Of Children and Chores

Children in my family grew up with certain understandings: Dad gets the biggest piece of pie; don’t disturb Mom’s nap unless you need to go to the emergency room; Lawrence Welk is unavoidable.

We also obeyed a more universal decree: children do chores.

I admire parents who teach their children to work when it would be easier and faster to do the tasks themselves.

My siblings and I were reasonable about most parental requests, but we contested chores. We questioned their need, debated their equity, and dawdled about doing them.

imagesAs one of our assignments, Carolyn and I had to do the dinner dishes; one washed and rinsed while the other wiped and put away, alternating each night. She was a fastidious wiper, scrutinizing each item in the drainer and slamming it back into the dishwater if she found a smudge of gravy or spot of grease. I was a nervous wreck, pulling my hands from the water whenever she wound up for a throw and drenched by the tidal waves her force created.

When Barbara grew tall enough to reach the sink, Mom promoted Carolyn to cook’s helper, and my struggle changed. Every night with innocent eyes and infuriating calmness, Barbara insisted it was her turn to dry and wouldn’t back down no matter what I threatened. So we sometimes had to wrestle to resolve the dispute. Mom once entered the kitchen and found us locked in combat on the floor. She sighed and left.

One morning when Joel and I were visiting our grandchildren, a pitched battle over chores occurred. The task had changed; the fierceness of the exchange had not.

“No, Jack, you’re lying. I did it last time; you know I did. Mom, he’s lying; he’s a liar!” Jaynee pled her case with drama, indignation and tears: a teenager wronged.

images-1Jack fired back at top volume: “No, you didn’t, Jaynee; I did. I remember because you had to go to cheerleading practice. It’s true! I did it last. You’re the liar!” An easy-going 5th-grader with two older sisters, the boy knew how to counterpunch.

All this fuss because their mom told them she needed the dishwasher emptied—now.

My brother Bob, raising an abundant brood, once lamented that in an urban area, he had trouble devising meaningful work for his children.

“If I didn’t milk the cows, we had no milk. If I didn’t fill the coal bucket for the stove, Mom couldn’t cook. If I didn’t water the garden, our summer food supply died. What do I tell my children? If you don’t vacuum the living room, it won’t look nice? If you don’t mow the lawn, it will grow too long? They roll their eyes at me like I’m less than bright.”

images-2He solved his problem by procuring paper routes for his progeny. The older children took on afternoon and morning routes, pumping bikes around their quiet suburb, carefully placing papers on peoples’ porches. When they moved on to other jobs, their younger siblings took over.

They still tell stories about their experiences.

But they learned to work, as are Jaynee and Jack, as did I—one of the most important gifts a parent can give.

Have any thoughts about chores and children?
Please comment below.

 

 

 

 

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25 thoughts on “Of Children and Chores

  1. Yes, the battle of the chores! 2 different areas of choredom come to mind with my kids. First is the nightly dishes. The deal was if you didn’t cook, you had to do the dishes. I thought this was a brilliant idea thinking that they would like to cook instead of doing dishes. I was really hoping that this was true-I was really tired of cooking dinner. Much to my dismay they chose to do the dishes, along with all of the fights.
    The second chore was laundry. I would do their laundry-all they had to do was get their laundry in and fold it and put it away after I washed the clothes. This more or less worked for a while. For some reason they all decided at the same time not to put their laundry in or fold the clothes and put them away. I went on strike-I never did their laundry again and they all learned to do their own laundry.
    They all helped out around the house growing up, but it took vigilance to get them to help ( you are a mean Mom, etc.) I am happy to say they all know how to do for themselves and really that’s the point of chores in the end.

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    • You reinforced my thought so well with this comment, Janice. Doing for themselves is exactly the point of assigning chores to children and seeing to it that the chores get done. Thank you..

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  2. Just like at home, when I was a child.
    Actually, I hated housework and always tried to sneak out. But I was not lazy: I loved farmwork, especially taking care of cattle and horses. (My uncles were farmers and I usually spent my holidays with one of them.)

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    • Thanks for this comment, Paulina. It made me think about the wisdom of assigning chores to children that they are most suited for, if we want them to learn that work can be enjoyable. I hated dishes, but enjoyed babysitting my younger siblings, and Mom often excused me from the first to do the other.

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  3. I think my daughters would tell you that their chore assignments grew out of their complaining.
    “Why aren’t my white pants clean?!” quickly made them responsible for their own laundry. Even at five, with a chair pushed up to the washer (and liberal amounts of Spray n Wash,) Katie was handling her own laundry. Today, as adults, both girls think it’s kinda creepy to have anyone else do their laundry.
    “Eew, you put mustard on my sandwich again. I told you I hate mustard!!” once too often meant they were packing their own lunches. Personally, I contend that they kept switching who liked what, just to confuse me.
    The house rule became, “The first to complain is the next volunteer.”

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  4. I hated getting up early to do our newspaper route, but I’m so grateful for those experiences now. I’ve since realized that the responsibility of a job improved my self esteem and gave me a sense of independence at a young age. I’ve seen, especially in my own children, that a lack of chores breeds a lack of gratitude and it hinders them as they mature because they lack the skills of problem solving and follow-through. Yeah, chores aren’t fun, but they are so very vital to raising worthwhile adults.

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    • I remember Mom coming home after a visit to your family, chuckling and telling me about the assembly line as you rolled newspapers and headed out on your bikes. I agree chores are vital, and I thought your parents did a wise thing with the paper routes. Thanks for commenting and for your always appreciated Easter card, Leanna.

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  5. Oh wow you sure took me down my memory lane….as the only girl of 4 kids, I usually got the least ugly chores (trash, grass cutting, etc)..Now when I became a parent, the tables were reversed & I have 4 girls and 1 boy.. I split those chores right down the middle so yes my girls, cut grass, threw trash and my son can iron like no bodies business..
    All chores are equal..

    (I had to laugh at the “don’t wake mom from her nap… once I did wake her because a dog bit me..She whipped me for teasing the dog then shuffled me off to the ER.. 🙂

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    • I like the notion of splitting the chores down the middle so all children learn how to do all things, Carrie, though when young I was glad not to milk the cows and muck out the milking shed. After reading your nap anecdote, I think our moms had some traits in common.

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  6. Ah, chores, we had horses so tended them after school. My sister had a paper route until the elderly chap on her route came out of his shack naked, and handed her a paper bag full of money…My brother sold manure by the roadside. One summer we collected enough empty bottles to afford a donkey, which Ma refused to let us have. We picked berries and did dishes for Ma on her birthday. We did not dare disturb her nap. Lovely Post , thanks Janet.

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      • Dear Aunt Beulah, all of the above is true. The naked chap was a Finnish fisherman we new as “Old Gunnar”.He lived alone in a wee shack in a field, his boat in the grass when he could no longer fish, when he got odd and scared the kids getting off the school bus in front of his shack, he was taken away and died in The Old Man’s Home. My tough guy brother cried. I have always found most things so funny, I rarely need to embelish. I regret not paying attention during phonics lessons, never got it. A lot of my characters are based on people I met in England in the 80’s.Thank you again, it is a good thing to laugh every day, from Sheila.

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  7. Mom claims that she does not remember that situation and thinks you’re making it up, but considering that our domestic battles tend to resolve solely around the dishes, I think that it might be some odd quirk of Bray genetics.

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    • Every word is true, Shawna. Her calm insistence in the face of my brute power made me crazy. And, yes, it is probably an odd quirk of Brays which you inherited. Have you won any karaoke contests lately? (Confession: I had to look up the spelling of karaoke. Does that speak to my age or nerdiness?)

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  8. Hi Janet, This is your older sister. I love reading your blog. When Barbara started helping with the dishes. One washed, One wiped. One cleaned the table off and swept the floor. I really don’t like to cook. I am grateful Paul does. Keep writing, its fun.

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  9. Thanks for commenting, Carolyn. It’s great to hear from you. And, as usual, you’re right. I couldn’t remember why you quit being my constant washer/wiper partner and assumed it must have been you helped Mom cook. But when I read your message, I instantly remembered the addition of the table cleaner/floor sweeper. I’m so glad you read my blog. A number of our nieces and nephews read this one as well and liked it on Facebook.

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  10. ​Finding meaningful and age appropriate chores is a challenge. That work helps shape a person who knows the value of work. I also believe that each of us must do meaningful work to keep our lives and our family unit operating. Some days I just resist the meaningful work, as it is ‘just too hard’. The next day the chore is always waiting!

    * Audrey Danner* * Rural Broadband Conference* *MountainConnect.org* 970-321-2021

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  11. One of the only things my wonderful mother and I ever had knock-down drag-out battles about were the dishes. I still hate doing dishes, and still fail to see the need to do them every single night. Luckily, I’ve solved the problem by becoming the cook, and marrying someone who is willing to do dishes. 🙂

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