top of page

The kids live here too. They have a responsibility to help with the chores.

We have always felt that they live in and use the house as much as we do and have a responsibility to pitch in and help keep it somewhat clean.


Fostering an atmosphere of teamwork is good. But are forced chores a route to that? If your husband wanted you two to feel like a team, would making take over some of his work foster that?


Is a goal of everyone pitching in with an amount of work that feels sufficient to the adults the same as an atmosphere of teamwork?


What if, to fulfill a dream he'd never discussed with you, your husband bought a new house way out in the middle of no where that had no electricity, no running water, no conveniences and decided you would live there with him. Would it then be your responsibility to pitch in and help him live the life he'd chosen for the two of you? Or would it look like some bizarre power trip?


Isn't that kind of the deal that kids get? They didn't get to choose which families to be born into. They didn't get to say "I love a sense of order so I want that house where the toys are never to be left out past 5PM." ;-) We chose to bring them into the world, into the lifestyle and standards we choose to keep. We may have chosen a big backyard for them but do they then inherit the responsibility for our gift to them? Isn't everything we provide our gift to them? We are providing a life that we want to give to them: the size of the house, the number and type of meals, the separate bedrooms.


Maybe they'd prefer everyone slept in the same room so what kind of gift have we really given? Why should we assume they even want what we are giving them? Just because it's a gift we would like to be given, do they then become obligated to appreciate it just because we worked so hard to get it for them? And why do we attach strings to our gifts?


We could say, "Tough, that's just how life is," but isn't that just one of those things people say when they want to force someone else to do what they want them to do?


Which isn't a way of saying parents should become the servants of children. It's just a way of viewing the situation from the kids' point of view.


If we say they have a responsibility, do they also have equal say in how the house is kept? If they don't like mowing the lawn, could they choose to turn it into a meadow? If they prefer to have their projects spread out in front of the TV is that preference treated equally with adult preference to have them cleaned up?


That doesn't mean the kid preferences should supercede the adult preferences, but if two adults had different preferences would the way of resolving the conflict be for one adult to assert power and force over the other adult to make the second adult do what the first wanted? (Well, yeah, and we call it war! Or slavery.)


By insisting that the only right way is the adult way, and because I'm right I then get to force you to do it my way, aren't we essentially saying through our actions -- since the more strongly we feel that we're right the less likely we are to find any other method of resolve the conflict -- that the best way to solve differences of opinion is by being the bigger, stronger, more forceful one? Aren't we robbing them of the opportunity to see real problem solving in action, resolving conflicts over things we really care about?


While this seems like a reasonable theory to me it's nothing but a battle in reality.


And when you step back and look at it objectively as one side setting the standards, setting how to meet those standards and enforcing them, could it be anything other than a battle?


What if the kids set the standards and insisted you should comply with their standards and how to meet those standards?


What if your husband decided he didn't like seeing the food processor that you use everyday sitting out on the counter and insisted you needed to take it out and put it away for every use. And the only place it fit was on a high shelf you needed to get the step ladder for? What if he insisted the garage floor needed scrubbed by hand once a week?


Those sound ridiculous, and yet the standards we set are just as ridiculous from kid point of view. Kids don't care if the toilet is clean or the beds are made or they have to wade through a floor full of toys. From their point of view it's ridiculous to put away things that they're just going to take out tomorrow.


but there are things in life that have to be done whether we like them or not.


Is that really true? Can you name anything that you have to do whether you like it or not? Give it a try :-)


Don't we choose to do those things because we prefer the onerous task to the even more onerous consequences of not doing it?


People often equate the responsibility of kids going to school with adults going to work. But the huge difference is that the adults chose the type of work they would do, chose the place of business they'd work at, could choose at any time to go to work somewhere else or even stop working and live off savings. Kids have none of that.


There's a shift in outlook when we realize that everything we do is a choice. There is no have to except dying. Not even paying taxes is a have to. ;-)


If one of them is supposed to do the dishes so their dad can make dinner when he gets home then it would be considerate if they were done.


I've noticed something I do that should have been obvious. I'd like to be asleep by 9 (for various reasons). That doesn't have to be my daughter's bedtime but she wants to be read to at night in bed. So if she's jumping on the bed and running around at 9 -- which if I read to her then doesn't to her qualify as reading in bed -- I'm not going to have the light out at 9. So I say essentially "Please lay down. You say you want reading at night. You said you'd help me get to sleep by 9." But what I've done by saying that is turn her into the problem. What I should say is "Will you help me get to bed by 9?" and she becomes part of the solution.


So you could say "Can we help dad get dinner ready by getting these dishes out of the way?" Or you could talk to the kids and find other ways so the dishes don't pile up and otherwise "help dad get dinner ready". Or creative ways that the task could get done much quicker (like different bins for different dishes -- glasses all in one -- so more kids could help). Or if you do it with them, it could be a special time one on one with a child to talk about things. Make them part of the solution instead of part of the problem.


It also helps if you appreciate what help they give rather than pointing out that they didn't meet your standards of enough.


It won't happen instantaneously. If you ask for help, they will hear commands because they've always heard commands. And for a while they will take the freedom to say no, to literally say no. But if they do feel like they're equal partners in the endeavor, and the help they give is appreciated, they will come around.



If they don't want to, I say that it needs to be done, and everyone will do their part.


And in the interests of clarity I think it's important to recognize that it doesn't need to be done. What dire consequences will happen if it doesn't? You want it to be done so that the system you've come up with to maintain your standards can operate. It's your choice to keep the house at that standard. No one will arrest you if your house falls below a certain standard. (Provided it's healthy of course!)


We don't need to eat 3 meals a day. We don't need to have dinner on the table at 6. We don't need to have a set bed time. We don't need to keep the house to a certain standard of tidiness. We don't have to make sure the kids go to school and do their homework.


That doesn't mean let chaos reign ;-) It means learning to see that almost everything we do is a choice rather than a "have to" or "need to".


Lots of problems arise from confusing the solution with the problem. Such as assuming that having difficulties getting the kids to school and getting their homework done is the problem. But the real problem -- to which school is one (albeit poor ;-) solution -- is providing an environment so the kids can learn.


Such as assuming that having difficulties making dinner in the evening when the kids are tired and hungry is the problem. It isn't. The real problem is that people get hungry and need food. That doesn't mean the only solution is making "a meal" for the whole family to eat together at 6. It just means people need access to food when they're hungry. Which is a problem with far more potential solutions than the "problem" of making dinner.


It's liberating to realize that we don't have to clean the living room. We can look at a clean living room as a gift we want to give to the family. That sounds like a 50's Suzy Homemaker sentiment ;-) But the Suzy Homemaker mind set assumes that the rest of the family wants a certain standard and expects mom to maintain it. If that's true, then there are way deeper problems involved than getting the house clean! And we don't have to give the family a gift of a tidy house if it doesn't feel like a gift. We could give them a meal, a mom made quilt, snuggle time on the couch with a book, anything that gives us pleasure to provide. If we do it for ourselves as a gift to them, then we don't build up resentment if they don't appreciate it. If we do feel resentment then we should rethink why we're doing what we're doing!


Hey, I am right in there with them doing it.


This is a biggie. (It's even bigger if the kids are there voluntarily.) It's a real wake up call when you hear your own reasonable sounding words come out of your child directed at you. Many years ago I heard my daughter echo "It's your mess, you're the one who needs to clean it up." Yikes! Not at all the type of thinking I was hoping to foster. I realized if I wanted her to say "Here, let me help," then I had to say it to her and project the attitude that we're all in this together. (In retrospect, even better, I think, is to say "Let's get that cleaned up."


However, on occasion, I feel it necessary to make beds.


Again the language is important in how we view something. It isn't necessary. It's something that you want to achieve. The gift of an orderly atmosphere for your guests perhaps.


So, I tell them to make their beds. If they don't, then there is a consequence.


The consequence of not making a bed is a bed that is not made.



i tend to order my kids to do it. --my justification to them for these demands is that as a member of the family they enjoy the perks of their situation .. i.e. lots of STUFF.. video games, food, shelter, computers etc. so as members of the family that provides this for them they have a responsibility to contribute to said family at their own level of ability -- as do I and their father.


If you look at it from the child's point of view, or change it around to a new situation, it becomes clearer why the children don't see the reasonableness of this.


Adults get to choose where to live and pretty much dictate how money gets spent (or at least can veto any purchase). We may think we're pretty generous about kid choices but if we turn it around it is very controlling.


Imagine your husband deciding on his own where you would live, which house to buy (to primarily suit his needs but taking into account any needs of yours that he deemed worthy) and how the decor would look. He would listen to your suggestions but they'd only be taken into consideration if they didn't interfere with his needs. Say he's a big sports fan (and you're not) and he decided the house would be a shrine to his favorite team. If you had a special non-sports related picture he might suggest it could hang on the refrigerator or in a corner of your room so it didn't interfere with his decorating scheme.


All meals would conform to his idea of good with maybe a little concession to your tastes (potato chips instead of pretzels). You might get to go to your favorite restaurant once in a while but your order couldn't be too far off what he thought you should eat and couldn't be too expensive.


If you wanted to buy something outside your regular allowance -- like a book or something -- you'd need to convince him that it was worthy of purchase and you'd need to later demonstrate that you were using it enough for it to have been worthy of purchase or you'd hear about it the next time you wanted something.


If you wanted to go somewhere or get something at the store, it would have to wait until it was convenient for your husband to take you.


In a way, ending up in a family is not unlike going to school. There's no choice about being born/going to school (at least not for most kids!) or what family/school you'll end up with. The adults are supposedly thinking of everything the kids need and supplying them with it and expecting the kids to appreciate it. The kids don't appreciate it, of course, because what the adults are really supplying is what the adults want the kids to have, not what the kids want.


We may have decided what we wanted for our kids was a big backyard. Then it seems reasonable since the kids live there and should appreciate it, they should mow it when they're old enough. But as much as the kids might enjoy the backyard, they didn't choose it and knowing what they'd need to do to "pay" for it (for the rest of their childhoods) they might have chosen -- had they been able to be informed and been allowed the choice -- to buy a house with a miniscule yard next to a park. So why should they appreciate it?


It's sort of like getting showered by nothing but expensive Barbies and paraphernalia at every gift giving occasion when you've told people that what you really love is dinosaurs. Should you think it's wonderful and appreciate the "thoughtfulness" of the gift givers? Or are the "gifts" really forms of control?


But if we act as though our children are partners without demanding that they act as partners then they will be partners because it's more joy inspiring to be invited with open arms with no strings attached than it is to be required to uphold your membership in something you never asked to join.



it is very true that the children have no choice in their position as the younger, smaller least powerful members of a family.. but this is the the way it is. It's not going to change any time soon. and to be a human and a member of a human family is perhaps preferable to the choices of a baby alligator or turtle --(to mention species who do not have the demands of a family... only those of survival)....


And again those aren't the only two choices: to be the least powerful or no protection. When our thinking stops at "this is the the way it is" then we protect what those with the authority feel comfortable with. The ones left out of the equation are the ones with no power.


"That's the way things are" is the argument that maintained slavery, keeps kids trudging to school, keeps people from questioning their religious beliefs, has kept people confined to their class or lot in life, has kept dictatorial governments in power, has blocked the handicapped from participating in society and on and on and on. It may appear like those with power protecting the little guy from chaos, but it's those in power protecting themselves from being subjected to being uncomfortable or inconvenienced without any control over it.


a child, especially a young child, is self centered-- in their mind the world revolves around them.. as they SHOULD think, it is instinct. (species survival and all that). So we make many decisions for them and some of us try to give them the benefit of choices that do not affect their survival.


And perhaps a way of thinking that allows us to see more choices is to approach parenting with the attitude that providing them with a safe and secure environment to be able to be able to make choices in comes first and making decisions for them is a last resort.


we are not a perfect family by any means. nor I an example of parenting perfection.


No family is. But the families who examine what isn't working and why it's not working, move quicker to better than families that don't.


We might think our kids have it pretty nice: basically no responsibilities and free time to explore. Except life isn't theirs. It's because we choose to let them lie that way. We can also choose to take it away. When power is unbalanced, being kind to the powerless doesn't negate the fact that their lives share more in common with a prison than a partnership.


The point of the discussion isn't to tell people they're wrong for choosing to parent conventionally. (Though I or whoever is participating may think someone is wrong! ;-) That isn't the purpose!) The purpose is to provide an opportunity for people to self-examine and see that how we parent isn't dictated by "how things are". How we parent is a choice. And the discussion provides an opportunity to discover more joyful options -- for the empowered and the powerless -- that are available that could be chosen instead.



but I won't be their maid for them unless it's something that they physically can't do for themselves.


Seeing you as their maid implies that they want the house clean and tidy but want someone else to do it for them.


I suspect that they may appreciate the neatness -- a neat room does have a sense of peace about it that most people notice -- but that they don't expect you to do it.


If someone in my family loved flowers and always had a fresh arrangement on the table, I'd certainly appreciate the flowers, but, since I don't appreciate flowers enough to make the effort worth it for me to do it myself, I wouldn't expect them to keep doing it. In fact I'd be a bit miffed to find out that they expected me to appreciate it. I'd want them to be doing things that they found joy in, not things that they wanted others to appreciate.


If we do do something for others, it should be because we find joy in knowing they will (or might if we're guessing) appreciate it, not in expecting them to appreciate it.


Some of the housework discussion is about trying to get across the idea that what we do is a choice. We shouldn't clean because others expect us to. We shouldn't clean because we have to. We should work towards doing whatever brings us joy. If working towards our joy is making others lives less joyful then perhaps we should turn the problem upside down or rethinking what's really important to us to find new ways of tackling it to increase everyone's joy :-)


(And it often helps to find joy in housecleaning to realize we don't ever have to do it again. And that when we do it it's because we want to see the toilet go from yucky to sparkling, a room go from trashed to orderly ;-) Maybe it'll be every day. Maybe it'll be once a year. Whenever we want to appreciate the transformation. It's our choice.)


I don't think it's healthy for us to allow anyone, even our children, to take advantage of us.


In terms of unschooling, a childhood spent in a messy house where exploration is free and joyful is way more valuable than a childhood spent in neat house where the exploration is limited to what the children are willing to set up and clean up.


We have the rest of our lives after the kids are gone to keep the house neat. The kids have only a few years of childhood. What is learned in those times of joyful exploration is worth a great deal more than memories of how neat mom kept the house.


However, where I draw the line is that I don't let them take advantage of me either.


Nor should we, then, impose our needs on our kids. Not forcing the kids shouldn't be equated with letting their needs trample ours or others. Letting kids have their way doesn't help them learn to resolve conflicts. Imposing our way on them doesn't help either and, in fact, teaches them that being in a position to impose your way on those who are less powerful is a useful technique of getting your way.


How would you resolve a conflict of interest with another adult? The ways most parents choose to resolve conflicts between themselves and a child would drive most friends away. :-/


So, if they are going to bake, they may bake as much as they want but I will not clean up their mess.


I used to be this way about art. It seemed like it took 15 minutes to set up and a half hour to clean up for 10 minutes of painting. And it seemed like I should insist that if she wanted to paint that she be involved in setting and cleaning up. The result was she chose not to paint.


So what was gained? I could give her future self, the adult she'll be, memories of an atmosphere where creativity was valued. Or I could give her memories of an atmosphere of "No, your need to create isn't worth the trouble to me." Even a dozen times of freeing me of cleaning up art materials isn't worth the price of giving her the memory of an atmosphere of "Yes, let's explore!"



Joyfully Rejoycing
bottom of page