PAREN(T)HESIS — Raising Responsibility

November 1, 2017

Before we know it, snow shoveling season will hit Bay View.

Shoveling is a seasonal chore that kids can help with early in life, starting in small way that suits their ability and with adult supervision, and as they grow and mature, working up to taking on the whole task. This particular chore helps the household but also improves the neighborhood because passersby get to walk on a clear sidewalk, minimizing the risk of injury or wet feet. Spreading the love even further, some children help an elderly neighbor by shoveling their sidewalk.

When most of the homes in Bay View were built, kids shoveling would have been very commonplace. But across the nation, children’s chores have trended downward and have reached near zero in some families, where children do not put away books and toys or walk the dog or even hang up their own coats. The situation can reach a boiling point when parents “go on strike” and refuse to do any housework.

The parent-child struggle over chores must be a perpetual frustration because I remember the mom Marmee doing something similar to a strike in the novel Little Women, which is set during the Civil War.

Achieving a family life where chores are part of the routine, not something to be objected to or fought over, does carry a short-term cost to harmony. Children will try to subvert the parents’ attempts. Our daughter has come up with some pretty creative objections to putting away silverware and other chores. (She has also complained that the weekend should be renamed the “workend” because we have the heaviest cleaning and chore burden on Saturday and Sunday.) When instituting a new expectation that children will help, parents will lose some time enforcing chores or punishments. After a few weeks or months, they will gain back time when children consistently help run the household. Over the years, they will be rewarded with children who are more self-sufficient. Some parents even look forward to their children having more harmonious marriages because their own childhood chores led them to share and balance housework with a future spouse.

In the book Parenting Without Borders, Christine Gross-Loh reports that the way we ask our children to do something matters. Ideally, the parent and child are engaged in something together (like sitting near one another to read a book) and then the parent gives a brief, clear direction for a chore and works with the child to get it started. The intentional approach makes sense and is backed up by research.

Two thorny issues about chores are whether to pay an allowance for them and gender equality, balancing the amount and type of chores between boys and girls. In the end, getting some help is most important.

The author is a freelance writer and mother of one. Reach her with comments or suggestions at

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