My kids are 10, 8, and 5, and I’m afraid they’re going to grow up to be spoiled brats because they don’t seem to know how to work. Over the past couple of years, I’ve tried a variety of chore systems to get them to help out around the house.
I want them to do chores because I’m freaking tired of picking up after everybody and being the only one who notices the toothpaste dripping down the front of the cabinet in the bathroom. But the real reason I want them to do chores is because they freaking need to learn how to work. I mean, as far as I know, that’s one of the most important life skills a person can have.
When I was a kid, I had a ton of chores. We did not get an allowance because we were just expected to contribute to our household. We did yard work, cleaned the bathrooms, helped clean up after dinner, unloaded dishwashers, made beds, and did deep cleaning chores whenever my parents asked us to. Like all kids, we moaned and complained and sometimes cried and threw fits, but that didn’t change my parents’ expectations.
All kids hate chores, I get it. They are not fun. But we never would have dreamed of thinking that we had the luxury of just doing nothing. It’s just not how our family worked.
I do think that balance is incredibly important. If anything, we had too many chores as kids. Our Saturdays were often spent at home, not playing with friends, because there was a big list of things to do around the house and nobody could leave until they were all complete.
When I became a parent, I knew I didn’t want that for my kids. I want them to play outside for hours, and have friends over, and be carefree. I don’t want them to be folding my laundry on a sunny Saturday afternoon.
But I’m finding that the balance of teaching my kids to have a good work ethic and also letting them have a carefree childhood is a hard one to figure out. I’ve tried chore charts, chore apps, money, and no money as incentives. I’ve tried turning things into a race, point systems, and creating areas of the house that my kids are in charge of. I’ve tried it all. The problem is, my kids lose interest in whatever “system” we’re currently trying out, and so do I. It’s all a big fat pain in the butt to teach your kids how to work with points or chore charts, or whatever system you might find on Pinterest these days.
And what kills me most is the righteous indignation they express when they’re asked to pick up their own dirty socks from the dining room or put away their lunchbox. The eyerolls, foot-stomping, and crying leave me wondering where I’m going wrong. Why do my kids feel like they should get a free pass? I’m not the maid, and I don’t want to be treated like one.
Even though it’s an exhausting process, the fear that they’re never going to establish a strong, healthy work ethic motivates me to keep teaching them that they have to do their part in our household. Most days, it doesn’t feel like I’m making any progress, but I keep working at it.
It’s not all bad, of course. My kids have their moments of being helpful. When all the stars align, and pigs fly, sometimes they can be very good at staying on task and getting their crap done without too much whining. They aren’t totally spoiled yet.
But many times, I’m staring down a house that looks like a tsunami blew through and dreading telling my kids it’s time to clean up because I don’t want to hear all the whining and complaining. And nothing turns me into a drill sergeant more than when one of my kids asks me, “Why do I have to do that?” Um…because you live here kid, and you made the mess, and the cat is taking a nap on your dirty underwear and that, my friend, is disgusting.
My oldest does do her laundry each week, and while that continues to be a battle at times, it has been good for her. She won’t be the stinky one when she goes off to college one day because (at least!) I’ve taught her how to wash her underwear properly. Go me.
The task of teaching my kids how to be responsible for their own messes just seems downright overwhelming most days, and one of my biggest fears is sending my kids into the world entitled and helpless. I refuse to let that happen.
So I’m going to keep trying by hounding, pleading, and nagging for them to stop being lazy and learn that hanging their coat up on the actual coat rack is not really too much to ask. And picking up that giant bin of Legos they decided to dump out in the basement is actually their responsibility too.
Teaching your kids how to be responsible humans is freaking hard, and there are many days when I just want to give up and live in squalor because I’m too tired to keep fighting. But I see tiny glimmers of hope that keep me going, like when my kid clears his dishes without being reminded or the very entitled baby of the family asks to help me fold laundry.
It’s on those good days that I see that they are not yet a total lost cause and maybe they will leave the nest with the ability to work hard and make something of themselves after all. Even if it kills me in the process.
This article was originally published on