Slowly, ever so slowly, I have embarked on a mission to engage my children in domestic housework. I’m not hiring them out or anything. I just want them to participate in routine maintenance for the household of which they are a part.
As toddlers they really weren’t good for much, but I did always have them clean up their own toys. Okay, help me while I cleaned up all their toys. As they grew older, getting them to do more than that required a Herculean effort, and I often lacked the strength.
Then last week my new best friend and favorite commenter on Barista Kids, jennymilch, wrote in on my Playdate Post with chore statistics. If you missed it, she said years ago a study stated childhood chores were the number ONE predictor of adult happiness. I have no idea if that’s true or not, and I’m sure there’s another study claiming childhood chores are the number one predictor of adult misery, but I’m going with the former. It helps me out. I can get some relief with housework and believe I’m doing my kids some good at the same time.
Even if I’m not doing them any good, I’m still a big believer in child labor. My kids are primarily the reason my house is a wreck in the first place. They should have a hand in cleaning it up. But it has been difficult process.
Before I became a parent, a good friend mentioned she made her three-year-old make his own bed every day. I though she was a little extreme. Kids at that age can’t even walk straight yet. Of course, she explained, she had to make the bed over again because the kid’s bed-making skills were substandard. I thought, What’s the point?
The point is, I later learned, she was setting a standard. She wasn’t the maid, she wasn’t the servant and she wasn’t responsible for every single domestic act in that house. The kids were members of the family, and as such they needed to contribute.
I learned this lesson the hard way. My kids, having not been raised with domestic responsibilities from infancy, revolted when I tried to establish chores. Now with the minimal number of tasks I’ve attempted to institute, I get tears, hysterics, evasiveness, complaints, excuses, fits and appeals. Sometimes they just wear me down, and I don’t enforce the rules. I know, I know. I must be consistent, especially when I remember that at my daughter’s age I was cleaning the entire house and holding down a full-time job. My daughter can’t even manage to pick her clothes up off the floor.
I should have started earlier. Maybe at two.
What age is old enough?
When I went to search Flickr, the world’s largest collection of public photos, for “children doing chores” only six, six, pictures came up. Of those four had nothing to do with children doing chores, and one was a teenager doing chores, which to me doesn’t count. I then did a search of “children doing housework” and only one came up. It was a picture of a backscratcher.
The picture in the post is one of a child at school.
I will say, though, in my search I did find a kindred soul. The picture of the teenager mowing the lawn had a caption by the parent, who wrote, “We usually don’t pay the kids to do chores around the house because we figure that is part of the privilege of living here.” The photo was captioned: “One of the Benefits of Having a Teenage Son.”
(Photo: Flickr/Peachy Weasel)