    “The average child dimly realizes that he is fed and clothed by his parents without any effort on his part. He feels that such care is his natural right, but he realizes that on the other hand he is expected and obliged to do a hundred menial tasks and many disagreeable chores, which the parents themselves evade….

    In Summerhill, we used to have a community law that provided that every child over 12 and every member of the staff must do two hours of work each week on the grounds. The pay was a token pay of a nickel and hour. If you did not work, you were fined a dime. A few, teachers included, were content to pay the fines. Of those who worked, most had their eyes on the clock because there was no play component in the work, and therefore the work bored everyone. The law was re-examined, and the children abolished it by an almost unanimous vote.

    A few years ago, we needed an infirmary. We decided to build one ourselves—a proper building of brick and cement. None of us had ever laid a brick, but we started in. A few pupils helped to dig the foundations and knocked down some old walls to get bricks. But the children demanded payment. We refused. In the end, the infirmary was built by the teachers and visitors. The job was just too dull for children, and to their young minds the need for an infirmary was too remote. They had no self-interest in it. But some time later when they wanted a bicycle shed, they built one all by themselves without any help from the staff.

    I am writing of children—not as we adults think they should be—but as they really are. Their community sense—their sense of social responsibility—does not develop until the age of 18 or more. Their interests are immediate and the future does not exist for them.

    I have never yet seen a lazy child. What is called laziness is either lack of interest or a lack of health. A healthy child cannot be idle, he has to be doing something all day long.

    I find it impossible to get youths of seventeen to help me plant potatoes or weed onions, although the same boys will spend hours souping up motor engines or washing cars…It took me a long time to accept this phenomenon. The truth began to dawn on me one day when I was digging my brother’s garden. I didn’t enjoy the job, and it came to me suddlenly that what was wrong was that I was digging a garden that meant nothing to me. And my garden means nothing to the boys, whereas their bikes or radion mean a lot to them. True altruism is a long time in coming, and it never loses its fact of selfishness….”

    (from an old post of mine on the subject: http://goodjobandotherthings.com/clean-your-room-please/)


    • http://www.jennifermcgrail.com/ pathlesstaken

      That was excellent! Thanks for sharing.

  • Angela

    Hi, Jen! Thanks for this post! I completely get it. Any advice or words of wisdom as our family transitions to this? This hasn’t always been our approach so right now my kids are opting out A LOT! I know that’s ok but the messes they leave in their wake are frustrating me. We have a very small house for 8 people and a certain level of tidiness needs to exist for peaceful co-existence in this beautiful little space. I, myself, am working on non-attachment and creating a more simplistic environment. This is a big task for me, not that I can’t let go of the objects but there are 8 of us so there are lots and lots of things that aren’t mine to control. Visual chaos really inhibits my ability to think clearly and to be present with my kids so I feel stuck between their freedom to have all their things and my freedom to have the simple home my soul craves. I am positive this is something I have to sit with but any thoughts you can share are appreciated! Thanks!

    • http://www.jennifermcgrail.com/ pathlesstaken

      Just giving it time. And patience. :) Being gentle with yourself as well as with your kids. Another thing I think is really helpful is to really identify for yourself (make a list if you’re a list person) what things you really need to have done every day in order to keep your sanity, and what things you can choose to let go of for the time being. Once you have a concrete idea of what you need to control the chaos, it’s a lot easier to come up with a plan!

  • darfen

    like like like!!