I have five morning chores and five afternoon chores that I rotate monthly between my five older children. Some are easy, like taking out the recycling, and some are harder, like loading the dishwasher. Now, my two year old can manage putting the clean dish towels from the laundry pile in the dish towel basket under the sink without any assistance, but I hardly expect him to set the dinner table without help.
The point in these chores isn’t so much absolving me from household responsibility (not yet anyway). I’ve tried to pick ten tasks that need to be done on a daily basis. I want my kids to see what it takes to efficiently run the house (no, clean laundry doesn’t just magically appear in your dresser); I want to instill in them a sense of team unity in running that house; I want them to master certain tasks to the best of their ability; and I want them to practice obedience. Often this last goal is the primary point.
The chore that gets the most complaints is emptying the dishwasher in the morning. The other four morning chores are things that can slide, and I did that intentionally. Some mornings are too crazy, and the added stress of crucial jobs being undone would be too much. If the dining room rug doesn’t get vacuumed every day, it’ll be unsightly, but we can live with it. But if the dishwasher doesn’t get emptied, the dirty dishes begin to pile high in the sink…and on the counters…and eventually, even making dinner, let alone eating it, is difficult.
I have one child who, in recent months, has acquired an unpleasant knee-jerk reaction to any request for assistance. A reasonable and predictable request at 3 pm for everyone to pick up the debris-strewn house so they can go out and play with the neighborhood kids who will be home soon from school is met with crossed arms and a shrill whine: “But nobody else is cleaning!” Ask her to do something extra, like help her little brother get some juice, and you’d think we treated her like Cinderella. But even things clearly her responsibility, like removing her personal belongings from the main living areas, seem quite beneath her dignity.
This month, this child has had the dreaded task of putting away the clean dishes. Every morning, my reminder to do this job has been greeted with the most unpleasant, high pitched noises expressing, as best as I can tell, her extreme displeasure at being assigned such an oppressive chore. She is young enough that I would gladly have helped her with the items that went in the upper cabinets, but my own knee-jerk reaction to her tirades has been a flat-out refusal to give any assistance.
She would cry and whine, and I would tell her if she had asked nicely, I would have helped her. She would instantly calm herself and ask nicely for help, and I would tell her no, she needed to ask nicely without first crying about it and without being reminded about proper behavior. And then I would walk away so as to not witness her gymnastics in getting glassware and stoneware away, lest my fear of dishes breaking would soften me.
We repeated this scene for nineteen days. I despaired that she would ever learn her lesson and wondered if some genetic deficiency prevented her from being capable of poised and pleasant behavior. But finally, on the 20th day, when I asked her to empty the dishwasher, I watched her take a deep breath, compose herself, and say, “Mommy, would you please help me?” Amazing.
And so it has been. I’m glad that I didn’t shorten the chore rotation period to two weeks as I considered. As yet, this good behavior has not extended into other times during the day where she is asked to pitch in, but there is hope for her. Slowly, slowly we mold decent human beings.