Tuesday, May 11, 2010


My oldest child was 7 years old when babies #5 and #6 arrived. With six children ages 7 and under, three of whom were in diapers, I found myself overwhelmed by the daily challenge of cooking, cleaning, and staying on top of the laundry. Thankfully, a dear friend intervened. "Camille, it is time to put away the school books and begin classes in basic life skills." That simple, practical piece of advice probably saved my life.

I had been trying to do all the housework by myself, not realizing what wonderful, eager helpers flocked around my feet. Prodded by necessity, I learned that a seven-year-old can make pancakes. A five-year-old can do laundry...and actually enjoy it! (We marked the various settings on the washing machine with star-shaped stickers, since he wasn't yet reading.) A three-year-old can unload silverware from the dishwasher, sorting it into the cutlery tray in the kitchen drawer. (Sorting and matching - sounds kind of like preschool, doesn't it?) And a one-year-old and twin newborns? Well, I already knew they were really good at....making messes!

My kids are much older now, but they still help tremendously around the house. Our current chore chart includes five tasks. "Wipe down the bathrooms" involves emptying the trash, cleaning the mirrors and fixtures, replacing dirty towels with clean ones, and replenishing the toilet tissue. "Dinner dishes" means kitchen cleanup after our evening meal - wash and put away dishes, wipe down table and counters, store leftovers. "Sweep porch/empty trash" - sweep outside (porch, steps) and empty large kitchen trash can; also, on garbage pick-up day, make sure the bin is out beside the highway. "Laundry" - gather and sort laundry, keep washer and dryer running, and fold clean laundry. "Big Sweep" means sweep all the downstairs floors (we don't have any carpet downstairs) - kitchen, dining/living area, laundry room, bathroom, bedroom, office.

Some of these tasks are more labor intensive than others. For example, laundry is a HUGE chore on Mondays, especially after a particularly outdoorsy weekend. We rotate jobs, day to day, so that noone is stuck with always having the same chore and everyone has practice with household tasks they'll eventually be doing in their own homes as adults. Also, I've found that each child is particularly good at different tasks - by rotating chores, the floors get swept really well at least once during the week by our super-sweeper, and the bathrooms get a very detailed cleaning by the shine lady.

Assigning chores doesn't mean Mom eats bonbons all day (although it does mean that I have time to write on this blog!) My youngest and I team up on her laundry day. If I've fixed an especially messy meal for dinner, I'm happy to clock in to assist with kitchen cleanup. And most Saturdays, while everyone else is cleaning their bedrooms or helping Dad with chores outside, I get to tackle the entire chart, Mom style.

All this to say - there are SO MANY WAYS your kids can help around the house. And I've found that, for the most part, they are willing workers. They are pleased to know they contribute something of tangible value to the family. Yes, we slack off on the chore chart occasionally, but day-to-day life is much pleasanter when we each do our part around the house. How does that old saying go? Many hands make light work!

What about your family? I know several moms read this blog - what chores have you found suitable for particular ages? How does your family divide up housework? Any interesting tips on motivating reluctant helpers?


emily said...

I remember the stickers! Reuben was shorter than the washing machine, so he had to climb up on top of one of those huge 10gallon pickle buckets (what happened to ours??) and drop items of clothing into the abyss.

He did a great job even so :D

tracy said...

My job when I was a child was to dust the baseboards. I was given this job because I was the youngest and the smallest. To this day I hate cleaning the baseboards.

Suzanne said...

Baseboards should be banned. I had the same job, Tracy. I think I had it for 17 years, weekly. Maybe I was not officially given the chore until I learned to crawl.

Over the years I have always noticed the chores pinwheel on the fridge at Camille's and felt a tinge of jealousy. All my chores charts and pinwheels had been ignored. My family seems to be particularly resistant to learning shared responsibility for our household care. Still, this column has inspired me to renew my effort to recruit children to do daily chores. Until this morning, the response was positive...from my own children and even my husband.

What is it with naysayers???? After church this morning, I mentioned having posted a new chores pinwheel, having had a training session with the children Saturday with plans to begin implementing the plan Monday. Immediately, the 2 ladies I was speaking to pounced. My plan was too complicated. It was unfair to the children that would do a good job. It would not teach excellent housekeeping habits. Change the chores on the list. Change how they are to be assigned. Change how they are taught. Change the schedule...

I was actually grateful for an interruption that extracted me from the circle of nags, er, I mean friends. I felt like I had been showered with disappointing news, the news that my latest effort is doomed to fail.

How disappointing! How discouraging! What ever happened to offering an encouraging word? Do I have a discouragement magnet built into my forehead? With friends like this, do I need enemies?

Thank you, Camille, for making an effort to post blog entries that are uplifting and encouraging.