By Guest Blogger Laura Simon
Maybe you’ve see the meme circling social media. It lists a set of age-appropriate chores for children, and pictures a mother and young daughter, both dressed straight out of Little House on the Prairie. The child is sewing something with her mother’s assistance. It looks so lovely and nurturing and productive that I can almost overlook the fact that I would never in a million years give my five-year-old a needle.
I firmly believe children should do chores and take responsibility for their environment, but my kids don’t do as many chores as I think they should.
Because doing chores with little kids looks nothing like that charming mother/daughter picture. If it did, every mom on my street would be eating ice cream and binge-watching Gilmore Girls and letting the kids wash the floors and scrub the toilets. Don’t get me wrong; you should totally make your kids help with household responsibilities. We are working hard on it over here. I just think you should know what you’re getting into. And maybe clear your schedule for the next few…years.
Let me tell you about teaching my boys to clean the bathroom. They are five and six, which yes, is a little young for this particular task. But if they can’t hit the toilet, then they need to be the ones who clean it, you know?
It started off well. “Want to help me clean the bathrooms, guys?” I used my cheeriest voice, the one that promises fun things like ice cream and candy.
“YESSSSSSS!” They came running from separate corners of the house. “Can I spray? Can I use the sponge? Why is this taking so long???? We want to get started!”
Inwardly, I patted myself on the back. Wow, look what great kids you’ve raised, Laura. They are really desperate to help out. This will be a cinch. You should have tried this sooner.
The first meltdown came 45 seconds later. I would not let my five-year-old spray the bathroom cleaner without my assistance. Why? Because he tried it on his own, and nothing came out, so he turned the spray toward his face, presumably to figure out what was going wrong, and tried again. And just like that, the spray bottle became a mommy job.
I sprayed an appropriate amount of cleaner on the bathroom counter, handed sponges to the boys, and told them to wipe the counter down. Thirty seconds later, water was rolling off the counter onto the floor. While I did tell them (and show them) how to wring out their sponges, they insisted that the more water they used, the cleaner the counter would be. So they used a lot.
I dashed to get a bath towel to soak up all the water, and returned to find one child with wet hair. “I got bored waiting for you, so I stuck my head in the sink.” Lovely.
His younger brother insisted they had to stop wiping down the sinks (and wash their hair, apparently) because there was no more soap. “We need to spray it again,” he begged. I assured him we did not because the soap was already on their sponges, and I directed them back to the counter. Even though water was dripping onto the floor, there was still toothpaste caked on fifty percent of the surface.
The next tantrum came when we moved to the tub and toilet. Both boys wanted to clean the toilet. No one wanted responsibility for the tub. Yes, I can see the benefit in this scenario, and I decided to use it to my advantage. “There’s a toilet in the powder room downstairs. You can both clean a toilet.” They were delighted. Again, I congratulated myself for my amazing parenting. (When will I learn not to do that?)
My five-year-old grabbed a brush and a spray bottle and dashed downstairs. I raced after him, just in case he decided to aim for his face, again. I sprayed the toilet for him (there were some tears…he was SO disappointed) and showed him which surfaces wipe down. Then I heard a crash from upstairs. I dashed back up to find his brother in the tub, rolling around in the cleaner I’d sprayed earlier. “I finished the toilet, so I decided to do the tub. And I fell in.” Perfect. Now I would have to use the newly cleaned tub to clean bathroom cleaner off my child. I got him a stool and showed him how to reach the far corners of the tub, and then noticed that I could still smell the faint stench of urine that pretty much permeates my boys’ bathroom. A closer glance at the toilet revealed that it still looked completely untouched. “Eli, you didn’t clean the toilet! Look at all this dirt!”
“Oh, that part of the toilet? I cleaned the inside.”
“Wait, what? The bowl? With a sponge?”
“Yep. I flushed it first.”
Thank goodness for that.
So I hauled him out of the tub, gave a second set of pointers on toilet cleaning, and set him to work. That’s when I remembered that I had forgotten about his brother downstairs. And it was awfully quiet.
I ran downstairs just in time to see Caleb pull a sponge out of the toilet, plop it on the floor, and start wiping it around. The floor – the whole floor – looked a little like that scene in Fantasia where the buckets and mops go berserk. To be fair, I didn’t actually say, “Don’t wash the floor with toilet water.” Because never, ever, did I imagine a situation where that might happen.
Many towels and two baths later, I had two sort-of clean bathrooms and two sort-of clean boys, and then I mentioned that we hadn’t touched the master bath yet. Both boys started to wail. “We HATE cleaning the bathrooms. We never want to clean a bathroom again!” And I un-patted myself on the back, because it turns out that my kids are totally normal. And I made a mental note to buy more ice cream. For myself.
There now, doesn’t that sound like fun? This, folks, is why more kids don’t do chores. It takes five times as long to properly train them as it does to do it yourself. No lie, one of my boys managed to remove every single sheet and blanket from his bed while he was making it. He got “tangled up” and “couldn’t escape”. Sometimes when I ask my kids to put the toys away, they find new ones to get out. The room winds up worse than when they started. And don’t get me started on my two-year-old’s insistence that she needs to unload the dirty dishes from the dishwasher. It isn’t easy, this training up a child thing.
So by all means, teach your kids to do chores. Just take the time to emotionally prepare, stockpile a ton of clean towels, and stock your freezer with treats for yourself. You’re going to need them.
Readers, what chores do you expect from your kids, and how do you motivate them to be responsible for them?