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How can I get them to do their chores?

I don't know how you have arrived at the opinion that the chores belong to the parents.


It's not a universal truth. It's a mindset that helps me achieve my goal. My primary goal isn't improving the state of my house. My primary goal is improving my relationship with my daughter. My goal is to put the relationship first and then figure out how to fit other things in without damaging the relationship.


Most parents say "I put my children first BUT ..." But that "but" changes the statement. If you've ever made a child cry or get angry or slam doors over something to do with the house then at those times the house is coming first and the child is coming second. Most parents may feel the times their children come first are enough to balance out the times they don't. (Even more important, I think, is what the children think!)


If that's your thought, then none of this will make sense.


But one thing that shifted my thinking was realizing I was making withdrawals from my relationship with my daughter to pay for something that would be gone tomorrow. And I'd have to do that everyday. In 10 years what would I have to show for all those withdrawals?


If this is so, then when does that change?


When do (in my opinion) the chores not belong to the parents? Never.


That doesn't mean the parents must do chores alone while the kids play until the kids leave the house.


Look at it this way. What if your child played a video game every day. What if there were parts of the game that he had to do but didn't like to do to get through the day's gaming task. What if he decided that because you were there that automatically made you part of the team in the things he thought were important. What if he assigned you parts of the game to do everyday? What if he expected you to do it just because it was important to him and he decided it was your job to help out?


That seems ridiculous. But to kids the things we think are important are just as ridiculous. If you look at chores from an adult understanding you'll never understand why kids don't just pitch in. If you look at chores from a child's understanding, you'll get why the kids feel imposed on.


If your son wanted you to help with his video game, how could he ask? If you look at chores from a child's understanding, then it's a whole lot easier to figure out what are good ways and bad ways you could ask for help to get honest to goodness help, not forced conscription.


But can't we expect a little help.


If we model helping them, then they will help us. (On their schedule.)


(And the help we give to them has to be helping them not doing for them the things we think they should do. Making dinner isn't really helping them. Cleaning up after them isn't really helping them. Taking time from what you're doing to do something that they feel is important -- even if and perhaps especially if you don't see it as important -- models helping for them.)


If we model that we think it's fair to conscript help because what we want is more important than what they want, then what are they learning about how to handle situations where their needs conflict with other people's needs? We're essentially saying that the best way we've found in 20, 30, 40 years of living to get what you want is to be bigger and stronger and make the smaller weaker person comply.


We can't expect them to understand the importance of what we need to do. They won't truly understand until they are adults and choose to do it themselves. (And we can't force that understanding because forcing them to do something isn't the same as knowing you have full freedom of choice to do something or not and knowing the consequences are truly yours to own.)


What we want is to model giving based on the importance someone else places on something. We want them to say "Okay" when we ask because we wouldn't ask unless it was something very important. But instead what we model for them is to first judge the importance of a request by how important it is to us and then deciding if it's important enough to interrupt for. For instance if they ask us to drive them to the store for a new game, we can't see that as important so we place it low on our priority list. But then when we ask them to pick up the toys, we don't accept that as being low on their priority list. We expect them to put it high on their priority list just because it's high on ours.


Taking some responsibility for oneself? "Expect" may even be too harsh a word.


You're assuming that if you give then you're entitled to get something back. But giving means you're doing it because you have a gift that you want to give someone not because you expect something in return.


If, for instance, you decided you wanted to give them a big yard to play in, why would the job of maintaining that yard then fall on the kids? Is it really a gift if they're required to maintain it to your standards? And if it's theirs can they decide to turn it into a meadow so they can keep it to their standards?


But can't we explain that (for example, if this were the case) mom or dad have xy &z going on and that we can't do all that needs to be done and still keep our sweet and happy tones going? OK, I guess the answer is that we have to be willing to deal with a NO from them. And then they may have to deal with certain consequences like their laundry doesn't get done or whatever. Am I on the right track?


A little tiny bit.


The kids are not responsible for your emotions. Your emotions are yours. If you're getting upset, then it's probably because you're trying to control them and they aren't cooperating. You're trying to get them to do what you want them to do.


One answer is to figure out how to stop wanting whatever it is you want them to do. Another is to figure out how to get what you want without depending on them. Another is to tackle the thing you're getting upset about and figure out how to minimize the task. (Rethinking how you do laundry. How the family gets fed. Where toys get put away. There are probably parts of house work that you don't need to do like folding, or sorting or having 3 meals a day.)


But life has real life limitations. If we have 6 hours worth of stuff we want to accomplish and only 4 hours to do it in, that's a real limitiation. Conventional parenting would put all the supposed "have tos" at the top of the list (laundry, shopping, cooking, etc.) and then any left over time might go to the wants of the child the parent deems worthy.


But when we see our "have tos" as the gifts we want to give our family, then that's a huge step towards putting relationships first and solving how to get do what we want to get done.


We can approach problem solving the way we would with another adult. "Here's the things I would like to accomplish. Here's the things you'd like to accomplish. Let's see if we can work out a plan so we can get as much as we can in." Put both needs on equal footing. But you be the one willing to make adjustments in what you want to accomplish. (Such as putting something off until the next day.) You'll be showing them how the process works. When they feel they don't have to fight to get what they want, when they're confident you're willing to work with them to get what they want (even if they have to put it off) they will eventually be willing to set aside something to make the whole process work so everyone's needs get met.


I don't really understand how a child in a family is not already on the team just by virtue of the fact that he/she is a part of the family. ( I believe that we all choose very purposefully where to incarnate-- not that"they did not ask to be born and therefore they are not responsible'-- like they are innocent bystanders or something).


Your belief doesn't cause your children to be born with that understanding and outlook. If they chose you -- and I find the thought as disturbing as Kelly -- children behave as though they chose us not our chores or the maintenances on the so-called gifts we give them. What they came for is our love and time. Not the work we can get them to do to maintain the life we want to "give" them.


Maybe they'd prefer to live with you in a tar paper shack so that they could have the freedom to be messy and have more time to spend with you and your husband. So anything else you spend time on is giving them gifts that they don't really want. They are gifts that you want to give them. It helps our attitude a lot to see what we give them as things we want to provide and not as something we expect them to appreciate. Then we can accept ownership of them. Or drop them if we realize we've been doing something only because we felt we had to.


I'm just talking about teaching responsibility for one's actions. I don't think its a given that the parents are responsible for everything.


You chose to bring them into the world. How are you not responsible for everything? Even if your beliefs say you aren't responsible for the particular souls you ended up with, you are responsible for making it possible for them to arrive. They didn't appear without your involvement!


People will strive to be responsible for what they feel ownership in. And they will feel responsible to the level that they feel is important to them.


How could your husband teach you to feel responsible for keeping the garage floor spotless? From your kids' points of view that's what you're asking of them.


Are you saying that if they want to eat in their room and don't want to pick up the fallen food and then there is a big ant infestation that they don't need to take responsibility for that? I don't think that's what you mean. I did read some of Sandra's stuff in the archives related to this. That it all depends on what's going on in the family etc., who has the time and energy to help clean up the mess.


You are seeing that the relationship between parents and children is a battle of wills. You're seeing it as being about who gets to do what they want.


I see it as being there to help kids live life.


Why would kids want to do things that are destructive or don't make sense? The answer is that they don't. (Unless things are forbidden or controlled.) But there is something that is preventing them from making the connection between their actions and the consequences. It could be that they're just oblivious to their environment. It could be they haven't truly made the connection between bugs and food. (Understanding a fact (bugs like food) isn't the same as understanding that it applies in a particular situation. And maybe it doesn't! Does it make sense that bugs outside will "know" there's food in a bedroom? Especially if you are in the habit of saying something will happen when in truth it may happen.)


If we approach life with them with the attitude that what they need is information or skills or reminders, and once we stop trying to make them be the way we want them to be and accept where they are, then life is a lot less stress filled.


If they accept that food in bedrooms equals bugs, when you see them heading to their bedrooms with food you can keep reminding them that it's a better idea to eat in the kitchen and suggest that they could bring an activity to their food in the kitchen. (How to Talk So Kids Will Listen has a lot of good tips about wording to use.) If you've reminded them numerous times, it could be they just aren't aware enough of what they're doing and you'll have to wait for maturity to take care of understanding what they're hearing. And accept that you'll have to make plate sweeps a couple of times a day.


Here's an example of not remembering. Our bathroom is dark but is off a very bright hall. The light switch is outside the door. Now I really want to conserve electricity and I don't want to leave lights on unnecessarily. But as you're coming out of the bathroom, there's no visual clue to remind you that the light behind you is on because it's so bright in the hallway. So I often forget.


How could someone help me to remember? Should they tell me to get up from what I'm doing later and turn off the light? Should they get angry because I'm 46 yo and am old enough to remember for myself? Or should whoever's passing by just turn off the light?


Treat your kids as though they're doing the best they can with the knowledge and skills and understanding of the world they have.



Put the relationship first

Mine have to do their chores


Why do they have to? What will happen to your children if they don't?


Children have to breath. If the consequences were natural you wouldn't have to impose consequences. You don't need to impose consequences on not breathing do you? ;-)


We choose to make them do chores.


When we think in terms of forcing children being the only solution to a problem then we'll assume we "have to" or they "have to" because "we have no choice".


But that's not true. It's something we choose to do.


That doesn't mean the other solutions are easy to find in this world where making children do things is the norm. But when we value our children's feelings above the cleanliness of the house, then we're motivated to find ways to have a clean house that don't sacrifice their feelings.


I'll admit to being coercive about cleaning when someone is coming to visit. At those times my daughter is motivated to do as little as she can. (I don't blame her!) It also makes her reluctant to help clean when I ask her to help when not cleaning for company.


But now that she's 11, when I ask (and she can say no or do it when it's convenient for her), and especially when I'm right there with her doing it, or when she sees something she feels she's able to help with, she does. (As long as it isn't about dealing with all the drawing and writing papers she generates which even I find overwhelming ;-)


I don't have suggestions for 9 kids but I know Cheryl Seelhoff had at least that many (some are now grown) and Kathy/Sofar8 (if anyone remembers her from AOL) exceeded her screen name I'm pretty sure ;-) and neither one of them was coercive parents. I think the message board for Cheryl's Gentle Spirit magazine is still up. Non-coercive parenting (NCP) is one of the things they talk about there.



My son is 3 and this is how I've been getting him to help. Ideally, my husband would say to me something like "It really bothers me that you do ... could you please not do ... or maybe you could do ... instead" If I disagreed with him we'd talk about it until we worked out a compromise we could both live with. Actually, in some situations DS and I have been able to do something like this. It's happening more often as he gets older and his communication skills develop.


Expressing our feelings is good. Talking honestly about our needs is good.


But what if your husband wanted you to make sure the vacuuming stripes were always north and south and never east and west? What if he wanted all eating and cooking utensils placed on the highest shelf as soon as you were done with them?


Yes, those are stupid ridiculous requests that no husband in his right mind would ever ask! But if we look at life through our children's understanding and through their needs, then often what we're asking of them is just as ridiculous.


At 3 it makes no sense to pick up the toys. At 3 it makes a lot more sense for them to be out all the time so he can see what he has. He may even appreciate a big area to run around in but the work involved in getting that isn't worth it to him.


That doesn't make him right and you wrong. It means you're both right. If he experiences an orderly environment that you create for him he will eventually become more conscious of the benefits of a neat environment. He might eventually feel that the work involved in creating it is worth it. But it won't be because you've trained him since he was born. It will be because he's 10 or 12 or 15 or has his own place.


So how do you deal with a situation where two people are right but their needs are incompatible? Does the big person get to make the little person give up what he needs?


In those cases its very helpful to see that having the toys away is something you need and something you should own. Just as your husband shouldn't foist his need for the N-S carpet stripes onto you. That's too much of a burden for something you don't care about. If he vacuumed the N-S carpet stripes grumpily complaining that no one cared about the things he did, you'd probably want to avoid him when he was in that mood. If he did vacuumed joyfully and invited you to help, like asking if you wouldn't mind moving a coffee table for him, you'd probably be happy to help.


Or you would if you weren't doing something more important like being at the top of a ladder painting a ceiling. And that's something we need to be conscious of too. If the child says "No" then we have to trust that what they're doing -- even if it looks totally unimportant to us -- is more important to them than what were asking them to help us with. If we want them to treat our feelings with respect, then we need to treat their feelings with respect. We need to treat their feelings about what their doing with respect, not just the things that we see as worthy of respect. Lots of the stuff that we do will be judged as ridiculous in their eyes and if we'd like them to respect our feelings that something is important, then we need to treat them that way.



to me, responsibility is doing those things that I have a duty to take care of. And we all have those kind of things.


And I think you're seeing responsibility as something you have to do.


It helps loads to see that you do have a choice and that you're choosing to do what you feel you should be responsible for.


You could not clean up. That is a choice. But you will probably eventually chose to clean. I think it helps to choose to clean when someone feels there's a real reason to clean rather than because they "have to".


Someone recently said they would start approaching cleaning with a different attitude so her daughter didn't get the idea that cleaning was a nasty chore. Rather than saying she was going to clean because she had to, she was going to be more honest and say she was cleaning because she enjoyed the house more and felt more peaceful when it's orderly. So she'd be cleaning because she wanted to rather than because she had to.



Nobody ever asks to help me clean up, even if they were involved in making the mess. Unless I ASK them to help clean up, they don't. It doesn't bother them to stand there and watch me clean up.


Age will change that. My daughter, at 12, is seeing things that need done and doing them. Last year she'd ask if I'd noticed she'd cleaned the sink. Before that it was, "The sink doesn't look dirty to me." ;-)


It helps to step back and look at the atmosphere you're creating objectively. If you do something and expect people to help and are resentfully doing it alone, that negative energy seeps out and drives people away.


Think about your husband angrily cleaning up something that seems foolish to clean up to you.


Think about him cleaning up something that seems foolish but he's doing it joyfully and asks if you'd like to help or just spend time with him keeping him company.


Which scenario would you be more likely to join in?


If we expect our kids to do something because if they don't we'll be angry we're teaching them that they bear the burden of responsibility for our feelings and should set aside their own needs and feelings to tend to our needs and feelings.


If we see the lives we create for them as a gift and invite them joyfully to join us (or not!) the whole family is more joyful.


If we want them to treat our needs with respect, then we need to treat their needs with respect too. Most parents would get mad at that and say they absolutely treat their children's needs with respect. But if they were to observe themselves objectively they'd find that they were picking and choosing which needs to respect. They'd be judging what the child needed in order to decide if the child really needed it and whether to take that need seriously or not.


If we want them to treat our needs -- all our needs, especially the needs they don't understand and seem foolish to them -- with respect, we need to do the same for them. If they say that finishing a level on a video game or seeing the end of a cartoon is important, we have to trust that it is important. (And it helps to be involved enough in their lives to understand what it means to them too.)


Like, if I'm getting ready to set the table and my kids start getting out paint, I'm going to tell them that what they are about to do is going to interfere with what I'm doing, and that they should have asked first before getting it out.


I would turn that around. Rather than demanding that they respect my needs, I'd respect their need to paint and help them find a better place to set up so that both our needs could be met.


I find it really helps to turn my seemingly reasonable reaction around and try to hear it coming from my daughter. If I were inadvertently setting up a project in the middle of where she was about to build a fort, would I want to hear "I was about to build a fort there. You should have asked first before doing that." Or would I rather hear "I was about to build a fort there. Can I help you move to another spot?"


Joyfully Rejoycing
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