We are frequently asked about what chores our kids have. Up until a couple months ago, my response was usually something like this: "Our kids don't really have any chores yet. Their job is to keep themselves busy and safe during chore time."
Honestly, I was in no hurry to assign them chores. I kept thinking: They have the rest of their lives to work. Childhood is for playing. Why should I interfere with their playtime by giving them jobs?
I tended to take the same approach in the house. I would insist that the kids help with picking up their toys, but it was usually faster if I just did it myself.
I recently learned that this line of thinking was doing more harm to our kids than good.
In February, I attended a parenting workshop called Love & Logic. Taking the class stemmed from my desire to be a better mom. The way I figured, we attend workshops to be better farmers and I strive to be a better writer/photographer/blogger. But my most important job - and my most challenging job - is raising my children. So it made sense to me to sign up for the workshop when I saw it advertised in our school's newsletter.
I came back from the Love & Logic class with a handful of parenting strategies that were immediately more effective than some of the strategies I had been using. So effective, that on the third day after the class, Dan said to me, "What did they teach you at that class? I don't think you're being a nicer mom."
I had told the kids I was going to a class to learn about being a better mom. Dan apparently thought that being a better mom would mean being a nicer mom. But I've told him for years now that my job isn't to be nice all the time. Sometimes moms have to be tough. The Love & Logic class confirmed that.
The Love & Logic class also taught me that my approach to kids and chores was wrong. Absolutely, completely wrong. The class referred to chores as contributions and made the case that contributions help kids feel important, needed, and loved. The instructors said the fastest way to turn a kid's behavior around was to help them feel like a valued member of the family team by expecting them to contribute. They also said that kids who do chores (without pay) grow up to be internally motivated by the good feelings associated with accomplishment and believe that it's their responsibility to do whatever it takes to get the job done.
The messages from that session of the class shouldn't have been surprising to me. For generations, farm kids have been stellar examples of the benefits of chores. I grew up helping with chores, both in the house and in the barn. Except that barn chores never seemed like chores. I can remember putting grain down for the cows before milking; I must have been about Dan's age (7 years old). I started feeding calves shortly after that and was milking cows by the time I was 10 or 11.
I enjoyed my barn chores much more than my house chores. And, now, I believe it's because helping with the barn chores felt like a more valuable contribution.
But, as a kid, I don't think I understood the importance of my chores. Basically, what the Love & Logic instructors state is that chores help kids develop a strong work ethic instead of an entitlement attitude.
I haven't figured out which barn chores are safe and appropriate for Dan and Monika, but I'm determined to have a plan before summer vacation starts.
For now, I've been focusing on contributions in the house. I started with laundry because it's the area I struggle the most to keep up with. I showed the kids how to fold towels and gave them that job. They are so proud of themselves when they finish their folding.
I make sure to let them know how much their help is helping me. And now they help willingly. They take the scrap pail to the gutter and the garbage to the dumpster. They empty the dishwasher and set the table. They figured out how to pick up their toys without my constant direction. I realize that these are all pretty easy contributions, but I had to start somewhere.
Before the Love & Logic class, I didn't realize the importance of expecting children to contribute, but I can see it now. I also didn't realize how much I was doing for my children that they were capable of doing for themselves - finding their barn clothes and getting themselves ready to go outside, packing their backpacks, etc.
I can see the effects of expecting contributions in other areas of my children's life, too. Dan rarely grumbles about doing his homework anymore and usually gets it done in a fraction of the time it used to take him. I also hear less whining.
Having more help around the house helps me feel less stressed about the mountain of household chores that always seem to need doing. The kids' contributions might seem small, but a lot of small tasks can add up to be a big help.
One of the next jobs I'm going to hand over is sorting the laundry under the laundry chute.
Then I need to hammer out a plan for ways the kids can contribute outside. What chores do your kids do? How old were they when they started?