There is nothing quite as naive as a parent with a new chore chart.
Do your eyes take on a new sparkle at the idea of your children actually contributing to the cleaning of your household? You think, “This will work.”
You spend a despairing afternoon, crouched in front of your computer, curating perfect cleaning clip art. You even color-code your brains out! Desperation croaks, “This HAS to work.”
How is it that your home is still a wreck at the end of your best efforts and laminating?
I’ve been there. I usually live there.
My husband once (okay, twice) threw a handful of change into our playroom. “If you pick up the toys you’ll find the coins.” For our money-centric six-year-old, it worked. He was furious but he was cleaning. Cleaning for roughly 40 cents. Parents of the year.
In my experience, two things need to happen for chore continuity to take place.
1. You have to get mad about the current state of your home.
Have you read The Berenstain Bears and the Messy Room? The usually logical Mama Bear storms into the cubs’ room with a box and says, “The first thing we need to do is get rid of all this junk!” Then she starts chucking things into the box, to the cubs’ horror. Mama Bear is my people. There may have been a similar incident in our house involving a garbage bag and a (not so) gentle reminder. “If it doesn’t have a home, it’s going in the trash bag!”
2. You have to be willing to put in the effort required to show your kids how to clean.
I hate this one. Teaching my kids how to do chores is the worst. Is there a program that exists for instructing children on how to do basic household tasks? Tasks are done to my preference, I should note. I’m spitballing here, but it could be something like chore camp. I would send my kids out of the house to chore camp so someone (not me) could show them how I want them to clean a toilet. Chore camp.
I realized that at the heart level, I am automatically frustrated that my children can’t wield a broom as well as I can. “I HAVE BEEN SWEEPING THE FLOOR IN FRONT OF YOUR VERY EYES FOR YOUR ENTIRE LIFE ON EARTH. WHY DO YOU NOT KNOW HOW TO DO THIS.”
Did you know that there are parents who can make chores fun for their children?
I can suck the fun out anything. Even tasks involving a spray bottle (something that is inherently fun), because “Why the heck did you do 18 squirts instead of the three I allotted for you?” It’s like they’re only children.
I don’t want to jinx this, but my latest chore scheme has actually been working in our house.
The Latest Chore Scheme
My husband and I angrily sat down one messy Sunday (step 1) and went through our home, room-by-room. We came up with three tasks that need completing for that room to be considered clean. I printed, laminated, and haphazardly cut out each room. We made certain that some of the steps are twofold. For example, the dining room table can’t be wiped down until the paper scraps and scissors are off the table. 10 points to Gryffindor!
The deal: if the kids want screens during allotted screen time, they have to choose a room card and do all the things on it. The room cards look boring and painfully unfancy but fueled by enough parental anger. So it’s working. In the beginning, there was some lamenting over the boring nature of settling dishes into their cupboard homes, but we seem to be over the hump. Currently, nobody tries to bargain out of or skip cleaning time. They get it done so they can move on with their day.
Putting in the Effort
I’ve slowed down a bit on step 2. I resigned myself to the fact that for the first few times, I’ll have to be patient and show them what needs doing. Some parents have already mastered this and their kids have been cleaning well for years. I wasn’t aware that this was a thing.
I know how quickly a perfectly arranged magnetic chore chart can fall to the floor at the mere swipe of a usually uncoordinated two-year-old’s hand. I know it’s hard to stay consistent when schedules are crazy and it’s easier to do the things yourself. You fret that it could be too late and your kids will not succeed in life since they don’t know how to load the dishwasher.
Let me assure you! If your child was the 3-year-old who couldn’t pick up the toys along with all the other kids at the end of a playdate, soon enough he’ll be seven. He’ll then be mopping the stairs without complaining.
So, if you’re fed up, but willing enough to guide your kids in the implementation of a chore routine, today’s the day!
Just maybe, the next thing you do will stick.
And if any of you have heard if chore camp actually exists, let me know.