Why My Elementary-Age Kids Help Me Clean the House

Family Matters on 07.26.12
Contributor bio | twitter

My four-year-old uses the steam mop to clean popsicle juice off the kitchen floor. Photo: Amy Suardi/Frugal Mama

Sometimes I feel like a mom out of time and place. I'm the only one I know who makes her kids help clean the entire house every weekend. My fourth-grader claims that she is the "only one" in her class with so many chores, and (this time) I believe her. 

If two-thirds of American parents think their kids are spoiled, what is different about the last third? In our culture of excess, in our age of plenty, it is easy to spoil kids. What is hard is to do the opposite.

Yet there are no special qualities, and no secret formulas to unspoiling kids. For us, a simple combination of circumstances led us to our more old-fashioned lifestyle. Here are three of the most important:

1.  We make our life fit into one salary.

I aways wanted to be home with my kids. We live frugally to make it work, and any money I make goes into savings.

A tight budget forced us to evaluate what is most important to us. Paying a cleaning service was not as important to us as, for example, traveling to visit family. Having fewer funds to work with made us adopt good money practices, like tracking spending and setting goals.

My deciding to be home with my kids also meant that I had time to clean and time to teach my kids to clean. None of us loves vacuuming, but I like being able to take care of my house, and my kids get satisfaction out of seeing concrete results.

2.   We have more than two kids.

I don't think I would have felt the need for significant and consistent help if we hadn't taken the plunge with number three, and then four. More kids meant more messes (and more joy), and more children also meant more hands to lend.

Kids need to be needed, and having a lot on my plate meant that I truly did need them. So not only was I motivated to ask for their help, but I was motivated to set up schedules and systems so I could expect their consistent help.

3.  We wanted a slower, simpler life.

With a tight budget, it was easy to justify not signing my kids up for daily after-school activities. In fact, rarely do they have any obligations after school, except to meet friends at the playground or to go for a playdate. Being home in the late afternoon meant I could start fixing dinner, and it just made sense to have my daughters help by entertaining siblings or setting the table.

Giving my kids jobs helped tether their energy and give them a sense of purpose. And now that our one salary has finally grown so that our budget is not so tight, we are not giving up our family chores.

I have realized, as I experiment with spending money to save time, that outsourcing has its downsides. Throwing money at problems sometimes just creates different problems. By working together, we discovered that by spending less, we are getting more. 

Top Articles on Kids and Money
Do You Need a Baby Budget? (Interview)
5 Ways to Unspoil Your Child Now
Do You Practice Conscious Spending? I Learned How, and You Can Too