Children and chores. We have tried numerous strategies with chores. We tried making things fun. We tried chore charts without rewards because, really, don't they need to get done and shouldn't the kids just learn to do them? We tried chore charts that also earned money because not earning anything didn't work. We tried chore charts that earned toys. We tried yelling. We tried being generally negative and upset about the house.
The thing is, and if no one has told you yet, none of these things ever work. Sure, they may seem great for a week or two, a month tops, but then, they don't and you're back to figuring out how to get them do their chores. So, what did we do? We stopped having them do chores.
You read that right. No chores. For a long time we didn't ask them to do anything but help us pick up the two main rooms with us each night. Even then, we were helping and it was easy. Even then, after we released all the force and coercion they still didn't want to help and it was still a struggle. But you know what? It's been two years now and there is rarely a struggle anymore. They pick up whatever is left out during the day. The boys pick up the playroom most nights so we have a clean slate for the next day and I have lowered my expectations about our home and especially their own spaces (bedroom and playroom).
Both Jordan and I prefer a clean space. I dislike clutter but we also realize there are six of us in a small home and that we actually live here each day. Our kids are home everyday and we are creating, questioning, exploring, relaxing, and loving all day. That can create some clutter and mess. But I've also realized the mess doesn't end. It starts again the next day. Now, I can continue to be worked up about it and stressed or I can let it go and have a positive feeling in the house and with my interactions with our kids.
I'm sure you're wondering if I do everything myself then. Do they not ever help with things? Doesn't that make them spoiled? No. My kids do like to help with jobs. The boys have two days per week each to take care of the cat's litter box. All of us take turns feeding the cat depending on who's around or not involved in anything at the moment. They will help take the trash, recycle, and compost out. The girls love helping fold laundry, especially towels most days. All the kids like to help mop which is great because I detest it.
A day or two before we have family coming to town, I make a list of things that need to be cleaned. I pick the biggest items on the list (kitchen and bathrooms) and they all pick the things they want to help with. There is no fighting. There is no bickering. I am not yelling. They just help me because they understand and also want our house to look nice for our family that is traveling to visit. We complete our jobs and then move on with our day.
The rest of the time I do what needs to be done. Wiping baseboards, wiping blinds, cleaning bathrooms often, doing laundry constantly, sweeping, dishes, dusting, and vacuuming. Jordan helps often with dishes and keeping the kitchen tidy and he is mainly responsible for the outside jobs. The kids will help weed and mow too!
The point is, we stopped using force with our children. We stopped expecting them to function and clean at an adult level. I realized that it is mainly my responsibility to keep the house clean and it is their responsibility to be kids and to learn to pick up after themselves without rewards and punishments. It's about learning. I read in Peter Gray's book, Free to Learn, that there are tribal cultures in the world do not expect the children to do much of anything until they are teenagers. The kids are allowed to be kids without responsibility like the adults because they will one day have that responsibility anyway. The kids "play" like they are doing the jobs of the adults in the tribe. Through that play they learn and perfect things. And when the time comes that they start contributing they are happy to be moving on and having responsibilities and they know what they are doing. I think it's lovely.
For those who think our kids are spoiled or will turn into lazy people who do not want to help with anything, go ahead. Our kids work hard and think it's fun to do so. They are helpful with grandparents and will clean up messes at other people's homes without complaint. I also think it's helpful to think about God in this situation. God isn't forcing anyone to help anyone else out. But, once we figure out for ourselves that service feels good, that being in a tidy and clean home feels good, and that helping friends and family feels good, we want to do more of it. Thankfully our kids, like all kids (young and those of us who are older), have a long time to learn these things and we get to learn together all day every day.