Growing up my brother and I had our responsibilities around the house. Taking care of our rooms, making our beds everyday, helping set the table, and several other chores were engrained in our weekly routine. As we got older, we were then given a small allowance for keeping up with these chores so that in addition to responsibility we were learning the value of a dollar and savings. Now as a parent, it was never a question in my mind that my own children would also pitch in around the house.
When my oldest was tiny, we made cleaning up toys after they were no longer being played with her first “job”. Of course she was so small, so we helped her with this, but in my mind she was not too little to grasp the idea of taking care of your things and shared spaces. As she grew, we expanded her responsibilities. A few times a week we ask her to feed our dog, a job she takes very seriously – sometimes making him sit until she said grace for him (talk about heart melting). She also makes her bed everyday; and cleans up her desk space at the end of the day (key when three people share one space for seven hours a day). She understands the importance of this and recently demonstrated so when after coming home from a long day of work she presented me with a note that illustrated her level of caring for others and how helping out really can help – a win in my book.
Another “chore” she does every night is to take the placemats and dirty cloth napkins down to the washing machine. Sometimes I’ll surprise her and tell her that I’ll do it for her, but overall she knows what is expected of her. Now with our youngest we are also having her “help out”. When her sister does her after dinner chore, we ask her to push in the chairs and the table and “sweep” the floor. She has a toy broom and pan that we keep in our kitchen pantry and she is more than eager to get it out and get to work when dinner is over. While they are doing this, my husband and I are usually working together to clean up dishes and the counters. My hope is not to run a rigid ship, but more to show them at an early age that it takes teamwork to get things done, and that we all have a responsibility to help out.
Additionally we try to do is use language that helps reinforce this. When our dog barks at people passing by, we vocalize that he is doing his job to protect the house. When toys are left all over the living room or art projects are on the dining room table, we say things like “ ‘this is a shared space’ and it needs to find a different home”.While I can’t take complete credit for this idea, I was influenced long ago by the book Bringing up Bebé in which the author, Pamela Druckerman, says the same thing.
Of course while all of the above sounds peachy and wonderful, it doesn’t always work. As children will do, toys are not always immaculately put away in their well organized bins by their slightly OCD mom. Sometimes beds aren’t made with a military precision; or a small pile of artwork accumulates on the counter. What I have learned here is that sometimes (while it may bug me) I need to lower my expectations and understand everyone has different levels of organization. The most important take away is that we are fostering a sense of teamwork and responsibility within our home. One that I hope diffuses into other aspects of my children’s lives, and later when they grow and have homes of their own.
While I am in no way a children’s psychologist or parenting expert, these strategies have worked for us and our children. As they grow, so will their responsibilities and allowance allotments. If you’re interested in more on this topic, check out this piece on Time. It highlights Yucatec Maya parenting techniques and how the author felt their cultural stance on raising a family could spread globally – making for happy homes everywhere. No chore charts, no yelling, just households run and maintained by all that are dwelling in them – a goal to which I myself aspire.