Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Responsibilities of Chores

by Jes

Really, I don’t blame the whining, complaining and the notion that chores are boring, because, well … I feel the same way. If given the option to read a good book, garden or have writing time, I would choose one of those over emptying the dishwasher, folding laundry or sweeping the floor any day, bar none.

As grown-ups we have learned the virtue of you do something because it is the right thing to do, not because you want to. After all, the dishes don’t do themselves and neither does the laundry. Recently I watched Disney’s “Sword in the Stone” and Merlin frees Wart (or Arthur) from his chores by using magic to make the cleaning tools come to life, and Wart complains that Merlin is taking away his responsibilities. He complained! That got my attention faster than the magical mop cleaning up the room (which is pretty cool, I need to get me one of those). Props to old-school Disney for a positive message!

Taking a lesson from young King Arthur, I decided it was time to stop looking at housework and honey-do lists as chores and view them as responsibilities. I have zero intention of doing a political correctness spin on an old-fashioned notion, but I wonder if changing the word made all the difference? So I tried it and there is actually a change in perception – not only did I feel more empowered but so did my children.

I have a rule in my house (that existed before the “responsibility” experiment) that we clean things up regardless of who makes the mess. I do the dishes even though I did not dirty them all, I do the laundry even though I did not wear all the clothes, I sweep the floor even though I did not put all the crumbs on the floor. So if I ask a child to clean up the living room, I mean everything, not just what they played with. We make messes together as a family, therefore, we clean up together as a family.

With this notion in mind, I decided to use the word “responsibilities” as well as issue some specific ones per child per week on a rotating schedule for extra oomph. I made a simple responsibilities list and clothes pins with their names on it to mark who does what. They pick out their extra responsibilities each Sunday and then the game is on! They love it! My oldest actually asked for one more responsibility to distinguish him from the younger two as he is the oldest. I could cry, I was speechless and my mother’s heart was overflowing with all sorts of parental pride.

Now, the whining and complaining was not gone. It was minimized, but not completely gone. But there are tricks a mom can use to turn whining into laughter. On hard-to-motivate days, make it a game. Here are a few games we enjoy as a family:

1Beat the clock. I set a timer for 20 minutes and we race against the clock to see how much we can get done – the reward is a scoop of ice cream. If we get it all done in the 20 minutes, then we get some whipped cream on top. So, the fun bonding reward is there no matter what and then there is a bonus reward for beating the clock. If it isn't done on time, just say, “next time we’ll beat that pesky clock and get whipped cream!” Make it silly!

2 Freeze-dance cleaning sessions. Turn on some fun music and every so often pause it, turning everyone into statues. When the music begins again, everyone starts cleaning! To be extra silly, make comments about the statues: “Look at Myles, his arm extended beautifully as he works hard to destroy the dust collection on the TV!” This not only acknowledges what they are doing, but humor breaks up the chore-day grumpies.

3Change of pace. Take turns deciding how things will be cleaned up; for example, we’ll move fast, slow, tip-toe, like a ballerina, or like a puppy dog (warning with this one, puppy dogs can magically use their paws to prevent the use of a mouth to pick up everything. Learned that one the hard way!).

How does your family approach chores … ahem … responsibilities? Do you play any games to make it more fun?

attribution: the photo for this post comes from ThreeIfByBike.

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