Your children can do chores

This is a post draft from 2012.  All that it had was the heading– your children can do chores.

I’m not sure if this was a result of mommy bloggers complaining about waiting on their kids, or if it was just a reminder to myself that kids are often more competent than one realizes.  They start out so little and then grow so quickly.  So you forget to let to let them try things like putting on their own shirts.

Now, in 2022, we’re all at the age (#teen/#preteen) where they want to help less and it would be less effort to put their dirty dishes/socks away or to take their laundry out of the dryer rather than nagging them to do it themselves.  But also DC1 is going to college next year and needs to not be a horrible roommate/dorm person.

I worry especially for boy children– some of them seem to be able to skate through life with mommy waiting on them and then replace mommy with girlfriends and eventual wives.  Some of them never learn to take care of their crap and that’s unfair to future women who love them, or at least live with them.  Boys need to get used to doing chores as a service to their future partners.

Did you help out around the house as a kid or was taking care of chores a shock when you were on your own for the first time?

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19 Responses to “Your children can do chores”

  1. Wally Waffles Says:

    A friend of mine with two kids wants to visit me this summer and stay at my house. The two kids (both girls – who are like 11 and 7?) do absolutely nothing to help out when they are visiting. Nothing. They don’t even take their own plates to the kitchen after dinner. I’m single with no kids, so feel uncomfortable asking them to do things – but it is a source of tension for me. We spent xmas together last year and I felt like I was having to do everything for the two kids and their dad (who also does nothing). And I really needed a vacation too! Any advice on how someone who doesn’t have kids can address this? I just don’t want to have them come and wreak havoc on my house and expect me to do everything for them. I will be resentful and frustrated. Of course, I could ask them to stay elsewhere, but this is an ongoing issue.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      The dad who does nothing is a bigger problem. You can ask the kids to put plates away but it’s less polite to ask the dad. I mean, you still can, but it depends on how good of friends you are. He sounds like he was raised in a barn and is raising his children the same way.

      Personally I wouldn’t have them at my house. It sounds awful. I would have a hard time spending time with the guy at all.

      That said you have options.

      1. See what happens when you cheerfully ask the dad to help out in the kitchen and tell the girls it’s cleanup time. This could go fine or it could result in dad writing a dear Wally letter later (my parents got a bizarre letter from a couple telling them they were awful for having the husband help with the bbq when they stayed at our house while traveling across the country—no big loss).

      2. Talk to the dad ahead of time saying you’re happy to have them but you were exhausted last year and they need to help out.

      3. They stay elsewhere or just don’t visit this year.

      I can ask the grumpies this one this Friday if you’d like.

      • Chelsea Says:

        Your situation sounds more complicated than this (with the non-helpful Dad and all), but I would say – in general – kids can be helpful but they often need to be asked to help, especially in an unfamiliar environment. Like, “Oh hey, guys, can you give me a hand bringing the plates and bowls back to the kitchen?”, “Oh hey, guys, at my house I always put my shoes X when I get home. Could you move yours there, too?” As far as getting them to help with food prep, you could even jazz it up a little bit. “Oh hey guys, I’m about to make my great-great-grandmother’s secret recipe for X… wanna see what it is?” and then enlist their help in the kitchen.

        I know it’s annoying because it means you have to make requests for basic good behavior cheerfully, BUT it might get them on the helpful train faster and preserve goodwill with your friend (if you want that).

    • Socal Dendrite Says:

      Definitely don’t be resentful about them not helping if you haven’t actually asked them yet! Yes, in an ideal world, an 11-yr old at least should be automatically carrying their plate through but I remember feeling awkward in other people’s houses/kitchens at that age (before I grew up enough to be confident about offering help). As the others said, ask them cheerfully – and for sure ask the dad too. If they don’t do it after you’ve set expectations, well, that’s a different matter. Fwiw, my 7 yr old knows she is supposed to take her plate through and does it about 70% of the time, but she sometimes needs reminding if she gets distracted along the way :/

      • First Gen American Says:

        We stay at a friends summer family house pretty regularly and it’s just common to lay things out ahead of time..who’s responsible for which meals, what chores need to be done prior to closing up, etc.

        We also have a male friend who’s female spouse never lifts a finger when she comes so they stopped getting invited to things. It’s not always the guys who don’t learn. So, it’s okay to set up ground rules and it’s also okay to not let someone stay if they are too much work.

        Lastly, I’ll say some people are oblivious and don’t even notice they are being rude so don’t feel bad for speaking up. My husband who’s awesome and is very hands on had this happen to him as a boy. He didn’t clean his plate after dinner at someone’s house and got called out on it. He never had to at home and just assumed that’s how it was everywhere. He was super embarrassed that he was being rude and didn’t know it so now that’s one of those rules that is non negotiable in our home.

    • bogart Says:

      I’m wondering if you could frame this as a general household policy before their next visit? Say, I love having people [in general] come to visit me but have started asking that anyone staying [overnight, or for more than 2 days, or whatever threshold you want to set] be responsible for [some tasks. Could be clearing the table, washing the dishes, whatever. You could divide this up by meal or day or something]. Would it be possible to do this in a way that makes it not about them but just about your guests in general (the implication being that you have an assortment of guests over the year, which may or may not be true but it doesn’t really matter unless they (a) know and (b) want to call you on it).

      • bogart Says:

        sigh … my comment above was supposed to be a reply to Wally Waffles, as is probably substantively obvious.

      • Debbie M Says:

        One of my grandmothers made it clear that rules in her house might be different from rules in our house. So that’s definitely one approach to take. For example, do they bring their dishes to the counter next to the sink? Or put them in the sink? Or put them in the dishwasher? Do they scrape them first? Rinse them first? Let them soak? It could help to even just say, ‘this is how I like to do things in my house… And here’s how I like to do things when I have visitors…”

  2. EB Says:

    Neither I nor my 3 siblings did much beyond taking care of our rooms and clearing the table (plus yard work on request). This was mainly becaue my mother had been a head nurse in a Navy field hospital and she was a little OCD about cleanliness/germ control, especially around food. She did not have us wash dishes because she felt they needed to be done in near-boiling water, for example. But we were well aware of the chores that had to be done, and transitioned easily to doing our own when we left home. We also all left home as decent cooks, not so much from helping as from trying recipes on our own. Our Dad never expected to be waited on, but there certainly was a level of division of labor by sex. Indoors veresus outdoors, mainly.

  3. CG Says:

    Our kids do chores, largely around dinner cleanup/trash/recycling, and some general house straightening and yard work when asked. The older ones do their own laundry and the youngest is starting to do so. It’s a constant battle of reminding and telling various children not to half-ass their job, but (I guess?) it’s worth it so they grow up knowing that these chores do not just magically happen. The exception is the laundry, because only they bear the consequences if that doesn’t get done.

    A friend of mine experimented for a couple of days with doing all the chores that her children would normally do. She didn’t say anything, just did it, and they DID NOT NOTICE! Like, they didn’t notice that they hadn’t done their normal chores, no one had asked them to do them, and they had gotten done anyway. That was irritating, but also instructive. It seems like many kids just do not care about that stuff, let alone doing it well. So the nagging/reminding role is just part of the deal until they are old enough to notice/care. Perhaps this happens when they live on their own…?

  4. Lisa Says:

    I helped out with regular kid chores when I was a kid – I cleaned my room and bathroom, helped with meal cleanup, etc. But I was still overwhelmed when I got out on my own. There is just SO MUCH that goes into adulting! I had a fairly heated argument with my husband early in our marriage about changing the oil in our car. He insisted it had to be done on a regular basis and I insisted that my family’s cars ran just fine for years and years without having the oil changed. (Of course, my Dad took each car out for maintenance when it was time without telling anyone – I really and truly believed it didn’t happen!).

    On the “kids can do chores” front, my kids help with the usual things inside and outside the house. My middle child is really very good at cleaning the house and also good at mowing the lawn. The other two are a bit more marginal. They all do laundry and the older two are starting to handle appointments (taking selves to dentist, get haircuts, etc., though we still make the appointments). I really need to work on getting them proficient at feeding themselves, I find it so much easier to make meals than to get them to do it. I want them to be self-sufficient but also think it’s not really something you can appreciate until you HAVE to do it all yourself.

  5. Socal Dendrite Says:

    My (9 and 7 yr old) kids take their plates through and (are supposed to) put them in the dishwasher, empty the dishwasher when clean, sweep under the table, periodically tidy their rooms, and occasionally help with laundry. I keep meaning to add a few more things to that list, like helping in the kitchen more, but often fall into the trap of it being easier to do it myself. My 9 yr old is in a pretty helpful and capable phase right now (noticeably more than his younger sister) so I really should capitalize on that by establishing good habits before he becomes a teen!

  6. Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life Says:

    They can! Our 7 year old is responsible for putting away laundry, clearing the dishwasher, tidying the surfaces of counters, setting the table and clearing the table after meals. Add other chores as appropriate and needed.
    When they have a playdate that involves a meal, they grab their friend and make them help too. Our friends mused that their kid did more chores at our house during playdates than at home. 😁
    The two year old is now helping with setting the table and put away some laundry. I tell them that they’re going to learn to be independent adults before they have to leave the house.

  7. First Gen American Says:

    Our list of chores is now variable when the kids are extra busy. If sports are in session or a kid is working all weekend, I don’t still make them do laundry. They still have to put laundry away and do dishes but we now adjust the list up and down depending on busyness.

    I also think it’s good that the chore list now is “whatever needs doing”. It takes a lot of tasks to keep a house going. If there’s a big storm and now the yard is filled with big tree branches, everyone helps out. I also think that will help them in the future. If you want a big yard, you have a lot more to take care of. That’s a lesson in itself.

    We are working hard at the concept of looking around and just doing what needs to be done without having to be told every time. As teenagers they aren’t bothered by filth as much as we are. I do hope the lessons do stick in the future. They were at least told that’s what’s normal and it’s not fair for one person to have to be the bad guy and constantly police what needs to be done everyday. I hope they’ll also know to stick up for themselves so they don’t end up doing everything in a roommate situation. I do want them to be a good roommate but I also don’t want them to be someone else’s free maid service.

  8. Debbie M Says:

    Not only is it not fair to future partners, it’s not fair to themselves. People who leave the nest with good habits as well as knowledge are better prepared.

    As kids, we despised chores and it was always a horrible fight. Even though our only chores were to keep our rooms neat, unload half the dishwasher each day, and clean the bathrooms each week, or at least when expecting company. Occasionally we swept or vacuumed. My best friend got paid for mowing her lawn, and sometimes I helped her for half the money.

    We didn’t have horrid chores like some of my boyfriend’s: feeding the chickens while the rooster was trying to peck you to death and pulling weeds.

    In college I shared a dorm room, as one does. I got neater (apparently peer pressure works better than parental pressure). I learned to do my laundry by reading the laundry soap box and the washer and drier lids. Nowadays there are also online videos. Dorms are like halfway houses, and transitioning from those to shared apartments to your own apartment to your own house leads to more and more chores. Not to mention adding plants, pets, and children.

    One interesting thing is how differently chores are defined. I was taught that doing the dishes includes cleaning the counter. And I decided in Girl Scouts that it was best if the cooks also did the dishes–they were much more careful about not making a mess and not burning things. Whereas my boyfriend always had grateful people doing dishes after he cooked and he was famous for using every pot in the house. Doing laundry means washing, drying, folding, and putting away–it’s best to wait until you have time for all that. Taking out the trash includes all the trash cans, and it includes replacing all the trash can liners you took out and includes bringing the trash can back up from the curb.


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