My daughter is three years old. According to the experts I should start giving her age-appropriate chores right about now, but I’m not going to do that. Instead, I’m listening to my grandma, who said, “Children didn’t ask to be born. Let them be kids.”
She believed that housework was for adults and that kids should’t be forced to do chores. My mom adopted the same philosophy for my brothers and me, and I’m embracing it for my kids, too.
There are plenty of articles touting the value of making kids do chores, but it’s telling that the bulk of each one is dedicated to sharing tricks on how to get kids to actually do them. It’s dishonest and a waste of my time to try to convince my kids that chores are like some sort of game. They’re not. They suck, and kids are smart enough to know that.
My daily life already requires a good amount of battle-picking to keep my children safe and hygienic, and I put in a great deal of effort to raise thoughtful and upright citizens. I don’t need to add a song and dance about chores to my own list of Must Do’s, so there will be no chore chart in my house, no allowance dispensed for dusting or unloading the dishwasher, and no rule that laundry must be done before they go out to play. There are lots of other ways to teach kids how to be respectable human beings without subjecting them to the mundane tasks that they have the rest of their lives to dread.
Teaching them responsibility.
They will learn about duty and obligation through their schoolwork, extracurricular activities, and paying part-time jobs. My kids will know that as long as they try their best at whatever they’re required to do or have committed to do, then we will be proud of them. I don’t care if they win or lose, get an A+ or a D. They will be building character by putting in their best effort. Plus, they won’t have to worry about whether the carpet needs vacuuming, so they have no excuse not to work hard.
Earning their keep.
I’m not raising assholes. They will learn how to be considerate members of our family and good housemates. They’ll put their dishes in the dishwasher, their clothes in the laundry basket and keep their rooms semi-neat. If I ask them for a favor, I’ll expect them to do it, but they won’t be regularly responsible for the cleaning, laundry, or general house maintenance.
Teaching them life skills.
Gasp! They may not know how to do laundry until they get to college. Who cares? It’s not rocket science. I’ll show them how to do it before they go, and they’ll figure it out. These life skills are not particularly hard to master.
Teaching them the value of a dollar.
I don’t need to dispense an allowance for chores to teach my kids about earning money, and, actually, the experts agree with me on this point. My husband and I explain to our kids in age-appropriate ways how money works, how we earn it, why it’s necessary, and that it isn’t everything.
We talk about saving money that they’ve received for birthdays and special occasions, and we take trips to the bank to make the deposits. When Grandma gives them $5 to buy a treat at the store, I show them what they can afford, and I don’t supplement their budget. When they are old enough to earn a paycheck, we’ll advance the lessons. We’ll get the money message across without making them our indentured servants.
Giving them a sense of identity.
Children like to feel useful and know that they’re valued. If helping me load the dishwasher gives them their kicks, then by all means, I’ll take the extra help. But I’m not going to force them. I’d rather we spend our time doing things they are passionate about. For example, my daughter likes to bake, and so we do that (sometimes, because I actually hate it), and she swells with pride when she shows my husband what she’s made. This feels like a more valuable exploration into self-identity than checking off items on a chore chart.
I’m aware that it’s a privilege to let my children off the hook from chores. There are plenty of families who rely on their kids to pitch in because parents work a lot, have health issues. or other equally valid reasons. I’m certainly not saying these kids are worse off for taking on these tasks. Each family has to do what it has to do. For my family, though, that means my husband and I will continue the doing, my kids will keep up the playing, and they can pay it forward to the next generation.