Real Talk: Teaching Kids To Do Chores Is A Chore Itself

by Rita Templeton
Originally Published: 
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When my mom would tell me to do the dishes as a kid, I’d huff my way to the sink, mumbling with each indignant step, “The only reason you had kids was so someone else could wash the dishes.”

Now that I’m a mother myself, I realize just how ridiculous that was. Obviously people don’t have kids just so they can wash the dishes. People have kids so they can wash the dishes and walk the dog and rake the leaves and all the other minutiae that make up the monster of undesirable household drudgery. I mean, it’s basically a no-brainer. Kids are free labor. And it’s good for them — developing work ethic and personal responsibility and all that. So when I make my kids do something, I’m being a good parent, plus it frees up more of my time to devote to valuable grown-up things such as, like, pinning projects on Pinterest that I’ll never attempt.

It takes a shit-ton of work to make a household run like a well-oiled machine, so I made an important decision recently: My kids are going to start pitching in. The way I see it, if they’re going to use all my toilet paper, gobble up my entire data package with their respective devices, and ransack the pantry until the only thing left is cobwebs, then they can damn well lend a hand while they’re living high on the hog, rent-free.

Until now, they’ve had it pretty easy. Yeah, they’ve had chores, but those have predominantly centered around cleaning up their own messes: making their beds, clearing their spot at the table after meals, and all that stuff. But despite my repeated nagging — er, reminders — for them to clean up after themselves, I still feel like a substantial (and substantially depressing) chunk of my life is spent sweeping up their crumby trails, and collecting dirty socks from under beds, and throwing away wrappers that they’ve shoved between the couch cushions because the garbage can is located all the way in the kitchen.

I’ve always done stuff myself because it was easier — in the short term, at least. I’ve been performing my normal household routine for so long that I could do it in my sleep. I’ve figured out the most efficient way to do everything around here, from scrubbing the crapper to the carpet. Honestly, though, I’m not doing myself — or my children or the people they’ll be cohabiting with someday — any favors by taking on the lion’s share of the responsibilities.

If I don’t teach them how to do this stuff themselves, or set forth the expectation that they do it, I’m essentially telling them it’s not their job. And it is. Because I’m not about to be stuck with a horde of moody, messy teenagers who confuse “Mom” with “maid,” or worse, to let them grow into lazy douchebag adults who leave their dirty drawers on the floor for their significant other to haul to the washing machine. I cringe at the thought.

So I’ve had it. This fed-up mama has decided that the kids are gonna help me with my chores now. There’s just one minor issue: I’m a neat freak with high standards. And they are young children who give zero shits about the cleanliness of the house. I could replace the couch with a towering stack of empty pizza boxes, and they’d just shrug and improvise a new position in which to play the Xbox.

But for the good of everyone involved, I’m gritting my teeth and putting my high expectations of sanitation aside while my kids dawdle and complain and bumble their inexperienced way through the everyday chores (that I could do 10 times better, 20 minutes sooner — ahem). And it’s maddening.

Since they’re novices at this whole “household maintenance” thing, I stand in observation while they complete these tasks — say, scooping the litter box — with mouth clamped shut and my tongue bitten nearly in half, practically sweating from restraint. I may appear outwardly calm and collected, but my internal dialogue tells a different story: All right, there’s a turd. Get it. NO! Don’t try to get all the clumps at once! Oh my gawd, he’s getting it all over his hands. GAH. Okay, jiggle the scoop so the excess litter falls back into the box. CHILD. Just SHAKE THE SCOOP. Not THAT hard! Now there’s a pile of litter on the floor. What…what is he doing now? No! Don’t pretend you’re panning for gold! Just finish up already. Oh, for crying out, now he’s dropped a turd on the floor. Pick it up, WITH THE SCOOP, GENIUS, NOT YOUR FINGERS!

While they’re putting just a tad too much detergent in the washer, I visualize the laundry room overflowing with bubbles. I could have a complete spa day in the time it takes for them to clean the toilet properly — not that I’d actually get to do that, seeing as I’m busy watching them clean the shitter. But no matter how long it takes or how uncoordinated they are, I shut up and provide them with the hands-on experience, my comments limited to a helpful cleaning hint once in a while. Because it’s like when they only clean their front teeth and call them “brushed,” it’s my job to correct them, but they’ve got to figure out the right way to do it on their own. And the only way that’s gonna happen is for me to stand back, loosen the reins, and let it.


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