Household Chores Teach Independence
Teachable Moments, Jan-Feb 2014
By Marybeth Hicks
Q. When I was growing up, we had a “chore chart” on the wall of our kitchen that listed all the housework each child in the family would do during the week. But my kids have no time for chores because they are completely consumed with their busy schedules. And when I ask them to help me around the house, they whine about being tired and complain about the (minimal) work I ask them to do. My husband takes their side, saying their only chores should be to get good grades and succeed in sports. I’m starting to feel like the maid in my house instead of the wife and mom! How can I get my family to change their attitude about household chores?
A. Who doesn’t remember the “chore chart”? What I recall most about my family’s distribution of housework is that I was assigned the job of watching my little sister while everyone else did cool stuff like ironing, drying dishes, and mowing the lawn.
I’ve never used a chart to dole out work to my four children, though, because I realized it could be limiting. I never liked the idea of “regular” chores, which invariably incited regular bickering. Instead, at our house there’s simply an expectation that if you live here, you’re expected to help with whatever is asked of you.
But getting kids to do housework is beneficial, not only as a way to share the tasks of daily living. Chores are essential if we’re going to raise our children to become independent, self-reliant, and resourceful adults.
In our culture, this is no small feat. According to researchers, our children are more dependent and needy than any previous generation of Americans. They are developing attitudes of entitlement and expectation, rather than habits of self-reliance and independence. As they grow, too many young people want the privileges of adulthood—the freedom and resources to make their own decisions—but not the responsibility that goes with it.
Why is this? One theory is that kids no longer are required to do household chores. By living as the privileged class in their own homes, kids today grow up expecting things to be done for them, feeling that they are entitled to be coddled and indulged.
When some parents look back on their own childhoods, they recall those “chore charts” with distaste, and they decide they want an easier life for their children than they themselves experienced. Their attitude is, “I don’t want my child to have to work as hard as I did.”
Other parents believe chores are good for kids, but they don’t have enough authority in the home to get their children to cooperate. Getting kids to do chores becomes one more battle that they’d prefer not to wage, and besides, who wants sloppily folded laundry? It’s easier and faster to simply do it themselves.
Some parents have their kids are so overly engaged in activities, sports, lessons, and enrichment programs that there’s literally no time to rake leaves or empty the dishwasher. Adding to the packed schedule that parents themselves have created would be unreasonable.
Unfortunately, while these are all good reasons for not requiring kids to do regular chores, they’re poor excuses. And they’re robbing children of one of the most important avenues of becoming independent.
Among the benefits of chores, experts say they teach children to work cooperatively in a family system, which translates into being better employees. They teach kids to care for themselves, solve problems, manage their time, and take responsibility. They also promote positive self esteem (think “I did it all by myself!”).
We’ve come a long way from our agrarian roots, when families had lots of children precisely so they’d have more help around the farm! Most of us don’t have to worry that the chores we require of our children will put them at risk of injury or wear them out before the school day begins. (Though most American farm kids are still working as hard as they ever did!)
Our modern age means we have fewer and easier tasks to keep our households running smoothly, and many that are suitable for small and helpful hands.
If you find yourself feeling more like a servant than a parent, or if you ask your 10-year-old to take out the garbage, and he asks, “Out where?” or if your teenaged daughter can drive to the mall but claims not to know how to make a run to the grocery store, it’s time to recommit to sharing the wealth of benefits that can only be gained by doing chores.
Not to mention that, when the housework is done by everyone and not just you, there’ll be time for the whole family to relax a little!