Children, chores, and change

Chilihead at Don’t Try This At Home is hosting a carnival today about children and chores and allowances (the “change” in my title — had to alliterate πŸ™‚ ). Some of the questions she proposed were “how you handle chores and allowance at your house, how old your kids are, how you assign chores (are they re-assigned each week or month or at all?), how you determine allowance or why you don’t give allowance, other ways your kids earn their own spending money, all your other thoughts on the matter.” She setting up a “Mr. Linky” here so that folks who want to participate in this carnival can link to their posts and readers can find many perspectives.

My children are 23, 20, and almost 14. They all still live at home, though the oldest will likely leave the nest before long and my middle one spends most of his waking hours at college. I don’t remember when we first started paying allowances. I know it was when the older two were old enough to both have assigned chores. They may have been 10 and 7 or so. Of course, I had been calling on them to do various things around the house before that time, but it was more on an as-needed basis.

I never wanted to connect chores to allowances directly because I didn’t want them to become mercenary and want some payment every time they were asked to do something, but we did start the specifically assigned chores and allowances at the same. I wanted the idea to be that they contributed to the work because they were part of the family, and they also received monetary benefits because they were part of the family. My primary reason for wanting to give allowances was to give them experience managing money. I had one who would spend his pretty quickly, then would see something at the store he wanted and ask if we would buy it for him and he’d pay us back with his next allowance. We did that a few times but then realized we were fostering a credit card, buy now, pay later habit, so we nipped that in the bud. It was nice when the “Can I haves” hit at the store to tell them they could have it if they wanted to spend their allowances on it. It’s amazing how that made them rethink a purchase. πŸ™‚

I don’t remember how we came up with this, but the allowance we gave them was a dollar for every year of their age every other week. That’s how often Dad got paid, so that’s when they got paid, too.

I have seen some really cute chore charts, but my kids weren’t really into that kind of thing (they probably would have been at an earlier age). What eventually evolved for us was this procedure: I would make a list of things needing to be done, usually vacuuming, dusting, and emptying garbage cans every week, with some extras added at other times. I would make the list so that there was an even number of “jobs” per boy and take turns each week letting each one have first choice at to what job to do. They weren’t allowed to sign up for all the “easier” ones and leave the harder ones to the others. They considered vacuuming to be pretty easy, so they’d usually have one vacuuming job and one other job. I’d put the list on the counter or refrigerator and then they’d cross off their jobs when they were done.

Daily jobs include emptying the disahwasher and the kitchen trash can and taking the recyclables out to the bin (the last was my youngest’s domain until the last couple of years). I would usually assign those by rotation. Then there is always general pick-up. When met with, “That isn’t my mess!” we’d remind them that we had picked up after them many times and it wouldn’t hurt them to help pick up after someone else’s things. You have to be careful here — you don’t want one particularly messy child to “get away with” leaving messes and then having the others continually bail them out, but occasionally everyone just has to pitch in and get the job done. And sometimes there would be arguments over who had what job last time, as if the world would end if one had to unload the dishwasher twice in a row! I would try to listen and be fair — I acknowledge that I’m fallible and might forget what I assigned to whom last time — but sometimes I’d just have to say, “It’s not a contest. By the end of your lives you will have done each job about the same number of times. If sometimes you happen to have to do one job twice in a row, it will even out in the end.” Though they never grew to love chores, the arguing did cease eventually as all of this became routine and habit.

There is an age gap between my two older boys and my youngest, and the older ones sometimes complained they were being overworked compared to the youngest. I would remind them that they were older and more mature and capable, but the only thing that really helped was when I told them they would be leaving home before he did and then he’d have all the chores.

When you first assign chores it’s best to have the child do them with you so that you can show them exactly what you expect. It’s also best to give specific instructions. Just “vacuum the living room” will usually result in a few swipes in the middle of the room unless you show and tell them to go under the end tables, move the piano bench, etc. Then you can progress to their doing it with your observation, then to their doing it on their own. I mentioned in an earlier post that children do what is inspected rather than what is expected. I don’t remember where I first heard that, but it is true, especially in the early stages. There was one of mine that I would continually have to call back to redo a job. Sometimes I would just let it go, but I would have to remind myself that this was not just about getting this one chore done: it was about establishing good work habits that they would carry through with them into their future employment, and about character and integrity. I had to realize I wasn’t doing them any favors to let slipshod work get by.

One chore that most children have is to clean their own rooms to some degree. This is an area especially where children and parents can have different ideas about what exactly a clean room means. But if you work together with them when they’re very young, it can become routine ( at least the knowledge can: the implementation takes a while longer). Working together also teaches organizing skills. One of mine used to get very upset at being told to clean his room until I realized that it seemed overwhelming to him: he didn’t know how to break it down into smaller components. Working with him and going task by task helped to make it manageable and also taught sorting and organizing skills (all the legos together here, all the crayons here, etc.).

We did let them earn money for some “extra” chores. Washing the car was one.

When they got older, it was a little harder to determine what they should pay for and what we should pay for. At least one application we implemented was in the area of meals. Between youth group and school functions and just getting together with friends it seemed they were eating out a lot during high school years. We determined that if it was a specific youth group or school function, we would pay for it, but if they were just going out with friends, they should pay for it. We still pretty much bought most of their clothes as they weren’t earning a lot of money even when they did start part time jobs. When one son wanted name brand tennis shoes, we told him we would give him the amount of money that we would have spent at Wal-Mart for shoes, and he would have to save and come up with the rest for the shoes he wanted.

In looking over Chilihead’s post before posting mine, I saw she mentioned being a SAHM and feeling like the housework was what she was supposed to do. Even if Mom does the bulk of the cleaning, I think it is important for children to pitch in, for reasons I’ve already mentioned: contributing to the family and training them in work habits. I think it would be difficult for them to leave home and know how to do any kind of housework if they hadn’t done any at home. If they are used to only having to keep up a relatively messy room, their whole house will likely look like that. Regular cleaning helps establish good habits. As my children got older and were away from home more, I did loosen up on the weekly chores. Sometimes I had to just catch them when I could. But even when they got into college and were away from home most of the time to go to class or work or the library to study and we didn’t do the full-fledged job list, I still had them do a few things at home. I felt that was important training for when they had their own careers and families, because even though the exact list of chores might change, there will always be things around the house that need to be done. But when they were really busy or pressured I did let them off.

I know exact chores will vary from household to household. I know some who have their teens do their own laundry. To me it was just always easier to do that myself. But I do have them make their own breakfasts and lunches most Saturdays or summer days. That got started one summer when everyone was waking up at different times and I decided I was not going to stay in the kitchen playing short-order cook all day. Sometimes I do make a general breakfast or lunch for eveyrone some days (we have a sit-down family dinner most weeknights and a big family breakfast and lunch on Sundays), and I have felt a little guilty at times over having my kids make their own lunches, but I remind myself it is good training for them. (Especially with having all boys, I didn’t want them to be helpless in the kitchen. There have been times when I have been sick that I was so glad my husband knew basic cooking, and I wanted my boys to know that, too) Whatever the exact chores, it is good training for adulthood, not only in the specific tasks but in how to work in general for kids to have chores.

It might be good to have a family Bible study about work some time, pointing out that God gave Adam work to do before the Fall (so work itself is not a curse — it just became harder to do after sin entered the world) and going over verses in Proverbs about the diligent man and in the New Testament about providing for one’s own house (I Timothy 5:8) and doing our work quietly with out own hands (I Thess. 4:11-12; II Thess. 3:10-12).

Nowadays my guys are very good about helping with regular chores as well as bigger projects like the recent bathroom renovation. I love family projects like that for many reasons: the boys learn “how tos” of what is involved with that kind of thing that will help them when they’re the men of the house, plus a lot of good fellowship and family memories aren’t made just on vacations or “fun” times, but also on projects done together like that. Then they have the pride of accomplishment in the finished product.

One last thought: young children often have a natural desire to “help Mommy” and join in on whatever she’s doing. I tended to want to send my children off to play so I could do my work efficiently and peacefully (and quietly πŸ™‚ ). But it really is better to let them “help.” It is always easier to teach a thing when the learner is eager to learn it, so, though it may take more time and seem like a little more trouble, it’s good to let a little one work with you, teaching them what to do (though you wouldn’t expect anything anywhere near perfection for years yet) and enjoying that time together.

Though we didn’t use this, Doorposts has a neat set-up called Stewardship Street for teaching good spending and saving principles.

4 thoughts on “Children, chores, and change

  1. Great thoughts! I used to balk at the idea of paying for participating in family chores. After all, we were a unit. But then, I realized that I’m also a part of a team at work, and although I sometimes choose to volunteer for things in life, for most work I want/expect to be paid. So really, what’s so different. and yes, it helps them learn the value of money.

  2. Pingback: The Value of Housework | Stray Thoughts

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