I recently received a story that I decided to run this month; it’s Sandra Gordon’s piece on the importance of giving our kids chores. On the face of it, this would seem to be a “Well, duh,” type topic. Don’t parents know to give their kids chores? In our parents’ day, it was a given: children were expected to do their part around the house. Some kids tended to siblings after school or took care of animals; others cleaned the house (my Aunt Ann was a stickler for that), washed clothes, even cooked dinner. I would venture to say that happens still, in some households, somewhere. And if yours is one where chores rule, then my hat is off to you.
But I think more parents fall into a feeble state of exhaustion, and chores are something that have gone by the boards. The thinking goes that kids today are so swamped with homework, sports, and other extracurricular activities that their free time at home has dwindled down to nothing. Is it that kids don’t have time to assume some of the mundane duties that keep a house from looking like a pig pen? Or is it that we’re too tired to hold their feet to the fire and make sure they do what we ask?
As I pondered this, I got curious. I asked my colleagues around the office what type of chores their kids did. Lo and behold, many merely shrugged and mumbled sheepishly, “Well, not that much, actually.” It turned out there was hardly one among us who could outline exactly the chores their kids were expected to do each week. Are we guilty of raising a generation of slackers? Hmm.
Perhaps this also goes hand-in-hand with a story I read in the New York Times recently about helicopter parents who are extending their reach after kids turn 18. These parents continue to shepherd their now adult kids during college and beyond. Chastising teachers at universities, horning in on job applications, making sure they ease the way for their kids no matter the venue. Good grief. I don’t mean to equate forsaking chores for swooping in to rescue our kids every time the going gets tough. But I do see a correlation here.
Even as I write, I find myself falling into the same guilty trap. My son, while very willing to do a task when I ask him, doesn’t have a list of tasks that he alone is responsible for. I could put this in place, but I haven’t. Often, it’s simply easier to do it myself than to negotiate the terms. I think back to several friends who were more diligent than I when their children were little, installing chore charts, making sure their kids, even as preschoolers, began to share the common tasks that must be done to keep a household afloat.
My friend, Barbara, was a big fan of instilling that work ethic in her kids. In fact, she started each of her children learning a variety of tasks once they turned 4. I can remember walking into her kitchen and seeing her youngest boy bringing in a stack of dishes from the table. Into a pile on the counter they went, while his sister rinsed them off and prepared them for the dishwasher.
I remember at the time actually feeling a little sorry for her kids, thinking they were somehow being robbed of their childhood. Wow, was I wrong on that one. It’s actually the opposite that’s true. She was preparing them for life as a contributing member of society. What I often tell my son when we’re working around the house is that we all have to pitch in to make the house liveable. It’s the idea of teamwork that is important. The idea that we’re better when we work together towards a common goal than when we are only serving ourselves.
Doing chores prepares kids for the real world, where managers will expect tasks to be done on time, where deadlines will have to be met — or else. If our kids never have experience with that, or if somehow they feel excused from having to contribute, then they’re going to be in for a rude awakening. Ultimately, I think we’ve got to get back to expecting more from our kids. Not for them to simply be all about their own academic efforts or social life. But to be working and doing things that improve the greater common good. Cleaning up the house each week moves us a step closer to that goal.