Over the last nearly-two decades of parenting, I’ve tried a variety of chore charts, job jars, rewards, punishments, payments, and bribes to get the work done around the house. Some methods have worked better than others. Some were good for one season, but not the next. Many times, I’d start a fancy new system with gusto, only to become weary of micromanaging, yet, another fancy new system. After a week or two, I’d decide it was easier and quicker to do it myself.
Until, of course, I’d be wiping and sweeping (and swearing under my breath), while my cherubs were happily sprawled across the couch watching hell-a-vision. Then I’d be all, “I AM NOT YOUR MAID!” and we’d start all over with a new system.
May I rant a bit about a prevailing attitude I find in most mom blogs and inspirational memes? It’s the notion that spending time keeping your home tidy and organized while your children are young is evidence of a misspent life. You guys, this is ridiculous.
I’m not saying you should ignore your kids and keep a spotless home. But neither should you ignore your home and play with your kids all day.
Your children must be able to fully run a household when they grow up, and it’s your job to teach them. If you spend your days trying to sneak in house work while they are sleeping or at school so you can spend your together-hours smelling flowers and making couch forts, they will become highly deficient adults. They will be so disillusioned when they move out and discover there is no Cooking and Cleaning Fairy to restock the fridge and wipe the mildew from the bathtub. For goodness sake, play with your kids—yes—but also, teach them how to properly clean a toilet.
Okay, with that said, I’ve finally found a groove that works for my family. I’m not sure if it’s because my kids are older or because I’ve actually stuck with a system longer than a month. I don’t know…maybe it’s just a good system. It’s working really well. Perhaps it will work for you, too.
1. Write down all the chores that need to be done in a week (Wow! Look at all you do to keep your house running! Go ahead and pat yourself on the back. You’re awesome). Then, determine which chores you are willing to let go of.
This is important, because there may be some chores you might want to keep for yourself. For example, many of my friends want their kids to do their own laundry. If that’s you, then rock on. But this sounds like a nightmare to me. I have a smooth-running laundry system and, quite frankly, I don’t want my kids messing it up. I know my children well enough to know they’d leave their clothes in the washer and dryer too long, forget which day is theirs, leave the laundry room a mess, forget to tell me they used the last of the detergent, take Jon’s dress shirts out of the dryer and throw them in a pile on the floor, etc, etc, etc. This is not worth it to me. I do, however, want my kids to know how to do their laundry because: #lifeskilz (more on this in a minute).
But other chores, like gathering garbage each week? Or cleaning the kitty litter? Or changing bed sheets? Delegate, delegate, delegate!
2. Decide what life-skills you want your kids to have when they launch (Hint: it’s all of them).
For me, this is where laundry meets changing bed sheets. See, my kids need to learn how to do laundry, and I need someone else to change bed sheets. So, my kids are responsible for stripping/washing/drying their own bedding and re-making their own beds. This way, they learn to use the washing machine but they don’t mess with my laundry system. Win-win!
I teach them to sort laundry by putting “light” and “dark” hampers in each of their rooms. The only laundry essential they have yet to master is reading labels for hand-washing/dry-cleaning/drip-drying. I figure they will learn that pretty quickly the first time they ruin their favorite sweater.
3. Divide chores up equally between your kids—even your little ones.
Kids can do way more than you think they can. Except for chores involving stoves, knives, and power equipment, school aged-children can do almost anything house-related–they just need instruction and guidance.
For example, I had no idea 5 and 6-year-old kids were capable of heavy-duty chores until I ate lunch at school with my kindergartner. One minute, they were asking for help opening their Go-Gurts, the next minute, they were wiping down tables and sweeping floors. I was like, “What in the actual heck is happening right now? Kids this age can DO this?” Prior to this, my children only did little-kid-chores, like putting toys away and setting the table. But that very day, wiping tables and sweeping floors became the new kid chores.
The first time I told Elliana (age 9) to vacuum the basement, she cried real, hot tears. But now, just a few months later, she does it all by herself, no problem. And she’s really proud of herself!
3. Rotate on a weekly basis.
The weekly rotation is key for my kids. I used to try to rotate chores daily, and that was a disaster. With two active teens, no one could keep track of whose turn it was to sweep and whose turn it was to rinse dishes. I had also tried everyone doing everything together after dinner, and that failed too. The ones who worked faster and more efficiently always got punished by doing the most work. But rotating on a weekly basis means all of them do the same chores every day for a week. They can work at their own pace and they all remember what they are supposed to do.
4. Determine your standard.
After much trial and error, I determined that I can live with messy kid bedrooms (for a few days), but I cannot live with a messy kitchen. So, my standard is that kitchen chores are completed nightly, but bedrooms are cleaned weekly.
5. Pay allowance.
I know there is much disparity on the issue of kids and payment: How much to pay? For what chores? Should you pay them at all? Or should you make them do chores simply because they are members of the household?
We have decided to pay our kids for most chores. Here’s why:
a. This is preparation for real life. As grown-ups, they will get paid for work.
b. It gives them spending money—so the eating-out habit that my 17-year-old has? I won’t fund that. She pays for every greasy bite herself. Also, those trips to Target where the younger kids ask for crappy toys? Won’t fund that either. I simply say, “Sure! Do you have your money with you?” (Bonus math lesson as they need to count out change and figure tax!)
c. It teaches them money management. This is a vital life skill that most adults don’t have. My 17-year-old sponsors a Compassion Child with her own money and has saved $3,000 toward her first car. My 14-year-old tithes, pays for his own video games, and is also saving for a car. My hope is that my kids live debt-free their entire lives so they can be extravagant givers. It starts with learning how to manage a small allowance.
d. For some chores (babysitting, washing the car, and cutting our 5-acre lot), if I didn’t pay my kids, I’d pay someone else. I’d rather teach them how to do the chore and pay them for it.
e. Money is good motivation for chore completion. No work = No pay.
6. Train the children to do the chores properly and assist when necessary.
Show them what cleaning products work on what surface. Show them what needs scrubbing and what can be wiped down with a paper towel. Show them how to use the vacuum attachments. They may need help lugging the vacuum up the steps, reaching the far corners of their bath tub, or pulling fitted sheets over a mattress. You may need to coach them on which dishes must be hand-washed and how to properly load the dishwasher. That’s okay. Go ahead and help them. You can do this in a way that’s not perfectionistic and micro-managing. Use lots of encouragement and point out all the things they do well. This takes some time and effort on your part–and quite frankly where most parents give up–but it’s so worth it in the long run. And also, your future daughters-in-law and sons-in-law will thank you some day.
7. Put it all together and post it in a place they will see.
For us, the chores that I delegate right now are these:
- Kids do once a week. Payment: $5
Clean their own bedrooms
Clean their own bathrooms
Take up laundry and put it away
- Kids rotate through these weekly. Payment: $10
Gather garbage for weekly collection (this includes replacing the bags—which, weirdly, none of them think is necessary when gathering garbage)
Feed and water cat and bearded dragon
Scoop kitty litter
Wipe down basement bathroom
Clear and wipe table and counters after dinner
Rinse/hand-wash dishes and load dishwasher after dinner
Sweep kitchen after dinner
- Kids earn extra money for these:
Wash my car ($10)
Cut grass (about $35, depending on how much of the 5 acres they cut)
Babysit Elliana ($8-$10/hour)
Pull weeds (payment varies)
Anything else I ask, as needed (Sometimes, I just make them pitch in and help. Sometimes I pay, depending on the chore)
And it all goes on a whiteboard like this (So fancy)
My next goal is to teach each of them to cook actual meals. I want them to be 100% ready to prepare real food when they leave home.
So, how do/did you handle chores and allowance with your kids?