How Many Chores Are Too Many Chores?

Family Matters on 10.05.12
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Photo: wayne's eye view/ Creative Commons

Here's how the child labor breaks down in our house: Ava, who is 14, is in charge of taking out the trash, setting the table, and vacuuming the house once a week. Chet, who is 11, takes out the recycling, clears the table, and Swiffers the bathroom floors once a week. Allowance is five dollars/week, and though they sometimes complain, and we prod and remind, prod and remind, the chores do get done.

Chores for our 6-year-old, Maia, have been a work in progress. She was assigned to sweeping under the kitchen table after dinner. But the little pile never seemed to make it from the dustpan all the way into the trash. This is the problem with assigning chores to the little ones. I like the idea of her contributing and feeling like she is a part of the work of the household, but often I wind up having to re-do the "work" she does, so when I'm feeling tired, it's easier to just let her off the hook.  

Instead of five dollars, Maia gets four quarters for allowance (to buy trinkets from gumball machines). To her this is still better than a five dollar bill, which works out great for me. She is supposed to unload the silverware from the dishwasher, water the plants and wash the windows (with a green alternative spray, so she doesn't poison herself). As you might imagine, window washing is also a re-do. She would like to add feeding the dog to her chore list, but this has led to a chunky dog food mess and an over-stuffed animal. Still, the older Maia gets, the less help she needs with her chores, so we will check back in about feeding the dog in the spring.

When Maia was four-years-old, I watched her work in her Montessori preschool. The entire class marched around, sometimes holding hands, picking up toys, singing the clean-up song. Yes, it was a little creepy. Maia would look forward to the days when she was assigned to sweep the floor, feed the fish, or clean the windows in the classroom! But I had no success parlaying these tasks into "fun" at home.   

Since then, we've tried chore charts and allowance incentives, but watching her big brother and sister do their chores has been the best motivator by far. Our kids love to grab the broom handles and sing, "It's a Hard Knock Life," and I have to admit it brings (happy) tears to my eyes.

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