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.