Enforcing chores

>>hi avivah! i am wondering if you set certain standards for jobs? for example, whoever does the bathroom must do the floor, toilet, counter, garbage, etc. i found that i needed to make checklists for jobs like that, and nobody did it thoroughly, and although i was willing to supervise once or twice, i ended up feeling like a prison warden. <<

Yes, I do set standards.  At the beginning of the year I explain to all of the kids who will have that chore what is expected.  Then at the beginning of their month (or two weeks, depending what the job is), I give a quick reminder.  I do periodic checks, but not every day.

I let my kids know that it’s worth it to do the job right because if I see it’s done wrong………you guessed it, they get more opportunities to practice doing it right!  If it’s once, I’ll tell them to correct it, but if it’s more than three times that they’re doing things in a shoddy way, they’ve earned themselves an extra amount of time on that chore.  That might mean doing an extra week on this chore after the cycle changes, or it might be an extra job somewhere else. It depends on the specifics and what I sense will be most effective at that time.  I’ve done this on a number of occasions and they know what to expect.

>>also, what are your consequences for a shoddy job? like if one of your older kids decided to just make toast for breakfast every day because they didn’t feel like making anything more? would you step in and correct that? would you encourage in a different direction? or is part of them becoming internally motivated that you stay out of it? thanks, as always, for the great advice! you are the voice in my head that keeps me headed in the right direction!!<<

I post the weekly menu plan on the side of the fridge.  For the person on breakfast duty, I try to show them the recipe I have in mind the night before, so they won’t be held up if I’m not up when they’re ready to start.  Sometimes, usually on Sunday morning (when the complete week’s plan usually hasn’t yet been posted) or the first of the month (when the new person is taking over) there will be a morning where they’ll make what they think they should, because they don’t know what I want.  I’m absolutely fine with that. I can’t remember anyone refusing to do this.  If they did, I’d let them know they’ve earned the privilege of washing the dishes or cooking lunch and dinner for the day (or week, if it was said with disrespect) as well as making breakfast.

So for your question about if I’d step in or not, it would very much depend what the motivation of the child was and what my level of concern about that particular thing getting done.  I’m actually pretty relaxed – I know, I probably sound like a drill sargeant with my extra work motto, don’t I? :)  But really, I view my kids as responsible, hard working, and know they want to do the right thing, so I feel there’s plenty of room to give the benefit of the doubt.  If they overslept and wanted to make something faster, it would be okay with me assuming oversleeping wasn’t a habit; things happens and I don’t expect perfection!

But – here’s where I’m not relaxed: if someone is flouting authority  or being disrespectful.  If they simply didn’t feel like doing what I posted, then too bad.  Since when do you have to feel like it to do your job?  Sometimes kids need help developing good habits.  Doing the right thing is often not comfortable or easy, and they need our support and encouragement in overcoming their desire to procrastinate or take the easy way out.

After saying all of that, the real question is what is your goal when having your kids do chores?  Is it to accomplish something specific in terms of character development, cleanliness level, smoothness of home functioning?  Or are you happy to have whatever help they can give you in the way they give it to you?   For me, it wouldn’t flow with my goals to let a child do whatever they wanted in spite of what I said.  But everyone has their own goals and will need to take different steps depending where they want to go.


PS- After I write my response, I often read the question to my kids and ask them for what they would do and what they think I would do. Dd13 right away said the child has to make what’s on the menu and should make lunch in addition to breakfast.  Dd15 (she just had a birthday :)) said it depends how much you care if they eat toast every day, and if it’s fine with you, then leave it be.  As you read, I agree with them both. :)

10 thoughts on “Enforcing chores

    1. Do you mean the question asked made you think about unschooling?

      Yes, I’m familiar with unschooling! And of course I have thoughts on it. 😆 But you’ll have to ask me a more specific question!

  1. Yes, the question, and your answers made me think about unschooling, as sort of a polar opposites, and how both hope to produce the same sort of person at the end. I’m curious how you view the ‘no rules, just principles’ aspect of radical unschooling… allowing children to pursue what they find they want to, without limits (I am not including hurting themselves, or running in traffic, or other dangerous things like that) and not requiring behaviors/chores of them. I’m sure I don’t completely understand the theory, so I’m having trouble encapsulating it here. When reading on it, I get the impression that rules/limits are damaging a child, emotionally.

    I find we have a much more communicative relationship and peaceful days when I am being more radical unschooly, and much worse days with many tantrums, when I am trying to lay out specific ways to act or things to be done. And its not that I give in after making a rule, which I see causes children to fall back on whining and tantrums. I guess it depends on the day. We’ve had a rough day today, and I think its because Bubbie finished her vacation with us yesterday. Goodbyes are tough on three year olds I see.

    1. Shira, this is a great question and it deserves it own post. I’m very, very familiar with unschooling, radical unschooling as well. I’ve read all the authors, understand their views, and will tell you where I differ and why. I’ll have to think how to keep it from becoming a book. :)

    2. Shira, I hear a lot of myself in you and my son in your three year-old. As usual great question(s)! It’s nice to feel like I am not alone in what I am going through.

  2. I am trying to get the kids into a different set of expectations (things got a bit too chilled with all the insanity that went on here over the past few months). I’m kind of being overly strict to get to the middle point (as per the Rambam, perhaps). I feel/figure that once they know Mommy means business, things will flow much smoother. The problem is I feel like a drill sergeant and I don’t want the kids to feel like they are in boot camp (nor do I want to make homeschooling a miserable experience). What can be done? Am I wrong in being stricter for a bit? How can I make it work best so I don’t feel like anyone is being treated unfairly?

    Thanks for all your wonderful posts!

    1. You ladies are asking great questions! Sara, this is also one that is going to get its own post, because the answer is too important to be down here in the comments where lots of people will miss it.

  3. hi avivah! hope nobody will mind if i ask a follow-up question from the original post- do you have different expectations based on how much time different children are home? for example, my boys are in school, but my girls are homeschooled, so even though the girls do a lot of extra unscheduled helping, i feel like they are able to handle more jobs as well. they are just physically here more than the boys. to the kids, however, this ends up looking like girls have to help more than boys. i’ve explained it, but everybody sees what they want to see… any suggestions?

    1. I understand the challenge, Julie! Yes, I do have different expectations. When my ds14 was in ninth grade and in yeshiva, he didn’t have the daily chores everyone else had. He did have weekly chores like getting ready for Shabbos, I still expected him to keep his room neat, and chores like laundry he still had to do but had to adapt it to when he was home. (meaning he did it on Friday and Sunday), and I pitched in for what he couldn’t complete. I didn’t give his extra work to the other kids; I took up his slack.

      I think you have to look at what the expectations you’re having of everyone are, and try to see what your kids are seeing. It might be the boys aren’t doing as much as they could. (Your kids won’t be the first to be sorry their mother read this blog or spoke to me! :)) It could be your girls really are overloaded. Or it could be it’s a new kind of schedule and it seems like a lot since it’s so different from when they were in school.

      If you feel it’s all fair and reasonable, then sometimes kids need help having perspective. One of my kids tends to complain about how much I expect (academically). So at times like that, I remind him what kids in school are doing. If a child would complain they have more chores than their schooled peers, I’d point out that their peers don’t have a four day a week school schedule with less than 3 hours a day of academics, and that they have a lot more than a fifteen minute break two or three times a day.

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