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?

Relationships are not efficient

I recently returned from a missions trip to Hamburg, Germany.  What a marvelous trip; it is remarkable (though not surprising) to witness first hand and participate in what God is doing through the hamburgprojekt, a young church there.  With a brother from my church we were able to mentor, train and visit with courageous brothers and sisters.  We hope to write more on that later, but there was one element that deserves mention ahead of those details: relational inefficiency.

Recently a pastor friend of mine remarked in my presence that as much as we would like to believe otherwise, relationships are just not efficient.  If you think about a favorite American past time, the “to do list,” versus relationships, we can see just how they differ.  To do list’s:

  • Are strictly controlled
  • Don’t surprise us
  • Don’t act in ways that are destructive
  • Don’t need to grow in holiness
  • Go away when we want them to
  • Don’t say stupid things
  • Can be delayed
  • Can be shortened
  • Take only as long as we want
  • Aren’t shy or guarded
  • Don’t yell at us…

You get the idea.  I guess it is no surprise why they are so popular to us.  All of this is probably clear, huh?  Relationships aren’t like to-do lists at all.  “Of course,” you say, “that stuff’s obvious.”

I think I underestimated how much I often put people in the same category as a to do list.  I wouldn’t really know that I had done so until I…well, left the country for another culture.  Now, no one that I know would suggest that Germans are inefficient!  Yet, one thing that became clear to us what that in their culture (perhaps it is just with Americans) they take a long time to “be known.”  They are cautious and guarded (yet polite and fun).  When it comes to intimacy, they take their time, or, are “inefficient.”

I think we get that real rich relationships take time to build.  But I wonder in our culture if we have mostly lost the ability and desire to make the investments.  Facebook demands nothing, Twitter demands less.  Email reveals little, text messages less.  I was listening to Christian radio the other day and the host was encouraging folks that if they wanted prayer to text, Tweet or Facebook ’em!  At what point did we think calling into a radio station asking for prayer was even a good idea?!  Do we do that because we knew that if we called a good friend he’d make us actually communicate in ways that would put us off our calendars?

It has taken four years for me to build meaningful trust and communication with my Christian siblings in Germany.  At times it was tiring (surprise).  But, what struck me on our most recent trip (last week) was the remarkable fruit and joy that came as a result of our investments in each other.  I never imagined that I’d be able to share such profound and impacting life and ministry with men and women from a totally different culture!  I believe it was due to the commitment to relational inefficiency that is present in the German culture.  There is a sweetness to the slowness.  There is a profound pay-out for the systematic investments in relationships over a long period of time.  Talk about delayed gratification!

In our culture, most often, we are serial-relaters.  We have efficient relationships, that is, ones that don’t cramp our style and that get us where we want to go.  I am glad that not every culture is as inane as ours.  I don’t intend this to be a German-grass-is-greener post as if one culture rises above all others.  But, clearly, ours is not a culture that places tremendous value on systematic and long-term relationships for their own sake.  How many Facebook friends do you have?

The Boy goes to a Camp

The Son went to a short, weekend camping trip with his daddy and the Webelos Den.  We stayed local (mostly) for this trip.  In order to complete one of his Webelos badge requirements, I asked him to answer questions about his recent time on the camping trip.

What did you think Camp was going to be like?  Smaller, I thought there weren’t going to be Boy Scouts there, thought it would be closer to home

What surprised you about Camp?  The hike

What hike?  The 5-mile hike (on Saturday)

Why did the hike surprise you? Because it was harder than I thought it would be

What happened at Camp that you thought would happen?  Kids got tired

What parts of Camp would you change if you could do it again?  Nothing, really; an easier hike

What were the good parts of Camp?  Building a fire, spying on the Boy Scouts, breakfast food (especially the cinnamon buns!; the Bird’s Nests looked good for next time), setting up the tent, sleeping in the tent; scaring the Boy Scouts

Did you pack the correct stuff?  Mostly, I would’ve brought a different flashlight; it wasn’t bright enough

What was the best part about the Camp?  Nighttime hot chocolate, apple cider, spied on the Boy Scouts and played war

Do you hope that your den will do this again?  Yes!