Summer has been a bit of a free-for-all in my household with late bedtimes, laundry piling up, dishes in the sink, and lazy days spent jumping off our neighbors dock. Responsibilities have been shirked and I’m pretty sure we only managed to pick things up when the sight of a mess became too frightening to look at.

As much as this laid back lifestyle has been exactly what we all needed for a few months, summer is quickly coming to an end, and the reality of packing lunches, assigning chores, doing homework, and being responsible human beings is looming overhead.   

I’ve been soft this summer when it comes to chores, so you can imagine the look of horror and confusion when I called our first family meeting in quite some time. My kids watched in complete shock as I dragged out the whiteboards and Expo dry erase pens and called the meeting to order. After they realized that we would be sitting on the living room floor until our agenda was complete and the whiteboards full with the weeks’ duties, they quickly shook out the summer cobwebs and got to work on their chore list.

In a recent interview I had with New York Times bestselling author of “How To Raise An Adult,” Julie Lythcott-Haims, she shared with me that “chores develop skills, as well as an appreciation of the importance of pitching in, and confidence. Kids who do chores become young adults in the workforce who have an instinct to want to be useful, and who can anticipate what their boss might need. Kids as young as age two can help out around the house.”

Lythcott-Haims details a sample set of chores in her book based on age, including:

  • Ages 2-3: put his clothes in hamper, put toys away and assist in setting the table 
  • Ages 4-5: feeding pets and simple cleaning chores
  • Ages 6-7: help with preparation/cooking of meals and making his bed
  • Ages: 8-9: fold clothes, help make grocery list, and assist with simple lawn duties 
  • Ages 10-13: change bedsheets, use washing machine/dryer and mow the lawn 

The list becomes more advanced as she lays out harder skills for older children.

There are hundreds of ways to set up a weekly family meeting to discuss chores and responsibilities for the week. My family has designated Sunday night, right after dinner, for a quick, 20-30 minute gathering to go over the following week. Calendars, responsibilities, events, etc., are discussed and chores are divided up and assigned.

Our family is very busy and visuals have been a lifesaver in order to stay on top of things. We like this chart from Amazon, as it helps all members of the family to see what their responsibilities and chores are for the week.

Developing a system that works for your family takes time, but learning from others can help get things started. Here are a few tips and tricks I have learned along the way:

1 | Start small and make changes gradually. Give your child a few chores for the week and add on as they master their existing responsibilities.

Their whiteboard should consist of daily responsibilities (such as make bed, pick up toys, etc) and weekly assigned chores (such as empty bathroom garbage, set table and clean up after dinner, empty litter box, etc.). We rotate these weekly assigned chores so that each child has a turn.

2 | Give choices. We allow our kids to negotiate and choose the chores they want for the week. It’s amazing how much more buy-in we get!

3 | Make it a family affair. As often as possible, we try to do housework as a family, which garners more cooperation and a sense of “we’re all in this together.”

4 | Stay the course. Trust me, there have been many days that I have wanted to throw in the towel and shove a pair of earplugs in my ears while my kids complained about their, “oh-so-terrible life.” Better to fight the fight now when they’re younger (and smaller than me), than when they are teenagers and better at slamming doors!

Setting up and following this system required me to let go of the idea that I must be in control (something I really struggle with). As most moms can probably attest to, sometimes it’s just easier to do things ourselves, rather than waiting around for others (not to mention being patient as our kids make a mess in the process of learning new chores.) When I shared with Lythcott-Haims my own personal struggles to release control and allow my kids to have more responsibility, she shared some very wise words with me that I refer to often:

“Believe it or not, our job as parents is to put ourselves out of a job by raising our kids to independent adulthood. This means we ought to be keenly interested not in doing everything for our kids but in teaching our kids to do more and more by and for themselves each year.”

“What gets in the way of this, of course, is that we can do almost everything faster, more neatly, or more efficiently than they can. Why have your kid set the table when he’s not going to do it as well as you do? Because he’ll never learn to do it at all, let alone well, unless you let him start doing it! We’ve got to let go of our need for perfection, and instead delight in the fact that our kids are learning, contributing, and becoming more skilled along the way.”

How are you getting your family back on a schedule after playing all summer? What is on your kids’ list of chores?