Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Chores in a Large Family

I've been a mom for almost 20 years. All of those years have been single-income years. We considered allowances but were afraid we'd be short and unable to pay the kids the money they earned. We also decided that we wanted the children to embrace the 'team spirit' and do things because they were part of the family. So where is the motivation in that? And what chores will they be required to do?

I think most people are surprised by the list of chores completed by my children. By nine or ten they can all cook something. On the stove. (I do not keep a microwave in the house.) For some it was eggs, others grilled cheese, one it was oatmeal. If they like to bake, by age 10 they are reading recipes and mixing it up, having help in and out of the oven. By time they are 11 1/2, they are using the oven (if they are physically big enough, I have some petite children.) By 13 they can plan and execute a simple meal.

We have no dishwasher, so dishes for 8 people are done by the children, starting at age 9. They work in teams to learn. An older sibling (teen) with a younger one. Until the younger one gets tired of being bossed and has learned the job well enough they ask for their independence. At that point they move on to everyone has a different day. To lessen the workload of the kitchen/dining room day, each child has to do their own dishes as they use them (an important life skill) thus leaving only Mommy and Daddy's dishes, plus prep dishes for the one assigned to the task. If it is not your kitchen day then your task is likely to be the living room plus laundry folding. For the children younger than 9, they share the family room (where most of the toy mess is).

Then, each child has certain tasks they are responsible for. My oldest son, 16, has to keep all the garbage cans empty, hang laundry on the line (he can reach!!), babysit and help with dinner if mom is working and dad is job hunting, and he usually mows the lawn. He will be having two jobs outside the home this summer, so we will see how that effects the home tasks. He also knows how to do all phases of laundry, and he enjoys doing some home repairs. Next on the list for him, learning how to properly clean a bathroom.

My 12 year-old loves to bake, so she gets a lot of that duty. She is also responsible for finding lost things (she can't be beat!!), and helping her two younger sisters with their jobs. When she is assigned tasks, she does them really well! She is currently learning how to do laundry. She also can get laundry off the line (hanging is still difficult for her), she helps out with the babysitting of the younger siblings, and is learning how to cook. She is often outside with the kids when they use the kiddie pool or want to ride their bikes. She also helps clean up after the kitty cats and makes sure they have food and water.

My 10 year-old son is starting to help out with the garbage duty, he takes kitchen rotation, and he also has to keep the videos put away and alphabetized. (You wouldn't believe how fast one's video collection grows with no television service and a houseful of kids.) He also is mom's drink fetcher, and was the "sock man" until recently. He was assigned sock duty because when he folded laundry, rather than sort through the socks and put them in the appropriate stacks to be put away by their rightful owners, he would put the clean socks back in for washing!! I think he learned his lesson. Sorting socks for 8 people is a huge job when everyone in the house saves sock sorting for "the sock man." LOL.

My 8 year-old and 6 year-old girls are a team. They are assigned to cleaning up the family room, they have to wash their own dishes they've used, they have to clean up after their own dirty clothes, and they help fold laundry upon request. My 8 year old also has to dust the trims and moldings in the house, and keep the hallways swept. My littlest one will make the beds in the girls' room and she feeds the dog.

So what keeps them motivated to take care of their jobs if there is no allowance? Well peer pressure for one thing. They know they cannot do fun things if their chores have not been completed. They also know that mommy yells a lot less when their chores are done and if the house is clean. But mainly, I think it is the "We're all in this together" attitude. They know mommy does not want to work. They know that daddy is having trouble finding a job in this economy, they see him out job hunting every day. They have learned that the team spirit makes things more fun, they are recognized for jumping in to help each other, they are granted privileges when they do good work, and everyone wants to have fun.

I also think that the penalties are stiff. If they do not do well, they get the kitchen for more days, thereby allowing their siblings days off from that chore. Or, they will get more jobs for more practice, such as the sock-sorting detail mentioned above. It may seem to be a lot of work, but children raised without a work ethic are lazy adults.

I think a part of my job as mommy is to be sure they are able to run and manage a household when need be. My eldest, nearly 18, has been on her own, out to college. She's doing great. The details are for another post, but the point is that she did not have to learn basics, she knew them. If she hadn't started early, she wouldn't have been ready to go off a year early to college.

Overall, I've always felt children are to be raised to be ethical, hard-working, compassionate people who will be able to contribute to their family and their society in a meaningful, productive manner. To that end, I think chores, without monetary reward, are important. I want them to know they do things because they should, hopefully because they want to, but that comes with time, maturity, and wisdom. Until then, they do it because I said so!

Click on the illustration, it takes you to a survey about chores!


Moderate Means said...

I like the sock duty :)

We have a similar approach but mine is based on self-sufficiency. I want the kids to be able to do things for themselves, by themselves, that they can develop on. Both can do laundry (except folding - they need longer arms ;) ) and make meals and clean everything in the house. We don't have a rotation, though. Just list the jobs to be done and everyone takes one until everything is done.

The family chores take care of the bulk of the work but we do have an allowance system in place, too. We implemented it last fall as a pre-cursor to a kid-focused money 'class' we're going to do. I want them to have an understanding of the idea that working hard and consistently will give them money...and that will turn into how to spend money wisely. DJ and I were money-foolish when we left our homes and we're trying to instill a different habit in them.

I think it's wonderful to see kids participating in keeping the family and the house running smoothly!


Mary Bennett said...

My daughter wants an allowance for her chores like some friends do. When I see what things she buys from her allowance, I want one too! We don't do allowances for the same reasons you state. Also, I remember my parents talking about a friends kid who didn't do some of the chores because the monetary compensation wasn't worth it to him anymore!

Lily said...

I think if I had the money I may have instituted some form of an allowance system years ago. We just never had the money to do that.

I do reward them, at times and as the budget allows, with something they've wanted, or I'll pitch in the remainder of the cost of something they're saving for. My son saved for a long time for a video camera. He was about $50 plus the cost of the extended warranty short of buying it. I kicked it in and told him that was because he does a lot of babysitting and helping out with the younger children. It is hard to save for things with gift money. It is then an unexpected pleasant surprise!

I think a money class is a great idea! Kids need to learn how to budget and plan. I was never so great with that either. I had to learn the hard way.

That is terrible, weighing if the money is worth the chore and then leaving your parents high and dry for the help they need. If I ever offer to pay for something, they don't care what the chore is, they do it happily!

I've also been known to invent chores to be compensated for. When I was crocheting one time I had one of my kids wind the yarn into balls ($1 per ball) so the yarn wouldn't get knotted. It was time consuming, and there was a lot of yarn to be wound. The child jumped at the chance to make that money!!