I drove into the garage, turned off the engine and digested the condition of our car after a week of school runs, extra curricular activities and errands. Given the state of things, there was no doubt that it was Friday afternoon. Despite having told my boys to bring in their things from the car each afternoon, there were snack containers, clothes, Pokemon cards and other forgotten items strewn over the back seat and floor. So, instead of simply telling my boys to bring it all inside as I climbed out of the car, I policed the operation to make sure it actually got done this time.
One of my sons clearly felt resistant to tidying up but he knew my expectations wouldn’t budge so he quietly got on with it and headed into the house. My other son was a different story, perhaps because most of the mess was his. You’d have thought I’d asked him to tidy the whole house, not merely his compact one square metre of real estate in the family car. His cheerful Friday afternoon demeanor vanished and the complaining, moaning and half-crying began.
“I’ve got a thousand things to carry! My arms are full! I can’t carry anymore!” my son burst out.
Very unreasonably, I pointed out that he might have to make two trips to get the job done.
The whining quickly escalated to red-faced outrage. “Why can’t you do some of it?! It’s not just my job!” he barked at me.
Simmering, but managing not to boil over, I showed him that I had my own items to take inside and reminded him that, if he’d brought his things in each afternoon, he wouldn’t have so much to do now. He was furious that I was right. I gathered my things and headed inside the house, leaving him to stomp and slam doors and, hopefully, clean up.
TIME TO RETIRE CHORE CHARTS?
As I put my own things away, I wondered, “why are my boys so often resistant to helping or even just taking responsibility for their own things?” No answers came to me but I got thinking about the culture around chores in our family. Since moving house, we hadn’t quite managed to resurrect the system we had had for our boys’ chores. The charts I had made for each son, displaying their responsibilities with cute clip art images – laminated, even – had been lost in the move. They were probably a little out-dated now, anyway, my boys being capable of more than setting the table and checking the mail. I’d been meaning to sit down and have a think about new, age-appropriate chores and to create an updated chart for them each.
However, thinking about it now, although the charts had served us well for quite a long time, my boys had started to outgrown them. One limitation was that, if a task wasn’t on the chart, they didn’t believe they should have to do it. I probably needed to come up with a different approach to chores. But why should we need a system just to get our children helping out around the house? At 5 and 8 years of age, I wanted to progress beyond charts and rules to helping my boys develop a genuine sense of responsibility and caring for our home, our belongings & our family.
Ideally, my husband or I would notice something that needed doing, ask one of our sons to do it and they would just do it. No complaining that it’s their brother’s turn to do a job and why did they always have to be the one to do the work. No pleading to do it later, which we all know never comes. No expending my own time and energy badgering them to do a job that I could’ve done myself with less effort than I was using to motivate them to do it.
WHAT TO DO INSTEAD OF CHORE CHARTS
I didn’t know how we’d make the shift from resistance to willingness around chores so I compiled a list of ideas –
Talk with my boys about the need to do chores and our values around them
My boys needed to understand that our home worked better for our family when there was a degree of organisation & tidiness and that everyone could help to maintain that order. We could integrate our values into these conversations. For example, gratitude is one of our family values and we already talked about how caring for our things shows our appreciation for them. Other values could include, contribution, respect and helping others.
Be flexible with the terms
For example, if my son was in the middle of a game, I could agree to letting him do the job when he had finished. This would reflect some of the give-and-take I was wanting to nurture in our family.
Involve my boys in my chores
Whenever I did a job, I could ask myself, “would one of my sons be capable of helping in some way?” and, if so, include them. Doing chores together, would be more fun and give them a greater sense of teamwork. By doing some of the work my husband and I do, they may also develop a better appreciation for the effort we put in to making things work smoothly for our family.
Appreciate contributions they make
If I showed appreciation and thanks for the work they did, they would feel good for having made a contribution and might be more motivated to keep helping out.
FROM SYSTEMS TO VALUES
The shift I was trying to make was from an extrinsic, systems-based approach to chores to an intrinsic, values-based approach. I wanted the focus to be more on our family’s culture around chores than the processes we had for getting them done. I didn’t have it all figured out, but I’d painted a picture of where I want us to go.
A year on, I’d say that the changes we’ve made have achieved what I’d hoped they would. My boys are a lot more accepting of jobs, even taking initiative on occasion – and there’s not a chore chart in sight. Of course, there are protests at times but the ideas I listed above are helping us to create a culture of willingness and contribution in our home.
And, for the record, my son did clean out his part of the car that afternoon last year. He left the door and the boot wide open in a display of resistance – but it got done.