Chores! Evil necessity or Training Ground?

CHORES – A dreadful necessity or a teachable moment?  Every now and then it is helpful to remember just what we’re doing at home.  It is S-O-O-O easy to get lost in the 10,000 little moments at home: meals, dust-bunnies, socks on the floor, bills to pay, laundry, lawns, and leaks.  One of the places where this gets sticky is chores.  What’s a good perspective on chores?

Here are some thoughts that have guided our family:

Chores-as-worldview.  Chores are training ground for the practical necessities of life as well as the practice of life in the kingdom of God.  Work and rule-following in the home are where rule following in the kingdom gets practical and practiced.

Proverbs 22:6, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”

Chores are spiritual training as well as earthly work.  Chores are where children learn to obey rules, first from you and then from God.

Chores-as-training.  Chores are part of the process of discipling our children and building character in them.  This is one of the areas where we are responsible to train our children.  They will grow up and move out so we need to equip them to make it on their own!  Boys and girls will one day need to wash their clothing, make their own meals, clean their bathrooms, etc. Teach them that their enthusiasm for work is exactly what is expected of us in the kingdom.  Proverbs 31 indicates that teaching the girls to be this way should be a priority!   What about our boys?

2 Thess. 3:10-12, “For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.  For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies.  Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living”

Chores-as-normal.  Doing chores isn’t sumpin’ special: we are not doing anything special when we obey; we are just doing what family members do.  We are a family, a team, so our home is a joint responsibility.  We all work together to do what needs to be done to make our household run smoothly.  Another way to look at this is “many hands make light work.”  For little Johnny to do his chores doesn’t mean he’s doing something special.  This is with serious biblical precedent:

Luke 17:7-10, “Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’?  Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink and afterward you will eat and drink’?  Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded?  So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.”

OK, so, how do we drill down into chores?

First, there’s an adage in the Boy Scouts reminding adults that says “don’t do for a boy what a boy can do for himself.”  This holds true in chores: do not do for your child what he can do for himself.  If you do everything for your child, then he will get the notion that he is so important everyone ought to do things for him.  When will this end?  Tragically, when God puts a stop to it.  Let’s keep that from happening…

Involve your children in your daily tasks.  Talk to them, let them help, and teach them how.  When they do the work, praise them for their efforts (be sure to tell dad when he comes home so he can praise, too).  Make a list of everything that needs to be done.   Circle all the things that only you can do.  Then delegate!  Make a chore chart and rotate weekly, monthly or quarterly.  Be consistent in overseeing all that has been delegated out.  Post the chore chart where everyone can see it.  Talk to your children about it.  Make sure the consequences of disobeying are understood.  Be flexible and willing to change the chore chart as needed, as children grow older and mature.

Second, start young.  Young children are the most enthusiastic helpers.  But, be careful not to overwhelm them so when they’re young work alongside of them.  Try not to overburden the oldest child.  If there is a job that a younger child can do, give it to that child.  Of course it takes longer to do things that you could do yourself but you must take the time to teach them how to do the job.  Parents often complain that their kids’ chores are pitifully done.  True.  But is part of the reason why because they weren’t trained specifically?  So, don’t expect them to do it as well as you do.  You are the one with years of experience.  Extend grace and mercy in this area if your child has done the job to the best of his ability.  Be persistent—it will pay off.

Third, be specific.  Children (even teens) can be overwhelmed by a task, like cleaning a bedroom.  Adults often make the mistake of issuing what appears to be a straightforward command, “Clean up your room.”  The parent knows what he’s asking but does the child?  The boy might go up and pick up the floor only to leave the desk a mess and he might legitimately think he’s done the work.  Break it down into smaller tasks: make bed; pick up books; pick up clothes; pick up legos; pick up dolls; pick up dishes; etc.  If you want specific work to be done, be specific; eventually they’ll get it.

Lastly, remember this isn’t just about getting small tasks completed; it’s more importantly about world and life training.  Try to keep a positive attitude.  Be patient but persistent: whining, complaining and lack of cooperation on their part are sinful and shouldn’t be tolerated.  Give them extra work!  Keep in mind that one day that child will be responsible only to God to do the work set before him.

What about examples of what kids do by age:

At 4: feed dog, collect trash, and fold washcloths.

At 7: set-clear table, sweep stairs, unload dishwasher, fold underwear/hand towels, help mom prepare a meal, collect laundry and help sort/stain treat, clean bathroom, and help dust.

At 9: all the above*, plus fold socks/towels, help prepare meals, prepare a simple breakfast/lunch, collect laundry and help sort/stain treat, clean bathroom, help dust, clean up the yard, take out the compost, and vacuum.

At 11: all the above* plus hand wash dishes, make breakfast/lunch, prepare simple meal for dinner, sweep floors, vacuum, fold pants/shorts, mow the grass, clean bathrooms, dust, wash and vacuum the van, take out trash, help with laundry, and mopping.

At 15: all the above plus meal prep (B, L, D), dust, vacuum, sweep, iron!, help with laundry, fold shirts, mopping, and babysitting.

  • *Keep in mind that even the older ones might be called upon to do the tasks of the younger ones as needed just not normally!

Allowance?  We do not believe it is wise to pay your child to do chores.  Parents are not paid to do their work around the house or yard.  Perhaps you could pay them occasionally to do the bigger and harder jobs, i.e.: raking and bagging leaves, painting the house, etc.  Nor do we think that children should be enticed to do chores under the promise of rewards.  While God does promise the hope of heaven, He doesn’t make us work for it, does He?

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