For the longest time, my kids didn’t do any chores. It was like I expected them to pick them up at the chore department and turned it into some sort of generational issue. A voice in my head would say, “Why don’t kids do chores these days?” I turned into Dana Carvey doing a grumpy old man character, lamenting about “my day” and how things have changed. Dang kids.
The truth is nothing changed. It was my own fault. Chores are still a thing. Kids still do them, just as adults do. As the father, it was my job to put these jobs out and make sure my children took part in them. It wasn’t that they weren’t doing helpful stuff around the house. It was that I wasn’t directing them to those helpful things. It was my fault, not theirs.
When I moved into my own place in January of this year, I made it my mission to give these kids tasks to complete. My house. My rules. Our chores.
No longer would every job be mine. Sure, I’d do the lion’s share of the work, but the cubs needed to pitch in too. Prepare for sensational news, Simba. There’s stuff to clean.
I readied myself for backlash. After all, my daughter was 12 at the time and while she kept her room impeccably neat and got grades that make middle school me jealous, traditional chores were never on her agenda. So, I made her a deal.
While kids cost money and certain expenses are inescapable, extras would have to be worked off. If I give her $20 to go out somewhere and she returns with no change, she knows that she has to do some sort of in-home work to make up for it. That was the rule.
Surprisingly, the backlash I was prepared for never surfaced.
From the moment the rules kicked in, she was on board. It was like she was always waiting for it. This thing that I thought I would have to fight tooth and nail to make a reality was accepted as if it was long overdue. Soon, she was making deals with me; asking me to buy her an iPad app in exchange for vacuuming the stairs. She knew she could get what she wants by working for it and not through sheer chance. I felt silly for waiting so long. I felt I had been doing her a disservice up until now.
It’s not about the money or any sort of return on investment. To be honest, for the amount this kid spends, she’d have to serve as both my legal counsel and dentist to do enough work to balance it out. It’s not even about the jobs themselves. It’s about teaching life skills.
Where else is she going to learn to make her own lunch or clean out the bathtub? It’s not as if every kid jumps into their first job with all the knowledge in the world. In fact, making your kid wash the dishes will only give you dirty dishes that you have to rewash anyway. The initial introduction to specific tasks never goes smoothly and, ironically, doubles a parent’s work-load. You’ll end up picking up lint they missed with the dustbuster and scrubbing hardened cheese from plates that were put back in the cabinet. If you want to make an omelet, you have to break some eggs. You clean those up too.
But you do it. You do it because you know you’re teaching your kids.
You do it because it’s not about you. It’s about them. The first time I had my daughter make her own food, she stood there confused. Now, I walk into the kitchen to find her eating macaroni and cheese she made herself. The newest one is to make meals for all three of us occasion too. I even bought her a little chef hat on Amazon that she will refuse to wear. Everyone’s excited. I try to sneak pictures when she’s not looking.
This newfound love of work isn’t limited to my neurotypical child either. Lucas, my nonverbal ten year old, isn’t immune to helping out and he’s just as into it as she is. Or, rather, not completely against the idea.
While he can’t do involved work assignments on his own, he can pitch-in around the house and work on life skills he will need as he grows. If I’m making dinner, I call him over and have him take part. Lucas has rolled pizza dough, sprinkled cheese, and poured his own drinks with help. Any spill he makes, he helps wipe up. This week he started watering the flowers. Just like his sister, I watched as he went from confused observer to competent participant. I couldn’t be prouder of them both.
The real roadblock that comes for some parents when dolling out duties to the littles is that inner voice that tells you it’s not worth the hassle. You worry that assigning jobs will only lead to arguments, resentment, and half-finished chores that you have to do yourself.
Well, rest your worried heads. I’m here to tell you that all those things will definitely happen.
Yeah. Sorry. Prepare for that. While my kids are on board, in the grand scheme of things, there have been pushback moments. That’s too bad, though. One day, I’ll be dead. When I am, there will still be lunches to make and clothes to clean. Now is the time to learn these skills so that tomorrow they can be done.
Parenting isn’t easy. Even the parts that many assume are easy, like giving your kids jobs to help with, aren’t easy. In the end, it goes back to the one chore that every caregiver to children has to do – build better people for the next generation. I look at my kids and know I am. That’s worth all the money in the world.
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