This Is How I Got My Kids To Actually Do Chores

by Lisa Sadikman
Originally Published: 

When it comes to making my kids do chores around the house, I’m a total nag. Hounding them isn’t my idea of a good time, but I’d rather nag than keep doing every little thing myself.

It wasn’t always this way. I used to stare at the pile of dirty dinner dishes left on the table, take a deep breath and sweetly ask my kids to clear them, hoping for the best. I’d be all nonchalant about it to make clean up seem like no big deal and to hide my annoyance at having to ask in the first place. I’d silently pray that they’d say, “Sure mom, no problem.” Meanwhile, 99 percent of the time, I’d end up dealing with their inevitable sighs and made-up excuses (one kid always has to poop when I ask her to help out). The whole interaction made me almost as miserable as doing the dishes myself.

That’s because I took their refusals to do chores personally. When they complained about helping or outright ignored my requests, it felt like they were complaining about me. Was I so awful that I didn’t deserve their help when I asked for it? Nagging them felt even worse because I came off as angry and desperate – not exactly a likable version of mom. What I really wanted was for them to want to help me.

Yeah, I know, it’s a little irrational: What kid likes to do chores? Did I really believe my kids didn’t love and care about me because they wouldn’t happily walk the dog, make their beds, or wipe down the bathroom counters with or without being asked?

For me, the thankless domestic tasks that go along with motherhood were loaded and unappreciated. All I wanted was a little help and I couldn’t deal with the emotional angst of asking only to be rejected. After one or two rounds of their sassy grumbling, I’d angrily dismiss them and spend the next thirty minutes rage cleaning the kitchen.

Now before you blame me for this predicament, believe me when I tell you that I am not the sort to do all the things for my kids. Maybe when they were little, because let’s be honest, asking a three-year-old to feed the dog usually means cleaning up a trail of dog food, mopping up puddles of sloshed water and freaking out when you find them snacking on canine kibble.

As soon as they were reasonably old enough to help, my kids were introduced to a couple basic chores, which they immediately complained about. And yes, I’ve tried all the tricks I know to get them to do their chores without making it seem like I’m asking them to cut off a finger. Chore charts and sticker charts littered my fridge for years. Positive discipline, promised rewards and threatened consequences worked for a time, but failed to motivate my kids to do basic chores for more than a few weeks at a time.

Soon enough, reminding them to help out around the house became more stressful than just doing the work myself. Like my kids, I didn’t do the chores without a good dose of misery and resentment. I’ll admit, I lost my shit a few times, which left me feeling crappy, but actually did get them to do their jobs. Stomping around the house yelling was not, however, the kind of mom I wanted to be and didn’t solve the problem of living with refusenik kids.

Then it dawned on me: maybe I can’t change their attitudes but I can definitely shift mine. I decided to separate the two issues – chores and my emotional angst. If I stop taking their lack of enthusiasm for chores as a personal affront, then reminding them won’t be so hard. If I keep reminding (aka, nagging) them without letting anxiety about getting my feelings hurt overwhelm me, maybe I won’t back down so quickly – or predictably.

I’ve used this approach for a few years now and it mostly works. I still hate nagging my kids to help out. I still fantasize that someday they’ll magically do their chores without being asked. Either way, the reality is shit needs doing and I want help doing it. The difference is, I know their eye rolling and shade isn’t about me. It’s about washing dishes or walking the dog instead of whatever else it is they want to do (including pooping). I’ve learned to keep nagging, bide my time and not take it personally or give in when they push back.

And guess what? I haven’t rage cleaned anything in at least a month.

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