One of my favorite memories is of the morning after bringing home my firstborn from the hospital. I’d wanted to be a mommy for so long – I gave birth to my oldest boy about three weeks shy of turning 35 – and now that I was a mom, all I wanted to do was snuggle my baby. I got up early, took my little one to the couch so that I wouldn’t disturb my husband, cradled baby Michael on my chest, and prayed prayers of thankfulness. I wanted to live in that moment forever.
I knew that the work of parenting was just beginning, but in that moment it was all about the snuggles.
There aren’t enough words to describe the joy and work that combine into both the most amazing and the most exhausting time in our lives. Our kids’ baby and toddler years are a blur of diapering and sleepiness and snuggles and tiredness and teething and naps and laundry and giggles and…overwhelm.
Life doesn’t get more real than having a newborn at home. – Eric Church
When I think back to that season in my life, I have an image in my head of frazzled and frizzy-haired me surrounded by kid clutter. That tiny baby that I couldn’t stop snuggling somehow multiplied our belongings and work exponentially. And the trend continued as we added children to our family and began homeschooling.
While I was so extremely thankful for my family, for my sweet husband and beautiful boys, the constant work and wear on my body after three difficult pregnancies eroded my joy in being a mom. My husband does a lot when he’s home, and we did eventually hire a cleaning service to do the deep cleaning every couple of weeks. But as my kids got bigger, so did the messes and chaos, and it was just A LOT.
It took me way too long to realize that the title Mom does not, should not, equal Slave. While I believe strongly that we should fulfill our Family Responsibilities with good attitudes and not despise the service that we do for our families, service and servitude are two different things. It’s important for everyone in the family to do their part.
A division of labor is helpful in the short-term and also a blessing to our kids in the long-term. According to a Pew Research survey, 62% of adults say that sharing household chores is important to marital happiness. I knew that if I didn’t teach my boys to help out at home, then they would grow up and enter into a marriage with the expectation that their wives would take care of all/most of the household grunt work. That attitude will undoubtedly lead to marital discord. Besides, I doubt that, twenty years from now, they’ll find a woman to marry that will let that fly.
I hope and pray for many things for my children, and one of them is that they each have healthy, joyful relationships with their future spouses. I probably won’t be an awesome mother-in-law, but I will be able to look my daughters-in-law in the eye and say, “I taught your husband that he needs to do his own laundry!” So there’s that. #SavingFutureMarriagesOneLoadOfLaundryAtATime
Sounds easy, right? Uhmmmm, not so much. Working out the particulars of how to move to a fair and reasonable division of labor, with children that are sweet but more contrary than compliant a lot of days, took some trial and error.
But I feel like we’re in a pretty good place right now, so I share below how we’re handling daily chores/responsibilities in our family in this season with a 10-year-old, 8-year-old, and 5-year-old. These are my best tips and tricks (right now) for dividing up housework labor and getting kids to accept responsibility for their part in having a well-functioning home. Keep in mind that this isn’t about deep-cleaning the house – that’s a whole other thing. What I’m addressing here are more along the lines of daily activities that will keep your house running relatively smoothly and allow every member of your family to enjoy your home.
Tips for Giving Your Kids Daily
1. Add one daily chore at a time.
Especially if your kids are new to chores. At first it might be fun for your kids because they’ll feel so grown-up doing work that they see the adults doing. They’ll instinctively know that it’s important work for the family.
But chores/responsibilities will get old and boring to them eventually. And they’re not wrong. It does get old. (So very old.) It is boring. (So very boring!) You may find that your kids experience an emotional rollercoaster as they realize that they’re stuck doing this boring, tedious task forrrreeeeeverrrrrrrrrr. Even if that task takes all of one minute to complete, they’ll act as if the carefree days of childhood are slipping away and start fighting it.
I find it best to concentrate on the one chore we’re adding to be done on the daily until my child comes to a place of acceptance and realizes that just getting it done is a lot easier than complaining about it. Eventually, emotions settle down and this new responsibility becomes an integral part of their days.
Curious about what chores might be appropriate for your child? I’ve created a handy-dandy chore list for you…take a peek!
2. Be consistent about your expectations for chores.
Incorporating chores into your kids’ daily lives can be <ahem> a challenge, especially when kids are new to chores. To be blunt: they might fight it. I give my kids a little “pep talk” (my oldest calls them “speeches”) about how work is a blessing, and having the privilege of being part of a family means that we all need to take some responsibility and do our part.
But don’t expect to be able to reason with your kids, especially if they don’t want to believe what you are telling them. And believe me, they are not going to want to believe that they have a responsibility to do work. So sometimes my little “pep talk” ends with something along the lines of, “I love you, but I am not your personal maid. We do not have a butler in this house that will do your bidding. And even if we did, I would still expect you to make your bed/do dishes/clean up your messes/etc. so that you grow up to be a decent human being.”
Consistency is key. Changing your mind every other day, trying to be “nice” and not holding your kids accountable to the responsibilities that you’ve laid out for them, will only result in more chaos and even damage your credibility in your kids’ eyes.
3. Enforce expectations with removal of privileges.
Sticker charts and allowances may work for some (a debatable assertion), but the one thing that has worked in our house is an immediate concrete consequence for non-compliance – removal of a privilege for that day. We tell our kids that they don’t have to do their chores. They get to choose their actions (refusal to do a chore in this case), but they don’t get to choose the consequences of that action. So if they’re not going to do their part in maintaining our home, if they are not going to accept reasonable responsibilities, then they do not get access to a TV or tablet that day. That’s what works for us.
4. Stack chores (5 or less) and name that stack.
This is similar to the idea of habit stacking. I group a set of chores together and give it a name because that one name is easier to remember than a list of instructions.
For example, I used to tell my kids every morning to brush their teeth, make their beds, and get dressed. You know what happened? Different kids would complete different tasks (whatever they remembered), but usually no kids did all of those things. And I had to follow up with each of them. It was a waste of time and extremely frustrating for me.
So I shifted to telling my kids, “Do your Morning Chores – brush your teeth, make your bed, get dressed,” in order to associate the name “Morning Chores” with that group of chores. Once they were used to the name Morning Chores, I dropped the list and just said, “Go do your Morning Chores.”
When I created the Bedtime Chores stack, I created a visual reminder and posted it in their room. We also have a Kitchen Chores stack, which consists of a chore that each of my boys is assigned after every meal.
5. Incorporate a 5-Minute Cleanup to your day to deal with clutter.
Part of my kids’ Bedtime Chores is to clean up their toys, but that can be a daunting task after a day of playing. So we started doing a 5-minute Cleanup (complete with timer) after lunch to quickly put away at least some of the clutter. You’d be surprised how much can get done during five minutes, and the kids think it’s fun because we approach it like a game or race and work as fast as we can. Upbeat music helps too. We enjoy listening to The Greatest Showman soundtrack during a 5-Minute Cleanup.
6. Associate chore stacks with another activity.
This will probably happen naturally in many cases. For example, Morning Chores before or after breakfast, or Kitchen Chores after completing each meal. Sometimes you’ll have to think about it and do what makes sense, like doing a 5-Minute Cleanup after lunch (in the middle of the day) so that bedtime cleanup is easier. If you use the idea of time-blocking to create a rhythm to your family’s daily routine, slip in a chore block as a transition between other blocks.
7. Lower your expectations.
Your kids will not do their chores perfectly, especially at first. When my kids first start on a new chore, I’m more focused on building the habit than them doing a good job. After a few weeks or months, we start working on doing a better job.
For example, one of my boys wipes down the table after each meal as his Kitchen Chore. For months, I was happy if he completed the chore without complaining, even if I had to sneak in after him and scrub some spots. He did get better over time, but eventually I started showing him how to do a better job.
8. Play the long game.
It might take months before your kids are doing a number of chores proficiently enough to make a real difference in your day. But stay consistent and you’ll eventually find that your home is running more smoothly and you’ll have some breathing room.
Your kids will also realize that, even though they used to think that one small chore took forever and ruined their lives, they can actually make a material contribution to the family without impacting their free time by becoming proficient in several household chores.
Instituting a chore routine and system in your family can be a challenge, but you can do this, mama! And it’s totally worth it for everyone, and not just because we need help around the house. By involving our kids in the daily work of maintaining a home so that it’s a pleasant place to be, we’re training up the babies that we used to snuggle to become responsible men and women. They’ll be better-prepared for the responsibility of having their own families and hopefully give us grandbabies to snuggle!
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a household chore?
We define household chores in our home as tasks and activities that need to be done on a regular basis to:
- maintain our home and property (protecting our investments)
- give us a restful and healing environment, allowing our home to be a sanctuary.
These tasks and activities are responsibilities, and not simply chores.
What are common household chores?
Indoor household chores tend to fall into cooking, cleaning, and caring buckets. For example:
- washing dishes
- doing laundry
- cleaning bathrooms
- taking out the trash
- picking up clutter
- feeding pets
- watering indoor plants
Outdoor chores depend largely on the size and character of the outdoor space. Activities could include:
- mowing grass
- raking leaves
- watering outdoor plants
- picking up debris
- cleaning up outdoor toys
- wiping down outdoor furniture
Is cooking a household chore?
For the purpose of training up a child through the tween years and adolescence to prepare them for adult responsibilities, cooking can and should be considered a household chore. Consistently assigning responsibilities in meal preparation for the family – beginning with simple tasks and slow increasing in difficulty and complexity – will ensure that our children can do more than heat up a frozen meal in the microwave when they move out on their own.
The task of preparing a meal, however, does not exist in a vacuum. Rather, meal preparation is part of a larger family meal-planning system, which consists not only of planning what meals will be prepared, but also creating grocery lists, shopping, and budgeting.
So while cooking should be included as part of an adolescent’s chores/responsibilities, as they grow older training and responsibilities should branch out to the rest of the meal-planning system.
How do I make a house chore list?
Begin with the necessary – what absolutely needs to be done so that the family has food to eat, clothes to wear, and an environment that’s clean and hygienic. For example:
- wash / dry / fold laundry
- cooking / meal planning
- wiping tables and countertops (free of crumbs and food residue)
- mopping / vacuuming floors (free of crumbs and food residue)
- cleaning bathrooms
- taking out the trash
Follow up with those extra tasks that make a house feel like a home. This list will look different for each family, depending on preferences and season of life. For example:
- making beds
- picking up toys
How often should household chores be done?
I hate housework! You make the beds, you do the dishes and six months later you have to start all over again. – Joan Rivers
In order to begin the process of instilling a sense of personal responsibility for household tasks in our kids, we focus on indoor chores that are done daily or multiple times a day. Chores that are related to mealtimes, like washing dishes and cleaning off the table, happen three times a day (or more if a snack gets messy). The dog needs to be fed a couple of times a day, but the trash should be taken out once. Clutter is cleaned up during a five-minute clean-up and during the evening chore stack.
Once the kids accept the idea that chores/responsibilities are a daily occurrence, we start adding in weekly chores, like stripping their beds to wash their linens and weeding. Some chores, like doing laundry and meal preparation, require a bit of maturity. But even those chores can often be broken down into smaller pieces that allow a younger child to participate in the responsibility. For example, my five-year-old cannot do laundry by himself, but he can bring his clothes hamper to the washing machine and help load his clothes.
Again, consistency is key. When it comes to effectively training up our kids and having a well-managed household, it is better to complete chores on the regular, as often as necessary, rather than wait for a dire need (like no clean dishes or no clean underwear!).