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Whatever Happened to Chores?

“82 percent of parents did chores as kids; 28 percent ask their kids to do them. Today’s Balancing Act.” – Heidi Stevens, Chicago Tribune via Twitter.

While that trend is disconcerting enough, it was reassuring for me to see one person’s practical response to Heidi’s tweet about her article ‘Why aren’t we expecting our kids to do chores?’


I completely understand where Kate is coming from as I struggle with the same challenges in my household with three busy boys and increasing mountains of homework.  But does it justify my allowing other chores to take a backseat to homework? I worry about the message I’m sending my kids. Yes, school grades and academic achievement are important… but equally (if not more important) is personal responsibility and taking care of each other. Right? Well, I like to think so.

So, full steam ahead on project “Chore Restore”! While still working around the likes of quadratic equations, basketball practices, and family mealtimes, I am now trying to redress the chore imbalance with my older kids.  (Of course the youngest is still eager to please and sees chores as ‘fun’ – more on this later).

Whatever happened to chores? Why do we allow our kids to slack off when it comes to household duties and responsibilities? What can we do to reframe the way we look at chores?

Changing our attitudes and theirs

Chores. Is it just me or does the word itself sound like a total drag? It’s no wonder why our kids whine and stall at the very mention of it. While it remains a source of conflict in our household (how ironic that my nagging drives both myself AND my kids nuts), I made it a point to remind myself of the benefits of non-school related chores rather than tossing in the towel. Encouraging my children to help out around the house was not only helping them to develop a sense of personal responsibility, but also teaching them empathy and strengthening the family bond. Not to mention it’s positive educational effects! (You might be surprised.)

Collective wording and thankless tasks

I am learning to be careful of the “chores language” I used with my kids. I noticed that my sons were more willing to contribute when I gave them an invitation rather than a command and deliberately used collective wording like “we” and “our” rather than “you” and “me”. It really did make a world of difference when my kids understood that “we” were all helping to take care of each other.

I’m now on a slow journey to reframe chores from “thankless” tasks into activities that my kids want to do, and get personal satisfaction from doing so (maybe today, maybe a few years from now).  Admittedly, this takes time, consistency and clear expectation-setting as a parent – three significant challenges in today’s hectic family life and distracted modern world.

OK, I am not a big fan of my own chores

I am now having to shift my own view of chores.   The irony is  that my older two sons were just as keen when they were little as my youngest is now.  Unfortunately, I unwittingly played a key role in giving chores a bad name as they got older.

Having to clean our house every Saturday morning when I was a kid,  I definitely learned the discipline to complete unattractive tasks. Unfortunately, I also developed a very negative view of ‘chores’.  When I was a kid, chores were complained about as “work” that needed to be done (and ideally avoided).  We didn’t really focus on the positive impact of the chores we did.  Hmmm…that might explain why my frequent touting of the Saturday morning chores to my kids is not all that persuasive.

Paying attention to the types of tasks

The way to foster an empathetic and collective outlook in our kids is to also be mindful of the household duties we’re inviting them to take care of for the family. Key phrase being for the family. Encouraging my kids to clean up their own bedroom or do their own dishes was teaching them to take care of, well, themselves. Doing everyone’s dishes or laundry, however, helps build concern for others, reduce family stress and boosts happiness.

A couple of other quick tips.

  • Doing certain chores together builds connection and is a lot more fun (just add music)
  • Using descriptive praise helps me express appreciation without overdoing it
  • Setting clear and realistic expectations puts my boys in a good position to succeed (rather than putting me in a position to redo or criticize imperfect execution).

Project ‘Chore Restore’ is GO!

Sound off

Do you believe that there are benefits to chores? How do you reframe chores and “invite” your child to help out around the house? It’s definitely a balancing act between school, school work, sports, screens, etc. What’s been your biggest challenge? Have you managed to strike the right balance between homework and other chores? I’d love to hear your thoughts, from one parent to another in the comments below. 🙂

photo credit: Shutterstock

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Christina Gundlach
Christina Gundlach
9 years ago

Why can’t i just expect my child to do chores like I had to growing up? Why do we have to be so sensitive to their feelings? I think they should be done, no question, none of this pansy restating something so they can not feel burdened.

Nik Harris
Nik Harris
9 years ago

I’m in 2 minds about chores…I certainly never had a list of chores as a kid and I don’t have a list of chores for my DD’s (aged 6yrs and 9yrs) BUT we do all tidy up together and put things away so we can find them next time and I explain that no-one pays me to keep do the washing or make the dinner, but that is what we do to look after our families and i expect them to be able to cook, wash clothes, pay bills etc before they leave home but at this young age it’s… Read more »

9 years ago

I was unaware of the statistic Cynthia… amazing 82% vs 28 % wow. I recently put a sign up for our lent practice which was to Bless and Create before we Consume. So i have rephrased doing the chores to blessing our home and ourselves. That in itself, just saying that out loud daily to myself has made such an impact on my own outlook on how I spend my time blessing our home and myself. I know it helps my kids to have it reframed that way. It has such a powerful effect of feeling freedom like this is… Read more »

Shanan Winters
9 years ago

Yesterday, when my husband got home with the kids, my 10 year old daughter jumped out of the car, grabbed groceries from the back, carried them in and helped put them away. My husband looked at her in utter shock, and she said, “I just do it because it’s a habit now, and you and mom appreciate it.” My 9 year old son will empty the dishwasher without prompting most of the time. They’re both getting better about bringing their dirty clothes down and putting away their clean loads. We’ve been slowly introducing tasks over the last couple years, working… Read more »

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