On Sundays as a kid, my chores took me further than just making the bed. My mom made us clean under the beds, we helped fold the clothes. When my mom swept up a pile of dirt or random stuff that collected over her bedroom floor, we gathered around and sorted and put each item in its home. When she returned home from her 9-5 around 6:30 or so, we knew we at least needed to have the dishes done and the house as she left it. It was our responsibility, just as it was hers to provide. I grew up with this kind of relationship around housework. It wasn’t something to be celebrated; it was a part we played in house that was run by one woman.
Looking back, I don’t think I ever questioned how we did what we did. I think there were many times that I didn’t want to clean, didn’t want to spend Sunday readying for the week, but that’s how it was. Occasionally, I’d look in on the ways my friends were raised, how other houses were run, and, of course, was intrigued, especially in two parent households. As I grew older, I realized that our group cleaning wasn’t only because we lived in a single-parent household, though. It was because my mom felt the importance of these responsibilities. She had been on her own since she was a teenager, so I do believe, by making us contribute, she was preparing us for a world in which we took on the same sense of responsibility.
Every morning, seven-year-old River rolls out of her bed and tugs on her duvet, tucking it nearly perfect. She props her pillow and straightens the clothes of her Addy doll, who lays in the center of the pillows. Oak, wobbles into my room before River is up, and upon my request, does his best at aligning his covers with his bed frame. He calls my name to check, and I say, “Maybe a tiny bit neater?!” He shuffles a bit, and says, “Mama, I think I did my best.” I agree. River and I both step back at and observe their shared room, examine the toys that lay on the floor. She usually proclaims that she’ll get the small stuff, Oak gets the bigger stuff. When the job is done, we praise our success, confess our exhaustion, and I usually have a reoccurring conversation about being not only a family, but a team. “Mama does the dishes, vacuums, mops, and does the laundry. You have to do your part, too. All team members make a winning team.” And what are we winning at? A smooth-turning and happy family. We are winning at being responsible adults and little kids who will one-day be adults, who are able to grasp their responsibilities in this world.”Children who help more at home feel a larger sense of obligation and connectedness to their parents, and that connection helps them weather life’s stressful moments — in other words, it helps them be happier. Their help, even when it’s less than gracious, helps their parents be happier, too.
“But for all that their help matters, to us and to them, few kids are doing much around the house at all. In a survey of 1,001 American adults, 75 percent said they believed regular chores made kids “more responsible” and 63 percent said chores teach kids “important life lessons.” Yet while 82 percent reported having had regular chores growing up, only 56 percent of those with children said they required them to do chores.” says KJ Dell’Antonia in a recent New York Times Article
As a mother to a son and a daughter, this topic feels even more important to dissect. I never want River to feel more responsible for household chores than her brother. When I see images of daughters in mixed-sex households washing dishes or sweeping floors, plastered across social media, my gut churns. If you ever listened in on our morning convos, you’ll probably hear me being a little bit more stern with four-year-old Oak about finishing. You’ll probably hear me tell River–in front of Oak–not to help finish his. As much as I want them to navigate this world together, she is a girl, he is a boy, and she is older. I often see her innate need to step in. I realize that some of this was set by me, seeing a woman “Do it all.” I don’t talk explicitly about how the world really sees man and woman, boy and girl; but I am trying to lead by example, offer little nudges to set the record straight. Little requests for River to not “jump in and help” her brother. This empowers them both.
In a new Mothermag article, they examine this chore gap via a New York Times Article, “Girls are still doing more chores than boys. One recent study looking at 6,358 high school students from 2003-2014 found boys aged 15-19 spend on average 30 minutes a day on housework, while girls in the same age group clock in 45 minutes. In another study, boys aged 13-18 spent a little under 30 minutes on chores, and girls spend a little over 30 minutes (the tightening gap between the two can be attributed to boys increasing their time spend on housework by 29% from 2002 to 2014, and girls decreasing their housework by 27% in the same time period).”
It is weird as a mother to feel like you’re doing something right. There is often so much to question! But I’ve been teaching both of my kids to do chores, also knowing that, in my house, they both should be equally responsible. That feels like a victory! As they get older, Oak should probably take on more, because the way things look, no matter what, River will be paid less for more work. And at least, as their mother, I could raise them both to know that no matter what sex you identify as, that statistic is wrong.
When it comes to household chores and your children, where do you stand?
If you’re interested, a few of our household favorites to real clean and play clean with…
- German Broom and Dust Pan
- Clean Day
- Let’s Play Sweep
- Soft Hair Dish Brush
- Stainless Steel watering can
- Warehouse Broom
(Photography by Amanda Petersen for LaTonya Yvette. Some links in this post are affiliate links.)