My Kids Suck At Chore Charts, And I Don't Care

by Melissa L. Fenton
chore charts
PeopleImages / iStock

Chore charts — I’ve bought them all: magnetic ones, canvas ones, chalkboard ones, metallic star stickered ones. I’ve got the ones hanging in bathrooms reminding them to wipe toothpaste off the sink, ones posted in the laundry room reminding them to empty pockets and to not leave their dirty socks in sweaty balls, ones taped to kitchen cabinets reminding them to put dirty dishes in the sink and to empty dishwasher if it’s full.

We’ve tried them all.

I’ve even handmade a bunch, thinking a personal spin on them would rouse the kids out of their anti-help-mom-do-anything slumber. Nope. They are having absolutely none of it. And God bless them, well-meaning friends who have raised highly obedient kids have even offered their advice. “Did you try assigning your kids specific sections or ‘jurisdictions’ of the house that they are responsible for cleaning and taking care of?” Yep. I sure did, and it failed miserably. Turns out, they don’t give a shit if their section is a total crapfest, they will just move on to another, cleaner, section of the house.

My kids suck at all of it — chore charts, jurisdictions, weekly assigned specific household duties — all of it. They always have and, I fear, always will. I’ve finally given up any hope that any type of written list of shit that needs to get done around the house will ever motivate them to actually do that chore — because it doesn’t.

They are also unmotivated by any form of bribes, any type of incentive-based rewards system like money, or the adding and taking away of privileges. None of those have ever done the trick to get them to help out at home.

We have instead mutually developed a completely different, and somewhat off-the-cuff kind of system, in the hopes of keeping our house from being condemned. It’s called, “Just do it when I ask you, and/or when you notice that it needs to be done.” That’s it. It’s really that simple.

Some parents will claim I am doing my children a great disservice by not teaching them about consistent personal household responsibilities by not insisting and demanding they complete certain chores on a daily basis. They gasp when I tell them my kids don’t do their own laundry or scrub toilets. Quite honestly, with four children between the ages of 8 and 18, our lives on a daily basis can be described as controlled chaos. Adding chore charts and other systems just added to everyone’s stress level, including mine, as it felt like monitoring a chart was another job for me to do. At some point, we all just rebelled against another to-do list.

It’s almost as if they spend their entire days at school completing a never-ending cycle of regimented to-do lists, then it’s homework and other activities after school, then dinner as a family, and then before we know it, it’s bedtime. And high school kids? They leave at 7 a.m., return most nights after 8 p.m. because of sports or part-time jobs (where they clean toilets!), then do homework for hours, and then start it all over again. When are all these stressed-out and overworked teenagers supposed to do a buttload of household chores and wash their clothes?

For now, we will stick with our laid-back system of me asking for them to help out at different times and in different ways, and them ultimately complying. I’m hoping that in gradually putting the responsibility totally on their backs without a chart or system they will develop a sense of initiative, eventually taking pride in doing something without being asked or rewarded.

Soon enough, they will be off to college and the cleanliness of their bedroom, bathroom, and all their laundry will no longer be my problem.

You may be asking, “But if you never made them do their laundry, how will they know what to do?” Funny you should ask. I dropped off my firstborn at college last month. On the way there, he blurted out, “Um, how do I do laundry?”

I said, “There are directions on the back of the Tide box. Good luck.”

Guess what?

He figured it out.