Unskilled for Living: “Chores” should not be a dirty word

Whenever Allison has to pack her own lunch bag before school, I often hear the “But nobody else has to make their own lunch!” complaint.  Many parents would probably say, “You don’t know everybody” to that one, or my answer, “Well, I feel sorry for them!”  but secretly I wonder that she just may be right, sadly.  When she was in a jr. high “Skills for Living” class (the politically correct title for what we knew as Home Ec), she came home on the first day to say that her teacher took a survey, and by a show of hands she was one of only a couple teens who did their own laundry, one of only a couple who’d ever sewn anything and the only one who’d ever cooked a meal for her family.  I don’t think she was sure whether to be proud of that or not.  “Mom, one girl was shocked and some people felt sorry for me,” she said.

I know another person who’d never washed dishes by hand or even loaded a dishwasher until they were in their early 20’s.  What has happened to our society?  Is this helicopter parenting at its finest?

“Oh, I’d love for them to help out, but my kids are too busy with homework and activities to have time to do chores or even clean their rooms,” I hear from many parents.  Yeah, so are mine, but there is always a weekend day where they have free time now and then. (And if your kids don’t even have that, you may want to seriously re-think your schedule.) And the chores I ask my kids to do on weekdays are small, like “Empty the downstairs trashcans”, or “Wipe the fingerprints off the microwave”.  The research and evidence is endless– chores (also known by the kinder, gentler, more modern name of household tasks) build character, and they diminish that sense of “entitlement” so many kids have these days.  Household tasks, shared by a family, diminish the stress felt by busy parents.  And learning living skills at a young age keeps kids from being “crippled” later in life because they don’t know how to live without Mom or Dad. 

“Well, I want my kids to have good memories of me, I don’t want to be a mean mom if I ask my family to help out,” my own mother used to say.  My mom did so many other sweet and funny things when I was growing up, if she’d asked everyone to help clear off the table after meals, the good memories would not be diminished.  And she did teach me to do my own laundry when I was in 10th grade, and let me cook an entire meal one night each week, and I am grateful for that, not resentful!

Some parents think kids or teens aren’t capable of doing certain chores.  Huh? Yet those same parents would let them start driving a car at age 15? And buy them their own at 16? I think if they can’t clean up their room, cook a simple meal, put soap, water and clothes in a tub and turn a few dials (c’mon, it’s not rocket science), or maneuver a dust mop, they sure shouldn’t be allowed to maneuver 2,000+ pounds of bone-crushing steel. 

“My kids won’t do their chores,” I’ve heard, “and I just don’t have the time to argue with them.  I’m better off if I just do things myself.”  That’s one area, thankfully, where I don’t spend a lot of time arguing. Because it’s simple– kid doesn’t do a chore, kid has consequences.  At our house, for daily chores, it’s $1 off allowance for each chore not done.  I just mark it on a white board and move on.  And if your room’s not clean, you don’t get to go anywhere fun on the weekend or have friends over until it’s clean.  Yes, sometimes, those rooms get so messy it drives me crazy, and I just have to close their doors and hope things get done.  And it always does, eventually. And yes, sometimes I still get spluttering protests (“But, — I have to go now! I’ll clean my room tomorrow!) but I can stay cool as a cucumber, because I have the power.  I’m still the chauffeur.  “I’ll be happy to take you when you’re done,” I say.  And maybe next time they’ll realize if they just pick up a couple things each day, it won’t be a mountain on the weekend. (I’m still waiting for that to sink in.)

Laura Ingalls Wilder was teaching school at age 15.  (Thank you, Meg, for supplying the correct answer to last week’s Freebie Friday question and winning the book.)  Tell your teen that the next time they complain about what they “can’t” do!

One thought on “Unskilled for Living: “Chores” should not be a dirty word”

  1. Excellent points – thanks. We struggle with this sometimes at my house & I realized that if my kids aren’t responsible, then to some degree – it’s because I either haven’t taught them to be/ or held them accountable…that old consistency thing. Great reminder – love the car comment – so true!

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