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.)
Oh, goodness! I truly LOVED this as I struggle with this as a mom of 8 and 2 yo girls. I have a responsibility chart that I need to get back to. I’ve dropped the ball. This is so so so important and I completely agree with your approach, motive and intention!!! Thank you so much for sharing this!
Thank you Rochylin! I never really did a chart, but I am sure that helps! We are at the point with R, where she gets it. And Oak too.. almost. Its such a wild stage to be in. Like doing a + b = c.
I’m sure since you have an 8 year old and a 2 year old, your 2. year old will have no problem picking it up form big sister!
Happy to know you teach your children to do chores. As you stated, too many parents try to throw out old traditions even though it has lasting benefits. You inspire me in so many ways!
Thank you for reading, Jasmine!
Like you LaTonya, I have a daughter (firstborn) and a son. Since as early as I can remember I have instilled in equal measure the importance of making their own bed, helping me with the dishes, sorting and folding their own clothes, etc.
Sundays are for light chores and preparing for the week ahead. I am gentle but firm. By now, they are so accustomed to our Sunday rituals they can enjoy the fresh start that Monday will bring.
At school, their teachers often report back how tidy they maintain their desks and lockers. Also how lovingly they treat everything. That is ultimately the message — that we treat the things and people we love with care.
Thank you for another heart-felt topic, LaTonya!
I love this, Katherine! Yes,exactly. I just don’t want them to take people or things for granted, and know that this is a core responsibility taught in home. River now straightens her desk or her little side table on her own, and usually looks forward to making her bed. I’m excited for O to make it there as well.
Ugh this whole thing is so real. One of my biggest faults is not letting M just DO something badly or slowly the first 2,000 times until she gets it right, which is so necessary. It’s so hard when you’re running on a tight schedule from place to place without a single free moment in your budget to make the time. But it’s so necessary for developing a contributing and responsible human being.
Such a good reminder to slow down and insist the chores get done, not just assign them and then throw everything to the wind (me).
Yes! Reading KJ Dell’Antonia’s book right now! So good and so important!
Meaningful work is so important for children. It gives them a sense of order and teaches them to take care of their things. It’s also so important to learn how to establish healthy daily habits like this and to learn to persevere even when it’s not your favourite thing to do. Thank you for sharing a bit about your children’s chores Latonya.
I love this. I have a 2 1/2 year old son and I have thought about how I would encourage him to participate in household chores. As a child we were “forced” to complete our chores (single mom household/two girls and one boy), and I don’t want it to be so miserable lol. I think back to my brother being allowed to do less compared to my sister and I, which I think made me dislike it more. Reading what you wrote and the sites you’ve shared helps me start this conversation with my husband who grew up in a totally different household without having to do chores (mm hmm lol) . And I really like the words you used, ” I usually have a reoccurring conversation about being not only a family, but a team.”
Sorry my comment is all over the place 🙂
thanks for sharing!
I think you’re totally right on. Growing up my parents didn’t make us kids do much to help out (and we definitely didn’t offer!) I’m trying to do things differently with my kids but I struggle with consistency. It’s just easier to do things myself (and I actually like putting on a podcast and accomplishing a task!) but my kids are definitely old enough to do more!! My oldest is an 11 year old boy so I definitely impress on him that he needs to help most because he’s the oldest. He mows the lawn twice a week, babysits his siblings, and does the dishes a few times a week. (His 9 year old sister definitely gets away with doing way a lot less!). This is a good reminder to try and make it more consistent so it’s not such a struggle!!
I had the unfortunate fate of being the first born and only daughter in my family. Needless to say, I was the ONLY one called upon to do chores in the home. My brothers ran and played outside, I stayed in and scrubbed floors, cleaned the bathroom, changed baby diapers, did dishes…every single day. I used to dread “summer vacation” rolling around, because it was anything BUT a vacation for ME. My mother sat around watching talk shows and soap operas all day, she despised housework and so she didn’t want to do it. She passed it on to me. I grew up feeling resentful of my brothers enjoying their vacations while I was toiling every day. It really had a huge impact on how I felt as I grew up. Fast forward 40+ years and Mom had a stroke. Dad was already dead, and guess who was called upon to move in with Mom and become her full time caregiver? Guess who DIDN’T step up to the plate because it wasn’t “their job” to do so?