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. Judging by the state condition of things, there was no doubt that it was Friday afternoon. Despite having told my boys to bring in their things from the car when we’d arrived home 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 just his compact one square metre of real estate in the family car. His cheerful Friday afternoon demeanor quickly 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 any more!” my son burst out. Very unreasonably, I pointed out that he might have to come back and make a second trip for the rest of his things. 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 all of my own items on the front passenger seat that I would be taking 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 things away inside the house, 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 in February, we haven’t quite managed to resurrect the system we had for our boys’ chores. The charts I had made for each son, showing 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’ve been meaning to sit down and have a think about new, age-appropriate jobs and to create an updated chart for them each.
But, as I tidied my things away that afternoon, I thought to myself, “why should we need a system just to get our boys helping out around the house?” It’s their home, their family, their things. Part of belonging to our family team is sharing the responsibilities and work for everyone’s benefit. The limitation of a system like the charts we had is that, if a task isn’t on the chart, my boys don’t believe they should have to do it. (Read about how our pocket money system also backfired on us here). Although the charts served us well for quite a long time, my boys seem to have outgrown them in a certain way. At 5 and 8 years of age now, I’d like 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.
Let me dream a little here. Ideally, my husband or I would notice something that needs 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 do they always have to be the one to do the work. No pleading to do it later, which we all know never comes (at least, not without consistent nagging). No using up my own time and energy getting them to do a job that I could’ve done myself with less effort than I was using trying to get them to do it.
WHAT TO DO INSTEAD OF CHORE CHARTS
Honestly, I don’t know how I’m going to make the shift from resistance to willingness around chores. I really am just thinking out loud about this for the first time here. But here are some initial ideas –
- Talk with my boys about the need to do chores and our values around them. Through these discussions, my boys can understand that our home works better for us all when there is a degree of organisation & tidiness and that everyone can help to maintain that order. We can integrate our values into these conversations. For example, gratitude is one of our family’s values and we already talk about how caring for our things shows our appreciation for them. Other values might include, contribution, respect and helping others.
- Be flexible with the terms. It’s not reasonable to spring a time-consuming job on our child unexpectedly so, when appropriate, I would be willing to negotiate the terms. This reflects some of the give-and-take I’m wanting to nurture in our family. For example, if my son is in the middle of something, I could agree to letting him do the job when he has finished what he’s doing. But this flexibility would only remain as long as he proves to be reliable, taking responsibility for getting jobs done under the agreed conditions.
- Include my boys in chores that I do. Whenever I do a job, I can ask myself, “would one of my sons be capable of helping in some way?” and, if so, include them. When they do chores with me, it is more fun and it gives them a greater sense of teamwork. By experiencing some of what my husband and I do, they may also develop a better appreciation for all the work we put in to making things work smoothly for our family.
- Appreciate contributions they make. If I show appreciation and thanks for the work they do, they will feel good for having made a contribution and may be more motivated to keep helping out. As they develop a greater sense of responsibility for our home and our things, they may start taking initiative and doing small jobs without being asked, which I’d definitely want to acknowledge. (Imagine that!)
IN SUMMARY: FROM SYSTEMS TO VALUES
As I’ve written this essay, I’ve realised that the shift I am trying to make is from an extrinsic, systems-based approach to chores to an intrinsic, values-based approach. I want the focus to be more on our family’s culture around chores than the processes we have. I haven’t figured it all out, I’ve just painted a picture of where I want us to go.
Practically, I suspect the answer might lie somewhere in the middle – as it usually does. Perhaps we will create a chart for essential daily chores that my boys can take responsibility for independently. Then, I can get them involved in other jobs as needed in a more collaborative way that honours our family’s values and motivates my boys to pitch in.
And, for the record, my son did clean out his part of the car that afternoon. He left the door and the boot wide open in a display of resistance – but it got done.
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