Teaching Chores…What A Chore

“Mommy,” Alex said as he reluctantly brought his plate and cup around the peninsula to the dishwasher, “when are Julianna and Nicholas going to have to start clearing the table?”

“Well,” I said, “Julianna’s probably old enough already, I guess.”

But it took another two weeks for me to make her do it for the first time. See, she’s a slow eater. And often I’m working on dishes or something else by the time she’s done. And she makes such a ridiculous mess of herself, and she has to use the toilet after dinner, and taking care of those things are such a hassle that I just don’t feel like adding the hassle of teaching Julianna a chore.

But therein lies the danger point. Because if I only teach Alex the concepts of responsibility and family duty and work ethic, I’m setting myself up for a lot of problems with my younger kids down the line.

In the past two days, people online and in person have been venting about their children’s sense of entitlement, their lack of gratitude for—or even awareness of—what their parents do for them. Dishes, cooking, laundry, making lunches, cleaning house, chauffering…parents do all this stuff in order to facilitate their children’s childhood: sports, lessons, etc. “Don’t do what I did,” one mother admonished me. “Don’t do it all for them.”

We haven’t required much of Alex in his early years. His first “chores” consist of self-care in the morning and evening. When he doesn’t flush the toilet, he has to clean the bathroom (that’s an attempt at a “natural consequence” kind of discipline). I’ve hesitated to pile work on him. I want him to be a child. But at what point does that change?

Generally, when I start hearing the same message from multiple sources, I regard that as a sign. Which I suppose means the answer to that question is “now.”

And this wraps back around to the beginning. I remember the oldest child of a large family expressing how frustrating it was for her that her parents never made the younger children learn the jobs they’d taught her. It was so much easier to just tell her to do what needed doing, rather than taking the time to teach the younger ones. There was so much to do, after all, with all those little ones running around, it’s natural to take the path of least resistance. But it’s not fair to the oldest child, and it’s shortsighted to boot.

All this is more complicated in our family because Julianna is so delayed. There’s a reason Julianna hasn’t been assigned the basic “chores” yet. She can’t even do them. And yes, it is far, far easier to brush her teeth and wash her body than it is to give her the soap and watch her smear it in her eyes (yes, she does do that. Repeatedly. It takes her many repetitions to learn things, you know). But this repeating message also tells me it’s time to start pushing Julianna out of the “I do it for you because it’s easier and takes less time” nest.

So: my mid-year goal: by Christmas, my little ones will be toilet trained. Julianna will be dressing & washing herself, and brushing her own teeth.

Okay. The goal is set. Onward, mothering warrier.

(This goal makes me too tired to end with an exclamation point.)