So in general I am a laissez faire type of mom. I started out that way beginning with my first pregnancy and have become even more so as time goes on and I see with hindsight how many things were not worth the worry I put into them.
One of the things I don’t worry about is chore assignments. As you might imagine, with four kids living in the home full time it gets pretty messy, and I don’t prefer to live in a mess, so I do a lot of cleaning. Most moms give their kids chore assignments, and I think that’s cool, but it’s just too much extra work for me to try to implement, track, and enforce. I can’t be bothered. I don’t dislike housework that much, so it’s easier for me to just get it done the way I like it done, when I want it done.
Sometimes I have worried that my kids will grow up to be lazy and never learn to pull their weight and that I am a bad mom for not making them work more around the house, so Ive come up with my own kind of housework teaching system which I will explain to you now.
It was informed by my own instincts, as well as by the radical unschooling philosophy. (I’m not a radical unschooler, but I am inspired by some things from that philosophy.) I also applied the lessons I learned from trying in the past to implement regular chore systems that never worked the way I hoped. Very often I ended up with whiny kids who just wanted to fight and complain that their siblings had an easier job, or kids who did a poor, sloppy job while rolling their eyes.
So here’s what I do instead:
I watch my kids to see what kind of jobs they naturally don’t mind doing, and I ask them to do it once in a while. For example, I know my older son doesn’t mind stopping what he’s doing to go fetch me a can of tomatoes from the basement, so I get him to do that fairly often. I know my daughter hates to be interrupted in her work, so I wouldn’t ask that from her.
I observe to see when a child is in a calm, peaceful mood and I ask them for assistance with whatever I need help with at the moment. The other day I asked my 8 year old if he could hand wash the dishes that don’t go into the dishwasher because I was busy cooking and didn’t have time to do both. He was in a helpful mood and agreed.
Once he got started he remarked that the dishwater was nice like a bath for his hands, and it was fun to play with the bubbles. Ever since then he’s been asking me to do more dishes! He even made a game out of it, working his way towards the largest, dirtiest dishes which he calls the “final bosses”, which is delightful. One of the best things to me was when, about an hour after he had washed the dishes yesterday he saw that a new pile of dishes had accumulated and he exclaimed in horror “But I JUST did that!!! Ugh!”. So he learned several things: how to wash dishes, that washing dishes can be kind of pleasant work, and that the work of dishes doesn’t stay done for long!
I gamify the work and set a short time limit. If the house is all a mess and I want some quick help, I’ll put on a five or ten minute timer and ask everyone to do as much cleaning as they can before the timer goes off. They like this game, especially if it’s done right before Daddy comes home. Then they get to point out to Daddy with pride all the work they did.
My day to day goal of having a livable house happens mostly due to my own work with a little help from the kids, but my long term goal for my children to know how to do housework so they can be useful adults someday is also being accomplished a little bit at a time.
My littlest one (she’s 6.5) ran up to me yesterday telling me she had a surprise for me. I followed her to her bedroom which she had totally tidied up. She had put away all the toys and clothes that were everywhere, and even tidied up the surface of the dresser and made her bed. This was truly a surprise, I had assumed she was up in her room making a mess as usual. This showed me that she knows how to tidy up a chaotic room without any guidance from start to finish. Great skill.
So that’s how my technique works. I like to keep in mind that all of my most important goals for child-rearing are long term goals, and not to get too caught up in the small day to day problems.
I feel sure that if I were to force the kids to do housework every day they would grow to hate it and resent it, maybe for their whole life as some adults do. Plus I would have to fight them to do it all the time which is just unpleasant and day-ruining.
I think the best solution to housework would tend be differ depending on your lifestyle, your kids’ ages, the personalities in your family and other factors. What works for you? Let me know in the comments!