Friday, March 2, 2007

Charting the Chores

I'm on the verge of retooling one of the homeschooling mom's best friends, our family chore chart. Generally, I make my own, but this is a cute website that will help you build and customize a chore chart for your family.

Every so often, the chore chart needs to be redone, as younger children grow in age and abilities, and older ones can tackle 'grown-up' tasks (but may need more time for schoolwork). Redoing the chore chart gives me the chance to sit down, think about the areas in our life that are running smoothly, and focus on the areas that need a little work.

I owe much of my attitude about chores, and the importance of family involvement, to my own mother. She started homeschooling at a time when not too many people were doing it, and often found herself in the position of being able to give advice to younger moms just starting on the grand adventure of teaching their children at home. I remember hearing some of the things she said to these moms, some of whom were struggling to teach and maintain their homes at the same time. Mom's philosophy was that since average ten-year-olds can, in many cases, correctly program a VCR, hook up a video game system, and use a computer, then they are not too young to learn to use relatively simple machines, such as the washer/dryer and the vacuum cleaner. I don't think Mom realized at the time just how counter cultural that advice was.

It seems that chores have fallen out of favor. Many parents expect the bare minimum even from their teenagers. Why?

I think it's because our society continually reinforces the idea that kids are supposed to have fun. True, we make them go to school, but their reward for putting in some effort in that realm is to get to enjoy the rest of their lives without any real responsibilities. Oh, they may, if nagged, clear the floor of their rooms once in a while, and they may even take out the trash occasionally. More than that would interfere with their 'right' to be a kid, something that the media aimed at children continually tells them they have.

Of course, this artificial, media-produced message contrasts with the real message about kids and chores. I found this age appropriate chore chart to be very encouraging; it's just one example of friendly advice on the Internet that reinforces the idea that kids can and should be pitching in around the house.

Sometimes the real battle in getting the children to do their chores is the battle we have with ourselves. I honestly don't know if homeschooling moms are more prone to this battle than moms who don't homeschool, but I suspect the battle is similar either way. I find that I have to overcome three 'bad impulses' in remembering how important it is to get my children to do their chores:

Impulse 1: I'll just do it myself. It may be that it's easier to do a particular chore myself than remember whose turn it's supposed to be; it may be that it's easier to do it myself than to nag for the hundredth time; it may be that my standards of how the chore 'ought' to be done are not the child's standards of how it may be done quite adequately. Whatever the motivation, this is a bad impulse because it teaches the child that he/she may not have to do the chore, depending on what kind of mood mom's in at the time.

Impulse 2: But he/she has been really busy. This one hits me when one of my children has been having a really difficult school day; perhaps a new math concept, perhaps a series of quizzes that all ended up on the same day of the week. By the time the child has finally finished with school for the day, the last thing I want to do is mention the undone chore. But even when I fall for this one, I know it's a bad impulse, because at no time in my children's adult lives will they get to skip their daily responsibilities just because they're busy or struggling in one area of their lives.

Impulse 3: If they really cared, they'd do their chores without being nagged. This one's definitely tied to that grumpy mood that hits about four-thirty p.m. some days, when I feel overwhelmed and yet stubbornly refuse to ask for help. A dose of reality will quash this bad impulse; I just have to remind myself that it's on a par with that other illusion, the one that says If he really loved me, he wouldn't have to ask what I want for my birthday/Christmas/anniversary etc. Children are even less capable of clairvoyance than the average husband; it's better to ask than to sulk.

All three impulses are tied to the false notion that chores are optional for kids. They're not. They're essential. Someday, our children will be adults, and unless we want them calling us in frustration over their inability to comprehend the vacuum cleaner, or their need to keep buying new clothes because they forgot to wash the ones they have, we'll teach them to take care of themselves. Because one day in the very, very far distant future, they may have to take care of us.


matilda said...

You have hit the nail on the head! There is one other voice I have to fight. The one that feels like I have bossed them around all day long. "I made them get their breakfast. I nagged them to get dressed and tidy their rooms. I pushed them through a whole page of subtraction. I forced them to think of a story and write it down. Now I am going to make them do chores! What kind of tyrant am I?"

annonymouse said...

Mine are the pirates who won't do anything..... I will have to keep your site a secret. They get REAL worried when I am listening to Dr. Ray Gurendi and have an AHAAA moment. If they knew I was secretly planning a LIST and going to enforce it, I am sure hives would appear on their poor bodies. If they weren't so self centered they would have realized long before now, that instead of them constantly interrupting the talk show....break has been moved to that time...that is OUTSIDE break time. heeehee