I really believe that I have tried absolutely everything to get my kids doing chores thoroughly and independently. I have tried every conceivable chore chart: refrigerator, printed, spur-of-the-moment, elaborate peg boards, computer, iPad, clip-on. My current system is an improvement over the past. However, the main reason chores aren’t as much of a problem today is because my youngest is almost six. Everyone can do every chore (especially with help).
My current system is a simple table created in Word, listing morning and evening chores for each child for each day of the week. Every chore rotates to each child and even to mom or dad. Chores include clearing and wiping the table and counters, unloading the dishwasher, loading the dishwasher, cleaning various bathrooms, taking care of the dog, helping with meals, and picking up various rooms. Chores everyone has to do daily (e.g., make your bed) are not listed on the chart, nor are weekly individual chores (e.g., vacuuming). I use another list for the latter.
People with smaller, non-homeschooling families often marvel at our chore chart which is posted on the refrigerator. I wish they wouldn’t, because frankly our chore chart doesn’t work. Sure, it works better than anything else has, but in my mind, it’s still a complete failure. For example, when it’s my turn to clean the bathroom, it’s clear it hasn’t been cleaned all week, despite cheerful proclamations by my kids that they’ve done it. When it comes to evening chores, we all take turns not doing them. Don’t get me wrong. We have co-op meet in our house each week and lots of company, so our house gets cleaned. But not as quickly or as peacefully as it should be.
I was listening to a promo for Dr. Randy Carlson’s program, Intentional Living, when a mom complained that she couldn’t get her kids to clean their rooms, despite all of her nagging. She said she usually just broke down and cleaned their rooms because it was her house and she wanted it clean. Dr. Randy said (and I’m paraphrasing), “So essentially you’ve trained your kids to believe that they have a really crabby maid.” LOL! Wow, that sounds familiar, only I’ve also trained my kids that they have a really crabby mom. I spend lots of time complaining about the kids not doing their chores or doing them really poorly. Then I become the drill sergeant who insists that they get them done NOW.
So yesterday for the 8,000th time, I sat before the Lord really, really frustrated about chores. Sure, I knew I needed to check their chores. I knew it was all my fault. But knowing this had never solved the problem. In the movie, Courageous, a father tells his pastor, “I just wanna know how to be a good dad.” That’s what I said to the Lord yesterday. Lord, I just want to know how to be a good mom. I really want to solve this chore challenge. If you tell me what to do, I will do it.
Honestly, I expected God to tell me that I was lazy and selfish and I would have agreed! Instead, he surprised me with an insight that has completely changed the way I am approaching chores and character, too! Here it is: Approach chores the same way you approach teaching any other school subject. Well, that seems rather obvious, doesn’t it? But not to me. Whereas, I would never tell my kids how to write an essay once or twice and then expect that they would have it down; and whereas, I would never get mad at my kids for making mistakes in math; and whereas, I would never fail to check my kids’ schoolwork, allowing them to go for days on end without doing their lessons, I was doing all of those things with chores. Being the chore checker was a job I dreaded and resented, while being a teacher is a job I treasure and enjoy. I am now my kids’ chore teacher!
The difference that role change makes for me is huge. I now check my children’s chores because I want to see if they understand what to do, not because it’s one more responsibility on my shoulders. I am praising them for getting so much of it right, rather than criticizing them for what they still don’t know. I am teaching them to make meals to mastery, rather than asking them to do cooking tasks haphazardly. I am also accepting that many of my children are still years away from working completely independently.
What I marvel at is how this huge mental shift occurred as an answer to prayer. What a wonderful teacher is our God, who is so patient and positive with a mom like me. Maybe you need a different approach to the challenge of chores. I know Who you can ask to tutor you.
The wise in heart are called discerning, and gracious words promote instruction. (Proverbs 16:21)