August 9th, 2007

About Chores

It happened again. Yesterday I received an email from someone requesting that I post a copy of my chore chart. I’d be happy to comply, except for the small annoying fact that … I don’t have one. That’s right. No chore chart. No “system” at all really to speak of when it comes to family chores.

Does this mean that my house is a wreck and that my children are lazy, good-for-nothing lie-abouts? Well, some days I guess. But most days no.

I like systems. Really I do. The problem is that I never like them for very long. Over the years I’ve used chore charts, chore wheels, chore jars, chore notebooks, and chore bins. I’ve used felt boards, dry erase boards, chalk boards, gold stars, and magnets. I’ve used comprehensive schedules that account for every waking moment of every day. I’ve used websites that help you keep track of who does what and how often. I’ve spent way too much money and way too much time on books and magazine articles looking for the perfect “something” that might just be my final “chore solution.”

In the end, though, I have abandoned every single system I have ever tried. All of them are good in varying ways and some have served as helpful motivational tools for the needier seasons of our family life (read: when I am newly pregnant, lying on the couch in a nauseated haze, and running to the bathroom every fifteen minutes) but in the end, the problem with chores boils down to this:

Maintaining a home requires work. Work is not fun. And no system in the world is going to make work fun.

When I think about chores, I try to think about the goals I have for my home and my family. Ultimately, I want an reasonably orderly home where basic things like laundry and meals happen on a regular and predictable basis. I also want my children to learn responsibility, the value of work, and basic life skills. In the end, I want to raise kids who can recognize basic housework that needs to be done and are capable of accomplishing it. It’s not any fancier than that.

As a result, my approach to chores has evolved over the years into a “system” (if you must call it that) where I assign various chores as needed throughout the day.

Does a floor need to be swept? Is a capable child handy? He or she gets the job. Does laundry need to be put away? Is a capable child handy? He or she gets the job. Sometimes I am the most readily available, capable person and I do the chore.

Of course making sure the children are capable of doing regular work is a mother’s job too. I make an effort to introduce younger children to new skills on a regular basis. I make good use of children’s particular skills and interests (Juliette, for example, is a more meticulous sweeper than even I am and she loves a clean floor). I also take care that no one gets over-worked or under-worked (funny how the little ones will happily slip through the chore cracks if you let them). But I do all of this in a general, common sense kind of way, not on a chart.

In the end, I find this “see it – do it” approach infinitely more practical and effective than any other system I have ever tried. When some fancy new book or “system” catches my eye, I sometimes ask myself: Did Ma Ingalls have a chore chart? I don’t think so. Did she (and other mothers of her time) raise super-capable, well-disciplined, naturally-helpful children? You betcha. I aim to do the same.

22 comments to About Chores

  • BJ

    YAY!!! Someone else just like me when it comes to the dreaded "chore charts". I find it takes more time to create the chart then it does to get the jobs done, and no chart has even been flexible enough for our family. Not that we live in complete chaos – but I prefer the flexibility of asking "as the need arises" and I find far less squabbles over who’s done what and how many times.

  • I love this post! I don’t have a chore chart either, but my three oldest children DO have a specific meal that they clean up after and that never changes. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner cleanup consists of making sure the table is cleared off (completely), table wiped down, chairs wiped down, and floor swept. This is most helpful to me :)
    I love your reference to Ma Ingalls, as sometimes when I am feeling exhausted and/or overwhelmed, I ‘pump myself up’ by thinking about Ma and all those pioneer women who never had time to just sit and rest, they were working constantly to keep their household running…and to think there are nights when I barely manage to put cereal or quesadillas on the table for dinner….
    Your blog is one of my favorites!

  • Okay…lets see if I can prepare another comment…I had one all typed up then spilled an entire glass of my favorite wine (my first glass!) onto the keyboard. A delicious glass…wasted!
    Several summers ago, I made a simple but effective chore list that worked very well for our family. I assigned each of the three children chores in and around the house. When they were finished the chores (say mid-morning) the entire house was straightened, picked up and neat. Bathrooms had been cleaned. The garage, front door area, and back patio had been swept. The dishwasher had been unloaded and reloaded, the sofa pillows were in place and the den was orderly. Beds were made and bedrooms were picked up and neat. Dirty laundry was brought to the utility room and I was able to start laundry and prepare our meals for the day. After the chores were done everyone was free to play and everyone (including me) had time to play (sew.) My kids are older and starting to leave home, but I still strive to neaten and order my home each day.

  • Very good job here DB! For some families, the chore chart works great, but I’m like you — I just call ’em as I see ’em (meaning, I assign the chore to someone when it needs to be done). I like the sense of control I get with that, and with the boys, it’s what seems to work best. Also, I can assign the job to the boy who can handle that task at that moment.

    As always, Danielle, thanks for your wisdom, and your willingness to take the time and share it with the rest of us!

  • Have we told you lately that we love you? This post is a HUGE blessing to the chart-maker-wanna-be that’s me.

    Up until I’ve always just asked the kids to do the work.

    And up until now it’s always…gotten done.

    More or less.

    And with varying levels of perfection, of course.

    But it does get done, provided I. Just. Ask. Them.

    It must be the pleasant sound of our gentle mother’s requests. Wins ’em over every time.

    PS. However. If I might complain about just ONE of my loving refrains, it would be this one: Boys, could you please flush the toilet when you’ve finished?!

    I know indoor plumbing is a blessing and what Ma Ingalls wouldn’t have DONE to have it…but still. That one does get old.

  • Jen

    I post a list of jobs in each room. For example inside the bathroom cabinet door is a list of jobs to be done. Once everything on the list is complete the room is clean, supposedly. I have lists for every public room of the house. When I notice an area needs tidying or cleaning I just ask a particular child to clean that room. With honest hard work they can finish in 20 minutes at the most. And of course, they do have favorites, so I often assign my children to their favorite room. This helps so I don’t have to talk so much….do this, do that, now this, then that. Dr. Ray says we moms yak way too much, lol!

  • Missy

    HOORAY!!! At this very moment we have a chore chart attached to my daughters’ bedroom door….I was pretty good at first, bought some fancy dry erase markers and was so excited about how organized I would be and how efficient this chart would make our family….yeah right…thank you Danielle…I’m throwing it out!!! You are soooo full of wisdom…I love your blog…and I’m thankful for it and the other blogs you recommend on it….I MUST have my daily catholic mom blogs!!!

  • Kim F.

    THANK YOU DANIELLE! I’ve been reading your blog for about a year now and have never posted before. Somehow I imagined that all the other stay-at-home Catholic moms out there happily whistled away while doing household chores. You know, offering everything up to God and being happy about it. I have tried, but I detest most household chores. Don’t get me wrong, I am thrilled to be at home all day and I love a clean, organized house (which everyone says I have…but please don’t look behind the couches) BUT no matter how much I offer it up I can’t find enjoyment in any of it. Maybe once the little ones are older (right now they are 4, 2 1/2, 16 months, and one due in Dec.) and can help a bit more that will change. Then I might be all about some kind of chore chart. Thanks to you (and your readers) for all your wonderful advice and for reminding this mom how many "real" moms there are out there.

  • You hit it on the nail again. As my older two are getting to that age where they are becoming quite capable of many household tasks I am discovering also, day by day, that I much prefer a natural flow of "please do this. Thank you."

    They are getting to the point where they each have a couple of things that they are indiviually asked to do consistently and they are beginning to realize this is their particular chore.

    I started out by asking their help around the ages of 3 or 4 but I would do the job with them. I still do many times, but little by little they are getting where they can do most of their jobs by themselves. I like this natural person to person way also. I already have too much on my plate to add another "system" to keep track of :o)

  • Maureen

    Wonderfully written! I find it’s too much of a chore to make a chore chart. I guess one more description I add to my list of what describes me is "The Walking Chore Chart". I am always visible, always vocal. No chance any child will tear me up or scribble on me either.
    Thanks for posting. Nice to know I am not alone.

  • Alison

    ME TOO!! Oh the guilt over the chore wheel- we had on briefly when I was a kid; it never worked… and I am my mother’s daughter… hee, hee.
    The problem with the chore charts at my house is that I still have to tell the children to do them! Soooo, every once and awhile (read- sleep deprived or early pregnant) I list all the jobs the kids can do tape it to the fridge and bark, I mean sweetly ask, the kids to do some of them… and sometimes they do 😉
    I also find that chores- like "tidy up your bedroom" are nice for giving mom 10min of quiet time, and sometimes they continue to play even after they are done Hooray!!

  • trinamom8

    I agree, Danielle, that keeping a system going is not easy and that Ma Ingalls didn’t have one. (that was my favorite comment!) BUUT when I think back to when I was a kid, I hated my mom’s chore system – or lack of one. I felt like I was never done. Mom could just grab me at any time and bang a chore on me. I was talking to a friend recently – the oldest of 12 kids – and she related the same thing to me, except that it was worse for her since there were so many more things to do. She said they would actually hide from their mother because every time they would see her, she’d ask them to do something.
    Now, I know there are flaws in my arguement. 1- Doing chores all day every day is real life, and kids may as well get used to it. 2- Even with a consistant chore schedule with my eight kids, I still find myself asking them to do additional things during the day. 3- It is very tiring keeping up the morale with the children regarding the "set" of chores that they have to complete.
    Anyhow, these are just some thoughts to throw in the pot. I will consider throwing out my chore chart just because it is so tempting, but then again, it is also my ticket to sanity, so I had better not.

  • I had a similar issue to trinamom8 except that it was I never learned to do chores right. If it was too hard to teach us she just gave us the same chore over and she did the hard ones while we were at school.
    What she was great at was the balance when we were teens. If you are home for supper you help—set, cook, clean up. You do your own laundry and not on Mom’s day to have the machine to herself.
    If your room is a disaster ‘The Management’ might condemn your room.

    The first 2 years of homeschooling I was pretty strict with a chore schedule but my husband insisted we not call them chores. It was service. We gave service to each other because Christ said to serve with Love. We tried to do service at the same time as them so they would see all Christian’s do this. Now I have a different schedule that involves when we will Not do service/chores and to deal with not having my kids avoid me.
    We have certain things that must be done before school. If they are done fast there may be time to play.
    There is 10 minutes of school clean up before lunch.
    The half hour before Dad returns everyone helps with pick up, table setting dinner etc.
    I find that if its clean before dinner and after dinner involves outside, hanging with Dad, tubs and stories then the house isn’t bad in the morning.
    It also frees me to do something with my afternoon. I do not clean then. My neighbor who only had 2 marvels that I have time to read but I make it happen.

  • Joan

    I like Danielle could never keep a chore chart. It lasted a few weeks, and then was gone. One thing I do regret is not giving my children more responsibility. That was hard to do with a spouse who "likes" to do everything for everyone. That might sound like I am picking on him, but I’m really not, it’s just the way he is. When my kids were younger they did help more than they do now. My youngest is 14, and I admit that he is spoiled. I am determined to make a new policy in September about laundry. Each to his own. We’ll see how long that lasts LOL.

  • Jennifer

    Didn’t Ma Ingalls have a chore chart? Something like mend on Wednesday, churn on Thursday, bake on Saturday? It sounds good to me! Simple & straightforward.

    I too have a problem with "household management" systems that sound like running a business. My house is a home, not a corporation and my children are children, not employees. Therefore, I have an organic approach to housekeeping. Whatever needs to be done gets done by me, my husband or any one of my capable children.

    I do think that there is a lot of learning that goes on just by observing. I am a very good housekeeper and quite honestly, I learned a lot simply by watching my mother for so long. My mother always cleaned the kitchen after we ate, she did our laundry and helped us tidy up our rooms. We all knew how to clean windows and mirrors and wipe down a bathroom. As we got older (high school) we were expected to help out more in the kitchen and with the laundry. I don’t remember any "chore charts" or system, but we all managed to grow up and learn how to do laundry.

  • mcm

    i just started trying to teach my children money management…(any advise on this by the way?) because it is something i myself am not very good at. so we just started a chore chart. each child has one big chore that they are responsible for. my son mows the lawn, my daughter unloads the dishwasher, etc. for which they earn a little money. everything else-making their own bed, straightening up their room, is considered just necessary daily responsibilities. finally, they are expected to help generously whenever i ask them to, i like what someone said about service, because helping each other out is just part of being in a semi-large (only 4 kids) family. for example, i might say, to my oldest, can you please read to the littlest for a little while for mommy? or to my daughter, can you please help me with dinner? or setting the table? i guess i try hard not to make chores feel like burdens, but rather just part of the ebb and flow of everyday life. and definitely they do not take over the day. a little chores to keep things smooth, alot of play. i remember the story from little women, where the girls wanted to stop doing their chores for the summer, so ma let them for a while and everything fell apart within the first week. the girls learned that a little bit of work goes a long way toward making a household run smoothly.

  • cjmr

    Actually, we’re just starting to use chore charts! I’ve gotten so tired of answering the question (always in a whiny tone of voice), "but what do I do next?" that I’m making them schedules and a chore chart so that I can answer, "Go look at your chart!"

    (I’ve given myself a schedule and ‘chore chart’, too, because I’d much rather spend the day on the internet than actually getting housework done. *I* need the accountability as much as the kids do. And dh loves coming home to a clean house–although you’ll never hear him complain if it isn’t.)

  • I don’t remember having a chore chart growing up. I don’t know if that was good or bad because I generally think of myself as being lazy even as a parent about housework. It gets done eventually. My daughter is only 13 months and my son is due in wow, 5 weeks, so chores not an issue now.

    However, I have seen homes where chore charts or wheels work exceptionally well. Especially when children are older and were not accustomed to doing chores or even basic housekeeping skills like clearing the table. One friend of ours, who is a SAHM, had been waiting on her kids hand and foot and talking about how exhausted she was and how she was surprised at how relatively clean my home seemed while my husband and I both work outside the home 40 hours a week. When I pointed out to her that her kids were more than able to be helping her (her oldest is 11), she struggled with how to help. The "grab a kid to do it" method did not work for her. She spent all her time trying to remember who she asked to do what and what was getting done and what wasn’t and she couldn’t manage that well. So, a chore chart went up so that she could keep track and there was some accountability (if mom can’t remember who is supposed to vacuum the living room, who is held accountable? Mom is, sadly.)After a few months, she is starting to be able to manage a little better, and soon, she could probably do away with the chore chart, but the point is, for a lot of people it is a good way to start, even if you don’t stick with it indefinitely.

    Who knows what system or non-system we will adopt in our home as our children grow and learn to be responsible?

    But here is some great news my mom, a pediatric nurse at Duke, shared with me about a recent Duke study. It is actually healthier to have an unmade bed than a made up one. Really. Germs are less able to attach themselves somehow when the bedding is in upheaval! So good news for moms who struggle to get kids to make them every day… one less thing to feel guilty about.

  • Ann Youngblood

    Oh Thank you, thank you! I had so much trouble keeping track of who was to do what when. I just tried to keep track that the willing child didn’t do chores all the time. Worked out pretty well after a while.

  • Teresa G

    Amen, sista!!

    Although I also am a systematic, orderly type person, I did away with chore charts and stickers long ago. I did find them useful when I had way fewer kids and wasn’t thick in the trenches of home schooling. It worked well when all my kids were under seven and I only had about 6 of them (and only 3-4 with chore charts).

    To me, the biggest problem with chore charts is that the MOM has to keep the kids accountable. The MOM has to make sure the charts are filled out, jobs checked, child told to do job over because it wasn’t done well enough, stickers handed out, etc. Again, with a few kids who are young it works well.

    Not that I’m not into accountability on the kids part. And ours do have specific, regular chores. The older work horses (hehe) in our family, who are 16, 15, 13, and 12 do their own laundry, mow the lawn, babysit, make meals, and help when needed with other tasks. The middle girls (10 and 9) do the laundry for themselves and the 2, 4, and 7 year olds. They also help with table setting, clearing, feeding pets (4 horses and two cats), etc.

    But none of this is written down. It is all just a part of what they do, and they know who does what. We swap jobs when I need an older one to move on to a bigger job – like our oldest gave up doing the little ones’ laundry a year ago so she could make more meals. She also gets a lot of the groceries and runs errands. Then a younger one is taught (often by the older one) how to do their new job.

    Instead of spending a lot of desk and mind time on chore charts, I now spend that time on home school paperwork, preparation, and grading. Eight different grade levels takes a LOT of time to keep everything organized, and I feel absolutely NO guilt for not keeping chore charts. We do what works for us, and everyone pitches in.

    On most days they help without complaint and the older ones, who really ARE the work horses, are rewarded with extra privileges. But if they do complain – TOUGH. Work is a big part of life, and you might as well learn to suck it up, bite the bullet, put your nose to the grindstone…..however you want to say it…..better learn that in the family, where they at least love you, than in the workforce later where they are not as merciful to slackers and sloths.

  • Julie

    I use Danielle’s system during the week for daily maintenance (straightening, putting away laundry, help in kitchen, etc.). Fridays (our penance day!) is the big clean up. I have 6 kids (ages 2 – 12), 5 of whom can do something useful. Here is our Friday list of chores. When they’ve done them all well, they get soda with dinner that night :) The slackers get no soda :(

    Vacuum upstairs (halls, kids 5/6 room & parents’ room) kid2
    Vacuum downstairs (4 rooms) kid1
    Vacuum basement kid1
    Vacuum both stairways kid2
    Clean downstairs bathroom kid3
    Clean ducky bathroom kid3
    Clean parents’ bathroom kid3
    Clean boys’ bathroom kid1
    Clean 4 toilets kid2
    Dust kid4
    Clean Mudroom kid5
    Clean basement kids 4 & 5
    Clean own bedroom kids 1 – 5
    Clean own closet kids 1 – 5
    Vacuum own bedroom kids 1 – 4
    Straighten own bookcase kids 1 – 5
    Empty bedroom Trash Cans kids 1 – 5
    Mop – mom

  • Peg

    I enjoyed reading the comments, but one underlying question for me that I did not see addressed is, what do you do when the kids whine about having to do a chore.

    I am now a grandma with a much more detached view of raising children and it seems like our children are raising their kids with more poise and appreciation than I ever did. For instance, when I hesitate to say no sometimes, Amy will say, "Mom, they need to learn they can’t have everything they want, etc." My own mother (left to raise 3 of us alone, find a job, keep a home) would remind me that kids like discipline but I never really believed her LOL.

    In all fairness to me, I was raised mostly in a boarding school (run by the nuns in the 50’s when daycare as we know it today was nonexistent so unless you had family close by, not many options for Catholic single moms, not to mention the stigma associated with marital problems) and it was orderly and we did have our chores but we had no cooking or laundry duties, just to make our beds and keep our dorms or rooms neat. If we broke some rules during the week (i.e., got caught chewing gum) we had to do extra chores on Saturdays, like help clean classrooms or polish floors. I realize except for summers and short holiday trips home that I missed out on day to day family life so that may be the reason why I can’t quite totally connect to the rest of you.