Encouraging my kids to help with family chores hasn’t come naturally. It is inevitably less work for me to just pickup after them and do the household chores than to request their help, justify why they should help, explain that boring things sometimes need to be done, show them what I want them to do, hold their hand through the chore, and listen to the whining all the while. This happens about 50% of the time. The other 50% of the time they are eager to help, almost to the point of annoyance. They want to help chop veggies for the soup, operate the juicer, fold laundry with me, feed the fish, plant seeds in the garden.
Their enthusiasm far surpasses my own for these routine tasks. Over the years, I have come to enjoy doing daily tasks myself, as I have come to embrace these jobs as a sort of meditation, a practice of living in the moment, no matter how routine and necessary. Every morning the floor is swept, a few times a day the dishes are washed, a few times a week, the laundry is done. I gladly welcome my children’s help, with a few extra deep breaths, as their stepping chairs crowd out my ability to move in my kitchen with ease, and there are more dishes to wash after they help chop food, more towels get used to soak up the water when they help wash dishes. But they learn, and they enjoy it, and this is point exactly.
When referring to daily tasks we switched from using the word “chores” to instead saying “Family Jobs.” The title change may help my husband and I more than it helps our kids, but it really alters everyone’s attitude towards daily tasks. Chores sound so menial, downright boring, and something you might want to rush through to do something more exciting after. Family Jobs sound meaningful in the kind of way that makes a difference, like others are relying on you to do your part for the good of the group. So we approach our tasks with a different perspective and it changes how we experience those tasks, how we talk about them, and what they mean to us and our family. When we ask our oldest to take out the compost and he asks why (despite it being a daily task and the answer is known by heart), we set aside the “because I told you so” or “because it’s your chore” answers and chose the long form: “because it is overflowing, and the plants need the nutrients, and this is a way you can help our family today.” It feels so much more complete, and the understanding of the child is satisfied, and their sense of real contribution is acknowledged.
Children seek out ways to help, long before they are able to actually contribute in a way that saves time or effort for parents. They start young, and that interest soon fades. Catch it when they are little, when their interest is high, though their ability may be low, and they will feel they are fully participating in the family unit. One day they will be able to help with such tasks in a way that makes the load easier for others.