When our kids are little, we focus on lots of fundamentals with them. We make sure they say please and thank-you when it’s appropriate. We teach them table manners. We tell them about how important it is to obey Mommy and Daddy right away and with a smile. And after awhile, we rejoice because our children start to do the right thing without so many prompts. In fact, it gets to the point where we rarely have to prompt them at all anymore.
And we celebrate that day.
Time goes by and we start to notice an occasional lapse in our children’s behavior. They don’t say thank-you when we do something for them. They don’t wash their hands after using the bathroom. They don’t obey right away… and they certainly don’t do it with a smile.
And we’re left scratching our heads because they USED TO DO IT RIGHT… every single time.
What happened?!? We stopped the prompting and the constant hovering and they seem to have forgotten what we taught them!
That same thing can happen when it comes to our kids being involved with housework. When they’re young, they want to be with us all the time. They are THRILLED to be able to help by folding socks and washcloths. They WANT to help with the cooking and with loading the dishwasher. They can’t wait to ride on the lawnmower with Daddy and to pull weeds with you in the garden. In fact, you couldn’t get them to leave your side for two minutes if you wanted to.
During the early phases of motherhood, if you’re doing something then your younger children are doing it right along with you.
And then something changes. At some point, your kids no longer want to be with you 24/7. You find yourself craving a few minutes of quiet – so you slip away to do a few chores here and there by yourself. And you soak in the silence… until you have to go break up a fight or find out what the kids are getting into without your eagle eye on them.
And then the kids enter the tween years where suddenly everything becomes a skirmish. And the only way to survive is to choose your battles and let some stuff slide.
And one day you blink a few times and realize that you’re the only one who is doing any housework anymore. Because somehow, in the midst of life, the animals have taken charge of the zoo.
Please tell me that I’m not the only mom who has experienced this!
I know that others of you must also struggle in this area because when I brought up the topic on Facebook, several of you responded that you are also planning to tackle this issue in the coming year. In fact, one of you is the wise woman who actually came up with the animals running the zoo analogy! (Thank-you, Becky.)
So… if you find yourself in a similar situation and you’d also like to get back to having your kids help share the load with the household chores, how in the world do we do it?!? How do we put the animals out of business and take back control of our zoo?
What Should We Expect?
1 – A Little Whine With Your Cheese?
Change is hard. We have to realize that when we make changes around the house, it’s going to hurt initially. We must be prepared that our kids will probably do a little bit (or a lot) of whining… and that’s okay. We must brace ourselves!
2 – Be realistic
If we have dreams that suddenly our kids are going to do ALL of the housecleaning and we’re going to have time to relax and put our feet up, we’re kidding ourselves. When we first start getting our kids involved in doing chores they’ve never done before, we’ll actually have MORE work. We’ll be the ones training them. We’ll be the ones inspecting their work. We’ll be the ones finding leverage, putting systems in place, and making sure the chores get done.
Hmmmmm… Doesn’t sound very appealing, does it?!? Not really. But over time, it’ll be worth it. Eventually, we’ll have kids who are trained in lots of important life skills and we’ll also have some help around the house.
Remembering Your Priorities
Learning to do chores and to be responsible is important. But there are even more important things in life. If you have your hands full trying to mold good character in your children and don’t have time to worry about chores right now, then that’s fine.
Obviously, character development is more important than knowing how to complete every household task. If your kids don’t know how to iron clothes or mend socks, it isn’t the end of the world. If they don’t have a relationship with Jesus or they aren’t kind to their siblings, addressing those issues should have a higher priority.
How Do We Take Back Control in This Area?
So, now that we know what to expect, how do we actually implement real change when it comes to getting the kids to help with household duties?
Here are 6 Smart Strategies to Take Charge of Household Chores:
1 – Get Dad on Board
There’s something about having our husbands involved which makes such a huge difference. I don’t know if it’s their larger stature or their deeper voice or what. But if Dad speaks, our boys will be more likely to listen. Present a united front. This is super important!
2 – Come Up With a Game Plan
Decide which chores are age appropriate for your child and go from there. You might want to choose one area of the house or yard to focus on at a time. For instance, if you decide to have your kids learn how to do the various tasks associated with the kitchen, you can have younger children set the table and clear the table. You can have others help to prepare meals, load and unload the dishwasher, and do the necessary cleaning tasks. You can have your older kids help with meal planning, make grocery lists, shop for groceries and clip coupons. And teens with driver’s licenses are usually eager to make impromptu trips to the grocery store for you!
3 – Be Sure to Mix it Up
Don’t just assign the nasty tasks such a cleaning toilets and scooping the litter boxes. Give your kids the more enjoyable tasks as well. We want to give our kids a love for work just as much as we do for learning. If your child loves working in the garden with you, let him or her come to the nursery and pick out plants. Let them be involved with actually planning the garden. If your child is good mechanically, let him or her learn car maintenance or home maintenance and be in charge of performing oil changes on the cars or filling the water softener with salt, or something similar that he or she would enjoy.
4 – What’s their Motivation?
Try to come up with some sort of reward or other motivation if your kids do what is expected of them. It’s always helpful to give kids a reason to WANT to complete their chores rather than simply expecting them to do it out of the goodness of their own heart. You don’t necessarily have to pay your kids… but try to come up with something such as extra privileges which will be motivating to them rather than just nagging until they get their chores done.
Think about it. I would guess that 99% of people wouldn’t go to their job anymore if they weren’t paid. The same is true when it comes to our kids completing their chores. Give them a positive reason to do what you want them to do!
5 – Togetherness is Key
Another tip is to try to get the whole family involved. It’s much more enjoyable if you are all working together toward a common goal rather than being singled out to work while everyone else is having fun. Believe me, I know that from experience! Consider having the entire family pitch in to clean up after meals. Or have everyone spend 15 minutes tidying up the house on a Saturday morning. Or spend a few hours doing yard work together. This makes chores much more fun and allows you to spend some necessary family time together as well.
6 – Temper Your Expectations
Our kids are still learning and we need to be willing to give them plenty of grace! I’ve heard that moms with at least one daughter seem to have an easier time getting their kids involved in completing housework – and even having their kids clean up around the house without being asked. EGADS! All male households usually don’t have quite as easy of a time getting the kids to see the mess let alone pick up the mess. Of course, our sons might be more willing to snowplow our driveways and run to the grocery store to pick up ice cream. Pros and cons, right?!? And fortunately, there are ways to motivate boys to help with other chores around the house. We just need to remember what we’re up against and use methods that work on males!
Another thing to remember is that many of our kids will resist learning how to perform these tasks until they actually experience the need for themselves. My boys NEVER wanted to pump gas into our cars until they had their own license. They didn’t want to go to the grocery store with me (after they were tweens) until they were driving and wanted to learn how to do it on their own. (Anything to have an excuse to drive, right?!?)
I remember vividly that when I first moved out of my parents’ house, I didn’t know how to do hardly anything. My parents weren’t very strict about us doing chores when we were kids. So there I was, living in my apartment with a cat and suddenly if I didn’t do something it didn’t get done. So, I learned how to cook and how to clean. And even how to keep my cat’s litter box clean. Because suddenly it mattered to me!
So… even if our kids aren’t interested in learning about chores right now, doesn’t mean they are doomed to a life of laziness. Someday it will matter to them. They’ll have someone besides to their parents to impress and that will make all the difference.
If you’re feeling up to it, however, and if the animals have been running your zoo, this might be a good time to dust off your lion tamer hat and chair and get to work changing things up. Whether you take a short sabbatical from regular subjects to run a Life Skills Boot Camp or whether you become more intentional about weaving life skill training into each day, figure out how you’d like to get your kids involved and then give it a try. There’s no one right way to run every household. Do whatever works best for you and your family!
Have you struggled in this area? What tips have you learned for getting your kids to be responsible for their household chores? I’d love to hear about your experience. Please leave a comment below.