How Many Chores Are Too Many?

Chores. Everybody in my house hates doing them. We don’t like the house to be messy, but we aren’t jumping up to offer to clean it either. My house definitely has that ‘lived-in’ look everyone keeps talking about.

Growing up, my mother believed in chores for her kids. My husband rarely had chores to do. With both perspectives, we agree, that children need to have daily chores.

I have had all types of reactions to the chores I give my children, ranging from admiration of the abilities they have learned to dismay at my robbing them of their childhood. So, how can you tell if your child has too many chores?

To start, if they don’t have chores, then they definitely need some. Chores have wonderful benefits to your kids, yourself and your family as a whole. My family sometimes bonds over our hatred of the necessity of chores, or the boys band together against my insistence chores be completed in a certain way (the correct way a.k.a. my way!). It obviously helps me and my husband, because we have many responsibilities and aren’t available to do every single task. Having chores gives my kids ownership of the home we live in and knowledge on how to be self sufficient in the future. It also makes them appreciate their free time more. If your child has ever said they are bored, they need more chores!

On the other hand, if your children have no down time or chores are interfering with their ability to get their homework done, you may have ventured into the land of child slave labor, and need to cut back a bit. Some people like to give their children a strict list of daily chores that never changes and other like to assign chores as things need to be done. I prefer a list of daily chores, which can be substituted out. For instance, my 13 year old feeds and walks the dogs, but I’ve been teaching him about the kitchen and making simple meals, so if he cooks dinner, I’ll take care of the dogs. It’s only fair if he take one of my tasks, that I take one of his.

It may seem extreme, but as soon as kids can walk, they can have chores. It’s important not to let the word “chore” take up too much head space. People balk at my toddler having chores, but he does. We don’t call them chores, and the work he does isn’t really helpful in the overall scheme of the things I have to do in a day, but they help him learn. He learns a rhythm of everyday life of preparing for an activity, performing an activity and cleaning up after the activity. So, he sees us set the table for dinner, this give him a cue to take his seat at the table, then we have dinner and he knows it’s time to eat, then he sees me at the sink, and he knows it is time to cleanup. When I’m using the dishwasher, he takes up his post, moving the utensils back and forth in their little holders. When I saw this behavior, I handed him a spoon I had rinsed off to see what he would do. He put it in the dishwasher! So now, one of his chores is putting the utensils in the dishwasher. Even though this means it takes twice as long to load the dishwasher, and we can’t put knives in until we are ready to run it, it’s his chore and he is proud when he has completed it. He’ll “help” me close the dishwasher door and give himself a round of applause.

The older boys help take care of the younger children. The fact that the kids ages are so spread out, it helps them to bridge that gap and form bonds. The 13 and 16 year old change the baby’s diaper, and help the 10 year old with his homework. But even with this team effort mentality, it is inevitable that the kids will feel overburdened and taken advantage of. When they have to pause their video game to take out the trash, or stop chatting with their friends online because the the dogs need water, they can start to imagine that they do EVERYTHING and no one else has to work as hard as they do. They feel it’s not fair.

When this happens, it is more than worth it to write down every chore that needs to be done and offer to reassign everyone to new chores. When they see that your time is taken up by grocery shopping, paying bills, replacing shingles on the roof, and cleaning gutters, all of a sudden their small every day tasks seem much more manageable. I don’t think kids need to be blind to the work it takes to run a household in order to remain carefree children. It really makes them appreciate that they don’t have worry about all that, because you got it!

A word of caution though, don’t try to oversell how difficult your tasks are, or let on that you struggle with them. Kids worry about their parents, and fear if we can’t hack it, they’ll have to step up and do it for us. I learned that lesson when I was a single parent.

Once your kids get into their teen years, you should be able to count on them to get their tasks done in a timely manner and completed correctly. But that doesn’t happen unless they grow up with chores. For children 10 and under, don’t really expect their help to be useful. In fact, you may have to go behind them and repeat the task, so it is done correctly. But never reassign a task because a kid doesn’t do it right. This will obviously lead to them doing all their chores wrong, to get out of them. My older sister perfected this strategy against my mother, so much so that none of my siblings ever used her washer, dryer or dishwasher.

What chores do your kids have? Feel free to share below in the comments.

Notyetsupermom’s kids chores:

  • 16 year old:
    • Clean his room
    • His own laundry
    • Clean his bathroom (including toilet, sink and bath)
    • Mow the lawn/shovel the snow
    • Take care of the younger kids
    • And, once he gets his license, he’ll drive the kids around sometimes.
  • 13 year old:
    • Clean his room/laundry/bathroom
    • Feed and walk the dogs
    • Wash dishes
    • Take out the trash
    • Help with the younger kids
  • 10 year old:
    • Clean his room/bathroom
    • Help with the dogs
    • Separate the recylcables
    • Fetch items from under beds and behind furniture (He’s the only one small enough to do this without having to pull out the furniture!)
  • 20 month old:
    • Put his toys in his toy box after play time
    • Separate laundry colors from whites
    • Put the spoons in the dishwasher
    • Help me cook by pulling out all the pots and pans, creating tripping hazards and general noise
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