As our children were growing up, we strongly believed that it is our parental duty to teach them responsibility and life management principles, even at an early age. It is important that children learn by doing, and while they are doing the task they need to learn the “why” behind the task. As our children grew and developed, we created our Family Chore List. It didn’t work as well as had planned. That is, until we put it on the Fridge.
We had a simple plan, it had to work! Since we had three children, we developed a list with three basic household tasks:
- Take out the trash.
- Feed the dog.
- Help with supper cleanup.
We assigned each child one of these tasks on a daily rotating system. It was simple and each task only required a few minutes each day. But every day at task completion time, the battles began. Yes, we were told how mean and cruel we were as parents. No one else my kids knew had chores, so why should they? This whole thing is so unfair because taking out the trash is easier than cleaning up after supper.
The failure of the plan could not possibly result from poor child-rearing. After all, we were college-educated, God-fearing adults. We had read books on parenting and talked with other parents. Perhaps our enforcement techniques were lacking. We tried making adjustments with every variable: timing, rotation, task-equity, even exemptions. But, regardless of what we tried, we were still the enemy in their eyes.
The Plan – Version 2
Until we had an eye-opening revelation. We decided to post the task list and the rotation plan on the refrigerator, and the plan began to work like clockwork! Not really, but it got better. A lot better. Why? because the refrigerator became the enemy! The battle lines were still drawn, but the object of the children’s scorn was now the refrigerator. So, our daily chore routine sounded something like this:
“Whose turn is it to take out the trash, feed the dog, and help with dishes? Let’s check the refrigerator!” Suddenly, the objections were, “I hate that refrigerator!” and, “The refrigerator is wrong! I just did this!” But we now had an inanimate ally. Our instruction to the kids: “The fridge can’t be wrong. I know it seems unfair, but we all have to do our parts.”
What We Learned
I can’t say that the battles were diminished or that the plan actually worked any better. But the system had some very good outcomes:
- The Fridge was the absolute and mean dictator of the chore list, not Mom and Dad. When the kids balked at doing their chores, we simply reminded them that the Fridge could not be wrong because the list never changed (well, at least until we had to make adjustments and new assignments as they grew older). And the target of their complaints was the Fridge, not Mom and Dad.
- More importantly, they learned that they could earn rewards for completing their assigned task on time, and consequences for not. We would give them an extra treat or slightly higher allowance for on-time completion.
- While they were actually doing their chores, we taught them the reason behind the assignments. The trash has to be taken out to keep the house clean. The dog has to be fed and watered because she needs food and water to live a healthy life, just like we do. And cleaning up after supper and doing the dishes helps us prepare for the next meal that God has provided.
- These chores, while small, helped them to understand their roles in the successful functioning of the family. Whenever we experienced a breakdown in the chores, the whole family suffered. We wanted them to understand that we all have cooperate so we could all have special time together. We took time to teach them that God made the family help them prepare for becoming grown-ups.
- As they grew older and the chores reflected their development, they developed negotiating skills that have become useful to them in their roles as adults. For example, we taught each one of them how to do their own laundry. From time to time, we would hear one say to the other, “I’ll wash your clothes with mine, if you’ll dry and fold them.” They learned that working together, they were more efficient.
I believe it is important to give children responsibilities in the home and to teach them why they do them. Ultimately, the greatest outcome is that your family becomes a discipleship class room as you teach them about God’s authority, the life-assignments He gives to His children (that’s all of us), that every Christ-follower is expected to work and serve in the Kingdom of God, and more.
How are you teaching your children responsibility in your home? I would love to hear what works and what hasn’t worked. Perhaps your insights will help another family make disciples in their homes through the chore list.