Third grade was no joke for my son. His days were long, he was assigned substantially more homework than ever before, and he was exposed for the first time to the grim horrors of standardized testing. Still, by the end of the year, he was proud and happy. He’d done well, and he felt accomplished.
He was so ready for summer vacation — a much-deserved break.
Aside from a couple swim lessons and scattered camp days, we’ve maintained a pretty open schedule this summer, which we both like.
But…there is no way he’s going to lie around doing nothing all day.
I’m not the meanest mom in the world. In fact, I think I’m pretty freaking nice. However, it does no one any good for a capable, bright, energetic 9 ½-year-old child to sit on the couch all day playing video games. And if I didn’t intervene, I am certain that’s exactly what he’d do.
So I’ve given my son a list of chores and household projects to tackle. He already has some daily chores to take care of (clear the table, put away his clothes, neaten up his room, wipe down counters, etc.). But this list is more substantial and will make him a true contributing member of our household.
The list is a bit of a work-in-progress, but here’s what we have so far:
1. Go through all his crap and prepare for a yard sale.
It’s time for a household purge. We’re going through every closet and secret corner in our house and getting rid of anything we don’t need in a big old yard sale. In the past, it would have been me doing this chore alone (while kicking my husband and kids out of the house). But this year, my tween is participating. Bonus for him: He gets to keep the earnings of anything of he sells.
This will happen with a grown-up present at home. But I deserve to be able to leave my younger son in the care of his big brother while I work, shower, exercise, or do chores of my own. They can play together and be brats, but my tween is old enough and responsible enough to be a caretaker too, and perfectly capable of keeping himself and his little brother out of my hair for 10 minutes at a time.
3. Family archiving
My dad, who is in the process of moving to a smaller home, just sent me two boxes of old family photos. It’s going to be a massive project to sort through all the photos, decide which ones to send to my sister, and think of a nice way to preserve the ones that we’ll keep. This is a perfect chore for my tween to participate in — and I’m sure it will be interesting and educational too.
4. Baseboards/walls/door (those cleaning things we never get to)
There are some chores I never get to — mostly because I don’t have time, but also because they are so boring and repetitive I simply can’t bring myself to suffer through them. But my kids can! In fact, there’s nothing they like better than a bucket of warm soapy water, some rags, and an excuse to get the house soaking wet.
5. Learn to prepare his own meals and snacks on a daily basis
This school year, my son learned how to prepare his own bowl of cereal and OJ. It was a beautiful thing. But I’m taking it a step further this summer. No reason he can’t make himself a sandwich for lunch — hell, he can make one for me too!
6. Help with yard work
Sweep the leaves, water the plants, pull the weeds. What better way to get some exercise, learn responsibility, and commune with nature (and save mom’s aching back)?
7. Wash the car
Again, my kids go gaga over a bucket of soapy water and are forever looking for excuses to be outside throwing water all over the damn place. Why not make them turn their propensity for splashing into something useful that’ll get the car clean-ish?
My son learned to sew when he was little, and incredibly, he still thinks it’s super-fun to sew buttons on shirts and mend socks. I’ll still need to supervise him to some extent, but I’m looking forward to having him tackle that “needs mending” pile on my dresser that seems to be getting higher and higher.
9. Handiwork: change lightbulbs, assemble new furniture, fix stuff
Both of my sons are naturally fascinated with how things work, so there’s no reason why I can’t turn that fascination into something practical. This summer my tween will learn how to change a lightbulb and how to work with screwdrivers and hammers and nails. He wants a new bookcase for his room? He’ll feel so proud knowing he put that sucker together himself (with just a little help from me and Dad).
As with anything parenting-related, I’m not going to fool myself into thinking this endeavor is going to go exactly as planned. I’m far from a perfect parent, and my kids are by no means perfect either. But I think if I keep things positive we can make this work. So far my son has actively participated in coming up with the list items, and I think this has made it easier for him to follow through.
These chores are not just about my son pitching in around the house or even a sneaky way to keep him off the couch — we’re giving him the gift of responsibility, the pride in knowing that he is truly contributing to the running of our household. It’s helping him to grow as a person.
Although it is also true that if he doesn’t get off his butt and help out, there’s no way in hell the video games will be turned on, the ice cream will be purchased, or the pool will be visited.
Got it, kiddo?
This article was originally published on