Google+ Authentic Parenting: If Not Chores, Then What?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

If Not Chores, Then What?

I wrote a post about how I oppose chores a while back, because they kill the authentic desire to help out and they are top down and coercive. Mentioning chores in a negative light, even among coercion opposing parents, seems to be another hot pickle.
Most of us have been raised with the idea that chores breed tidy children and that they foster self sufficiency, build character and what not. Still a lot of parenting experts swear by fixing chore schedules and having your children perform housework.

Image: Queerkatkitten on Flickr
Yet it seems that as soon as I mention that I don't do chores at my house, people think that I am the household slave, my child runs ruckus and is a dirty spoiled brat... You know, everything non feminist. Or otherwise I must live in a truly dirty house.
I can safely say that neither of those are true. I am in no way slave to my household or my family, and my house is fairly clean (though my standards may be a little higher still, but I think that's just being neurotic).

So what's the trick?

First of all, we have to acknowledge and accept that people hold different standards of clean. My husband and I for example hold very different ideas on how our house should be, me being at the neurotic end and he being at the more relaxed side (though I must say all these years with me must have rubbed off, because I do hear him commenting that rooms are dirty when we go somewhere else, and nowadays he does notice when the floor isn't clean).
Children form an entity on their own when it comes to cleanliness. With them being so much smaller than we are, just a small space of clear floor is already vast to them. They love cosiness and colors, and have not yet learned the disadvantage of ruckus.

Accommodating them every time they can't find something and cleaning up behind their back isn't the way to go.
We must enable them to be responsible about their stuff and it's important they know that the house doesn't go from disorder to sparkly shiny with just fairy dust.

So how do I do it.

First of all, I have to admit that I have help. Houses in Africa do get extremely dirty, and there are always insect problems, so you do have to keep the house really clean. Yet that doesn't mean I sit on my butt drinking cocktails all day (if only!).
When I do the laundry, I'll ask my daughter if she wants to help me (if she's around). Sometimes she does, sometimes she doesn't. She loves hanging up the wet clothes and turning on the washer. She's already very skilled at helping out in the kitchen. She really loves to help the cleaning lady clean the tiles in the bathroom.
Every time I am doing something, I will ask her if she feels like helping. Sometimes she declines, sometimes she helps. Sometimes she doesn't want me to do it, and then I postpone it. There is always time to clean up later.
Most children genuinely want to help out. They love it as part of their play and learn oodles from it. But that doesn't mean you have to enforce it.

Image: ThreelfByBike on Flickr
At age three, she starts grasping the idea of cleanliness, and is known to come to me carrying the piece of clothing she was wearing, exclaiming that it is dirty and needs to go in the wash. She also knows that when she spills something, it will have to be cleaned.
Though I have never forced her to clean up her mess, if she asks me to do it, I would say: "You know, you can do it too." or "We can clean it up together, I hold the pot and you put in the little beads."

It's the coercion part we need to get rid of when it comes to chores and housework. And as it turns out, everyone discovers something they like to do and as such we help each other.



  1. I like this idea and to some extent it is the way we have it in our house, too. But sometimes kids get too occupied with their friends and it leaves me only to clean up. It doesn't seem far to me so I ask for help but if they don't feel like it and I am tired I remind them that we all live in this house and each of us has to have some responsibility. Dad makes money, mom feeds everyone and runs the family and kids should pitch in, too. So basically, I don't force them but I don't allow the housework to fall on me only.

  2. Amen! I think that for many of us messies, having chores framed in such a negative way when we were younger warped the way we approach them now as adults.

  3. Totally agree. is this is how we mostly do it in our house too, although I have seen my husband "make" the sprout put his toys away. Which I don't think is very fair coming from the man who leaves his socks lying around all over the place ;) Our 2 year old son is for the most part very neat and always taking things to the trash, to wash, cleaning up, etc. I too was raised like you and swore never to do that with my own children.

  4. I agree, but for me its more of fostering internal motivation than external. If children learn that their room is pleasant for when a friend comes over and they can find items - heck even the floor, they will know internally to keep it clean. My daughter who is 8 definately gets this, and she knows when she walks into someone else's house that is not upto her own standards, because she says she does not feel comfortable. My 5 year old boy doesn't quite get it yet, for he share a room with his younger brother and its often messy - everytime I go in there! But I am hoping by 8 or 9 he will get it too! its the internal motivation that keeps it a goal of THEIRS not OURS - which the way I see it external motivation is just there to please ME. So we don't do allowance either - not sure I ever will. My children say to me - can I do a job for you so I can save some money for ____ whatever. And when I ask them to do something for me, they usually reply with a "yes"...which is better than "for how much?".


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