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Chores II

This letter made me realize I need to write another ParenTip on CHORES:

“I have twin boys who are almost 11. They are good kids who take school seriously, have loads of friends, and enjoy lots of extra-curricular activities. They don’t do any chores around the house at all because I never asked them to. I went back to work last year and mow realize what a big mistake I made. They expect me to do everything for them because I used to do it. But they complain bitterly that I am not spending enough time with them because by the time I cook, do the dishes, make lunch for school, do the laundry, and answer any homework questions they have it’s bedtime so there’s no time for Scrabble or hanging out together. Is there anything remedial I can do now or is it too late?”

OK all you parents out there who made or are making the same mistake this mother made, listen up to what I told her.

It’s never too late for parents to try correcting past mistakes. However you have to realize up front that, though you are asking me how to change your twins’ behavior, it is your behavior than must change.

Yes, you did make a parenting mistake. You let your boys reach the ripe old age of 11 expecting that a woman would always clean up after them and provide the meals and clean laundry. I don’t know why you let your sons get away with so much for so long. But I suspect that it was easier to do things yourself than take the time and energy to show your twins what to do. And twins are a lot of work so when you should have started them on chores in toddlerhood I bet you were too tuckered out. Plus it is always easier to do things yourself and get them done right, right?

At this point in time you owe it to yourself to have time for Scrabble with your kids plus some time for yourself. And you owe it to your sons to learn two important things.

First, your sons need to be taught how to pick up after themselves and how to do such chores as laundry, vacuuming, etc. because they live in a world where most women work outside the home. It is highly unlikely your sons will find–or be able to keep–mates if they don’t know how to do household chores.

Second, your sons need to be taught how to be responsible. How to do a chore without being told. How to be the kind of person that others in the family can count on to take out the trash, feed the dog, or start dinner.

Once you realize that your sons need your help lest they may be forced into a life of celibacy, it’s time to start changing your behavior. From now on your children must realize that when you say something you mean it. This means you must learn how to mean what you say, stick by your guns, and follow through. You must be able to stand by without action when your child goes to school with a dirty shirt because he didn’t do his laundry. You will no longer be able to cover up for your children, do their chores for them, or (horrors!) do the chores over. If something isn’t done or isn’t done right, the person who is responsible for that task does it over–and that ain’t you!

Once you get it and are willing to take your new stance, it’s time to call a family meeting. Explain to the children that your life has changed and you need their help. But also point out that the reason there is no time for Scrabble is that you are doing everything and there are only so many hours between the end of school and bedtime. Nobody, not even a supermom, can stretch time.

Make a list of what has to be done. Explain that you will still do certain things around the house but show them a list of what you will no longer have time for.

Let them chose which chores they wish to do–and draw lots for the rest. Set up an appointment with each child to show them how to do the chores. Ask the children to set up and keep a chart of who does what and when. Make a deadline column so it’s clear to everybody that clearing the table means no later than 15 minutes after dinner. Ask your sons to devise a method of policing themselves and handling delinquency. Some families appoint a monitor for the week who makes sure all tasks are done and done on time.

Explain carefully that failure to be responsible for the assigned chores, has its logical consequences. If you didn’t finish the dishes you can’t go to the mall with Dad.

Be sure to praise the children when chores are done responsibly. Be specific. “Putting away the groceries so quickly was a big help!” Leave notes not only to require action (“You didn’t take out the trash so you are expected to clean the garage on Saturday.”) but also to praise a job done well and on time.

Remember to EXPECT your sons to do the tasks they have been assigned and to assume responsibility for these tasks. When you expect mature behavior you give an important message to your children. It means you respect them as responsible citizens of your family.

Don’t get discouraged if these desired changes in behavior don’t happen overnight. And don’t panic if there are relapses because remedial parenting can take awhile.

But continue to be very clear in your expectations that from now on everybody who lives in the house helps keep it clean. Including Dad who should be in on all this, do some of the chores, and set a good example for his sons.

Remediation will work. And it will be worth the effort. Your sons’ wives will thank you!