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Inside: Tired of fighting chore battles? Read about an alternative approach to chores that has nearly eliminated all fights about helping around the house.
You probably came here looking for a chore alternative. Let me start by telling you that our kids don’t do chores, at least not in the traditional sense.
I’ve always hated chore charts, and we’ve never had them in our home.
Gasp! Before you jump to the comments for a good rant about the value of contributing to the family via chores, give me a chance to explain. Instead of “chores”, our kids do “family service” and “paid jobs”.
Does it really matter what you call it?
Whatever you call it, chores are chores, some would say. But I believe word choice makes all the difference, especially when it comes to our attitude towards work.
“A Rose by Any Other Name…”
The word “chore” carries a negative connotation in our society.
Let’s face it – chores are basically uninspiring and mundane (though necessary) work. If we’re honest, most adults aren’t that excited about doing their chores either. We drag our feet and try to find ways to make them less mundane. We listen to podcasts while do the dishes, watch TV while we fold clothes, and put off mopping the kitchen floor altogether sometimes.
Chores, however, are one building block of a fulfilling life, and as my kids grow, I want them to develop an intrinsic motivation to do chores, not as their main job in life, but as one important part of their calling and greater purpose.
Mastering these basic life skills is critical to all facets of a successful adult life, even ones that don’t seem directly affected. For example, I recently signed up for the 90 Day Budget Boot Camp (created by Rosemarie Groner of The Busy Budgeter).
Unlike other budgeting programs, Rosemarie connects staying on top of the dishes and the laundry to budgeting success. She points out what we all know – allowing the dishes and the laundry to pile up causes stress, and that stress makes us far more likely to overspend and break our budget.
If teaching my kids to do housework correlates with fiscal responsibility, I know I need to do it. The question is how?
From “Chores” to “Family Service”
I dragged my feet when it came to giving chores. The opinions on chores are endless, it seems, and I wrestled with the underlying perspective of each different opinion.
I want everything I do as a parent to be intentional: I want to know our family’s “why” and not just do something because someone else says we should. So when I finally determined that yes, chores are necessary and important, I decided that everyone needed to complete one chore each morning. I’m all about simplifying after all.
Only problem? One child refused…every single day. I spent over an hour daily for a couple weeks dealing with his extremely bad attitude and resistance, and I almost quit from pure exhaustion.
I spent one evening desperately googling “Should I give my children chores”. My search ended when I found an article titled “We don’t do ‘chores’…we do ‘family service’ instead“.
I love the heart of the article, especially when she explains,
We don’t want to teach our children that they have certain tasks around the house that they begrudgingly feel they have to do, or they only do so they can earn some money. We want to teach them to enjoy helping others – and helping themselves” (source).
That is exactly what I wanted for my kids! To contribute to maintaining our home with a good attitude and desire to be help however they can.
Wording Changes Everything
So the next morning, I sat the kids down and started to unpack the term “family service”. The conversation went a little like this…
How does daddy serve our family right now? He works to make money for food and clothes and our home.
How does mommy serve our family right now? She cooks, pays bills, and takes care of us.
You can serve our family too! We’re not going to do a “chore” anymore; we’ll do “family service” every morning instead. Now, I want you to look around the house for a way you can serve our family. If you need ideas, feel free to ask me.
When I stopped talking, they looked around, unsure at first. We can serve in any way we want? We can do anything? Interesting.
Initially, they cleaned up a few toys each and were done. I thanked them for serving our family and moved on with our day. But they quickly slipped back into their former “chore”, which was the three of them splitting up emptying the dishwasher.
The difference? No battles or refusals.
They chose to serve our family that way, without me dictating what they needed to do.
Adding Paid Jobs
When I was processing how we wanted to approach chores, I read the book Smart Money, Smart Kids: Raising the Next Generation to Win with Money by Dave Ramsey and Rachel Cruze. They also care about wording, choosing to give “commission” instead of “allowance”. Kids are assigned jobs with a set pay day each week, and on pay day, they receive payment for each completed job.
We want to teach my kids the value of work and basic money habits like tithing and saving at an early age, and we don’t see any other way to do that except to assign paid jobs. We set earning potential low ($2.50 each week per child) because: four kids and we’re not rich. Our one stipulation for paid jobs is that family service must be done with a consistently good attitude.
Earning money is a privilege, and if you can’t do the unpaid work with a good attitude, you aren’t ready for paid work.
An Update: Three Years Later
It’s been three years now since we implemented this new approach to chores. Our kids still do family service, and they still do paid work. Every other day or so, I ask everyone to help clean up a big mess, and I remind them that a paid chores are a privilege contingent on them doing helping with a good attitude when asked (there might be a slight reference to the fact that they do less than some of their peers <wink>).
We’ve worked more cleaning routines into our days, but they are generally family cleaning activities we do together, not solitary chores performed by individual kids.
Just today, I left my oldest at home with her dad, who was working from home. Before I left, I asked her to finish her family service and to start loading the dishwasher while I was gone.
I’ll be honest, I wasn’t really expecting her to complete the last task. In fact, I hemmed and hawed and said, “Just start it…if you get to it…it’s o.k. if you don’t finish.”
When I got home and walked into the kitchen, what did I see? The entire dishwasher had been loaded, run, and she was emptying it right in front of me.
Right now, it’s working, and I have no plans to change it.
What’s your perspective on the word “chore”? How do you handle chores in your family? I’d love to hear from you!