If you don't make them work...

I had been unschooling for years before a few people suggested at the old unschooling[dot-com] message board that requiring kids to do chores could be as bad as making them do schoolwork. I perked up immediately, and everything they said has proven true at our house. The first principle was "If a mess is bothering you, YOU clean it up." Another one was "Do things for your family because you *want* to!"

It was new to me to consider housework a fun thing to be done with a happy attitude, but as it has changed my life and because it fit in so well with the other unschooling issues, I've collected things to help others consider this change as well.

In the same way that food controls can create food issues, forcing housework on children can cause resentments and avoidances which neither get houses clean nor improve the relationships between children and parents.

Also, studies of separated identical twins suggest that the desire and ability to clean and organize have more to do with genetics than "training."

I hope you enjoy and are inspired by some of the collected writings below, few to none of which are my own.

Sandra Dodd

Having a clean house isn't anywhere near as important as having a house that all of us enjoy living in. Having dishes done isn't more important than hanging out with Simon and Linnaea. Having a vacuumed floor isn't more important than letting Simon or Linnaea watch a television show uninterrupted. Having my to-do list cleared isn't more important than going to the game store because Simon wants to get Castlevania Dawn of Sorrow for the DS and we could fit in a 20 minute game of laser tag and check out Casltevania Portrait of Ruin from the library. Actually, I don't have a to-do list, but if I did...

Schuyler Waynforth

Lyle Perry:

It's more of a shift in the parent's attitude than the kids at first. If a person appears grumpy about cleaning, the kids will pick up on that and immediately assume that cleaning is a real bummer. If you hear yourself complaining about something needing cleaned, everyone else hears the complaining too. If YOU obviously don't want to do it, there's a good chance that your kids won't be overly excited about it either. Complaining leaves a bad vibe in the air—not a good selling point.

If a parent makes something sound like a really big deal, it becomes even bigger in a child's mind. If it's a big, negative deal, it may become even more negative for a kid. A positive attitude sets a much more pleasant stage for others to walk out on. Set the example you would like others to follow.

There is definitely a transition period after a proclamation like "NO MORE CHORES" is given. For a kid it may be like being set free from prison, and for awhile they may want to push their newfound freedom to the limit. But slowly, cleaning and picking up will be no big deal, as long as the parents are not making it a big deal. My kids do a lot more picking up now than they did a couple of years ago, and there are more and more days when I get home and the dishes have been run, the counters are wiped down, and the house is almost....clean. Not everyday, but there are days when I don't want to do it either. And some days I don't. The kids have that same right.

Plan on doing most of the cleaning for awhile. Better yet, plan on doing ALL of the cleaning for awhile, and whenever someone else pitches in, you may appreciate it more. Try not to look at it as "I have to do it all!", because you don't have to do it all. There's always a choice. If you don't feel like cleaning today, then don't. Will the house get messier? Yup. Is it a big deal? Shouldn't be. During "de-choring" your house is going to be messier. It's a fact. But little by little things will change, and you will notice things getting done that you didn't have to do and didn't have to demand done. It won't happen overnight. It probably won't happen in three months. It may not happen in the first year if a parent walks in day after day, exasperated with the fact that a room isn't clean and tidy. When you say to your kids, "hey, why didn't you clean that up?", the first thing that may go through their minds is, "well why didn't you?" It works both ways.

Cleaning doesn't have to be a big deal. Don't make it a big deal and your kids may be more inclined to follow in your footsteps.



Dawn, in Nova Scotia:

Ok, I think I'll share my newly-thought-of philosophy of housework here. It started when my sister was over and chasing the kids around. I was straightening up the livingroom and had just finished piling up blocks (big cardboard ones; we have, in all, ten or eleven different kinds of wood, plastic and cardboard blocks. I feel so wealthy. 🙂) when my son (2) ran into the room, saw the blocks and immediately tore down the pile. I smiled and shook my head. My sister, who'd arrived in time to see this, sternly said, "Harry! Your mother just finished putting those away!" When she said that I felt offended. Didn't she know I only pile those blocks so that Harry can knock them down? And there was the Aha! I looked around the room at the clean living room and realized that was why I did any cleaning.

We don't clean up messes to have a clean house. We clean up messes so there is room for more mess!

Now I think of cleaning up after my kids as replacing a canvas. I do it with the thought that by giving them room again and a bare floor and organized toys to pick from I'm handing them the tools to write another mess onto our house. It's meant that at the end of a day, or sometimes a few days in a row, I just let the mess stay, because really, it's a work of art or a story. Maybe it isn't finished. Maybe it's too interesting to be gotten rid of so soon. It also clears up my feelings of resentment about doing the bulk of it. I like being the one to reset the house so that we all can live another, different mess the next day.

Anyway, thought I'd share since it's really helped me bring more joy into the housework!

Dawn (in NS)


We also rethought the concept of "Chores". If it's a "Chore" for me, why would I want to dump it on my son? So we started on re-wording first (creating new mental habits)—they were no longer chores they are household tasks. As adults, we assume all responsibility for all the household tasks. Then we bring DS along with us in doing them as he chooses.

By removing the burden of "Chores" from him, he is now much more likely to help out and to do things spontaneously because he sees us helping each other, doing things that need doing simply because they need doing, not because it's "my turn" or "my job"— we don't have assigned jobs, whoever is able and available does what needs doing. If we ask him to do something, we are learning to accept yes or no or I'll do it after this show is over.

There are some things that need doing now—for example, picking up dishes in the living room—because we have two big dogs that would get into it and possibly get sick or whatever. But those aren't arbitrary. DS knows why he needs to bring his dish to the kitchen. If I'm heading that way, I'll take it and vice versa—if he's going to take his dish, he often picks mine up too on the way.

Ditto for things like leaving toys out—the lab mix is a plastic chewer and DS left a toy or two out when we were heading out of the house or at bedtime and got them chewed, now he knows better. (We hadn't noticed it or we would have picked it up ourselves. It wasn't a "I'll leave it so he'll learn" malicious kind of thing.)


Nancy B.:

We have a large family, and believe it or not, the messes/housework is NOT that big a deal, because we have all begun doing better at putting our own stuff away.

As far as housework, getting all the nitty-gritty cleaning stuff can almost be done in half a day...toilet cleaning, bathtub, dusting, vaccuming, etc, especially if you're not a picky person. :o) I don't clean when I'm tired, or cranky, because that tends to bring out the pity party in myself. Sometimes I'll clean while the kids are still sleeping, or gone for the day.

In our home, I realized that the bulk of the mess was everyone getting stuff out, and leaving it there for someone else to pick up. I don't mind messes, and projects, at all. But it helped to talk with the kids about coming home and flinging their jackets on the ground instead of hanging them, leaving toys out, not putting their dishes in the dish washer, etc. It's not a matter of having "jobs" or chores, it's just love and respect for each other. I usually don't even have to remind someone, because another child will remind them instead.

I like in the book, "How to Talk so Kids Will Listen, and Listen so Kids Will Talk" the idea of using one word to help motivate; "Kelsey...jacket." There is a chapter on how to enlist help without nagging or putting guilt on a kid too. Instead of saying, "Bill, you left the milk out again, you are always doing this! What's wrong with you!"...you don't even say the child's name, and instead make a comment like, "milk goes bad when it's left out." You are not accusing or pointing fingers, instead, you're giving information. It really, really works.

Anyhow, just saying that getting everyone to pick up their own things, IMO, isn't wrong. It's just teaching a child kindness and respect for each other. That will leave a lot more time for moms or dads to rush through and get the real cleaning done, or make it possible for the cleaning people to come less.

Nancy B. (CelticFrau)
Oh...one more thing! :o)

I noticed that when my kids started getting older and having friends come over much more, they took a greater interest in helping keep things clean, and often straightened or vaccumed or loaded the dishwasher, wipe things down, etc when their company comes. We usually all pitch in a little bit when one child's friend is coming over, and in turn, when EACH child has someone coming over we all do a quick 5 minute pick up. No biggy.


"Have to"

other daily considerations