Growing up the oldest of three in a family with two working parents meant that I helped out a lot around the house. My first official chore started when I was 8 years old and charged with washing the dishes. In the 18 years that I lived at home, we never had a dishwasher so starting before I could even reach the sink, I was scrubbing pots and pans by hand. I remember my mom taught me to wash in a specific order: cups, plates, bowls, silverware, pots and pans; that way the water in the sink would stay clean longer. I started out standing on a stool and if I didn’t clean them well enough the first time, I’d have to wash them again. Our sink overlooked our yard so, often, as I washed dishes I also watched my friends playing outside. I hated it. Loathed it. And promised myself that my kids would never do chores.
Washing the dishes wasn’t my only chore. I babysat my brother and sister frequently, did laundry, cleaned our bathroom and pretty much anything else my mom asked me to do and I didn’t get paid. There were a few times when we’d start an allowance program but it always fell through so I built up a lot of resentment towards the idea of making kids do chores. Especially because the older and older we got, the more unbalanced our family responsibilities were.
After I graduated high school, Josh and I got our first apartment together and struggled with delegating housework between the two of us. I had grown up with things done a certain way and Josh had grown up with things done by his mother. He couldn’t even be bothered to throw his socks in the hamper regardless of how many times I asked him to and I quickly began to take it personally. I stopped cleaning pretty much altogether and our apartment became awful. After two months of living together, Josh and I came the closest to breaking up that we ever have in our 13 years together. Thankfully we were able to work through it and though it took a good 4 years, we figured out each other’s place when it came to the management of our home. But during those first few years of adjusting, Josh always came back to one explanation for whatever it was that was driving me crazy – “My mom always did that for me.” After we had kids, anytime he’d say this, one thing would run through my mind. “Oh, hell no.”
I realized that Josh was the result of how I always thought I’d parent and decided that maybe there was a middle ground between our two upbringings. The year Parker started first grade he began wanting his own money so Josh and I sat down and discussed where we wanted to go with chores for our kids. It was/is tricky because I do most of the cleaning since I stay home. There wasn’t anything that we really needed help with so honestly, I just thought of the one thing I despise doing and assigned it to Parker. He was officially the dishwasher unloader. We also decided that his allowance would be $4 a week, paid on Fridays, as long as he did his chore everyday without complaining. Since we were beginning to give him his own money we realized that we needed to talk to him about managing his money so we sat down and explained spending and saving. I told him that if he decided to start saving half of his allowance every week when he was just 6 years old, by the time he was 16 he’d have around $1000 in his account. Parker is a natural
hoarder saver so his eyes lit up when I explained that when he’s 16, $1000 will help him buy a car or take a trip with friends and he’ll be so happy and proud that he’s been working for that money since he was a kid. We also told him that after a few years he could invest his money into stocks for things like Disney or Apple if he wanted. Having investments sounded very grown up to him and he got actually got excited about saving his money. He agreed to save half of his allowance under the terms that he isn’t allowed to touch his savings account until he’s a teenager. He already has more than $200 in his account!
Over the years, Parker’s chores have increased. On top of unloading the dishwasher (he only unloads the dishes to the counter – I still put them away) he puts away all of his laundry and takes the dog out now that we live in an apartment. His allowance has increased to $6 a week, including the amount he saves, and he now has the option to take 4 media bucks (40 minutes worth of extra media time) instead of the $4 in cash. Some weeks he loses a dollar or two due to a bad attitude or forgotten chores but for the most part our little system works perfectly. I think most importantly though, are the things we ask Parker to do that aren’t on his chore list. The things he doesn’t get paid for. Even though it’s important to give him the opportunity to make a little bit of money and to show him that we appreciate the help, being a part of a family is a responsibility in itself and it’s imperative that he learns that not everything in life is rewarded. He knows better than to say anything along the lines of, “But that’s not my chore…”
Parker’s chores have also set a good example for the little ones. Both Theo and Ruby already love to help out since it seems like such a big kid thing to do and lately, Theo has been giving me suggestions for what his chores could be come this fall (he’ll be starting 1st grade and since that’s when Parker started, we’ve just decided to do the same with Theo). Though I have no idea what I’m going to task him with, I can’t complain about a little guy who’s eager to work!