For many years now we have not had ‘chore charts’ or lists in our house. I don’t know what your experience is like but we found that when our oldest two reached an age where ‘chores’ seemed appropriate we did the right thing, we made a list, had a reward system in place and sat back to watch as skills, confidence, independence and a sense of team blossomed! We were brought down to earth with a bump fairly quickly.
For us chore lists became battle grounds, and what seemed to blossom was resentment, feelings of failure and comparisons. ‘I did mine on time, she didn’t – how come she gets the reward too?’ ‘His were easier than mine, and he had less homework – it’s not fair!’ ‘But you always help them, you don’t help me!’…
We persevered for a bit but in the end we quit. Chore lists were certainly not promoting team effort, or a sense of interdependence. I’m not sure any new skills were gained by any of us. And the experience gave none of us more confidence – personally or in our parenting abilities!
But I find myself here again, should we do ‘chores’? Our youngest is now nearly 9 and because of our last attempt she has rarely ever seen a chore list stuck to the fridge – but there are definitely now skills that she has to offer to help family life run well.
She’s great at making a bed for example – if reminded, and in the mood. She can help unload the dishwasher, wipe clean a table, and feed the animals. So should we try again? Am I letting her down if we don’t – aren’t chores an important part of learning responsibility and seeing we’re all part of a team?
It’s a difficult one – I don’t want battles, or resentment – we have more than enough of both of those as it is. So is there another way to develop skills and a sense of team work in family life without that being the result? I was reading around and came across ‘family contributions’ as an alternative approach. Still based on doing age (and ability) appropriate jobs around the house but rather than chore then reward, the focus is more on recognizing (and hopefully growing) what each person in the family contributes.
I like the concept. It is less like a duty or a rule which suggests the need for visible fairness and more like an attitude in mutual gratitude. This may have something going for it. There feels already to be more room to value different abilities – it didn’t seem fair to have very obviously different types of chores being equated on a reward chart side by side. Maybe there is more to be learnt using this concept – not just a sense of responsibility to do a duty but also in each doing what we can do well and being noticed maybe we will learn to value each other’s abilities that bit more. That can only be a good thing.
One thing our family life is very good at is reminding me daily that none of us can do everything, but we are all good at some things. Our abilities and strengths need praising and encouraging in family life, especially in a world which often praises such a narrow selection of abilities and talents.
I am willing to give it a try, there are plenty of printable examples out there that I could adapt to match our particular family and our abilities, and I’ll introduce it very, very, gently. Small steps. And lots of celebration over the offered contributions of everyone, however different, however seemingly small, or how often they are offered!
Written by Cathy Porter