Reprinted from a 1990 Timberdoodle Catalog

That very word can strike terror into the hearts of both children and moms! Children would rather play than work, and moms sometimes find it easier to do the job themselves, than to plead with a child to undertake that responsibility. Here are some ideas that have worked in our family.

1. Inherent in the assigning of each job, is the need to be explicit in your desires. In our family, when a child assumes a new chore, she is instructed on how to execute it. This often means Dan or I must take enough time to walk them through the assignment, detailing not only our expectations, but also why we do what we do, dangerous aspects to the job, and even tips on how to make the job more efficient or pleasant.

2. They are next given a checklist to refer to that reiterates our expectations for that chore. Then, when they feel they have completed that task, they can check their list before they ask us for our approval. This saves a lot of “I forgot I had to…”

3. After that the two biggest criteria of maintenance will be inspection and checkpoints. Inspection is vital because we have found true the adage that when it comes to chores, children will do what you inspect, not what you expect! Checkpoints are just reliable periods in your day so that your children will know what they should have accomplished. Our checkpoints are mealtimes. For example, before our children eat, they must have performed certain tasks. This eliminates the prospect of an overwhelming amount of chores just before free time, by breaking the expected chores into manageable chunks.

4. One final thought to moms might be to examine what you are doing in a given day, and ask yourself, “Can this be delegated?” Our chief responsibility is to be a keeper of the home, which means that delegating the grunt work is vital.

To those who plead that their children need time to play, we encourage the moms to instruct their children how to work smarter (faster), and not harder. Most children who spend enormous amounts of time doing chores either lack that instruction, or are dawdling.

The moms who say it is easier or faster to do it themselves than to teach the child to do it make us uneasy. Just about everything is that way, from feeding to reading. Working in the home is an integral part of growing up, and the wise parent is one who recognizes that this short-term bother will result in the long-term benefits of a mature child.

Who Does What?

The division of labor in a family can often be a touchy topic. Here is how we have handled it:

Every month we list all our chores. Next to the jobs, we note how many minutes a day it takes to accomplish that job. The floor swept for 5 minutes, 3 times a day, totals 15 minutes.

After all the jobs and the appropriate times are noted, we add up the total minutes necessary, and divide by four. For our family this works out to approximately 100 minutes each. The girls are accountable for a full share, while Abel, Dan, and I divide the final share. (All right, this may not sound fair, but Dan and I do a lot of “behind-the-scenes” chores!)

Next, each child, in turn, picks a job until they have accumulated at least 100 minutes. Those chores left over are for the parents.

The strength in this system is that the girls have a lot of control over what chores they do, and see that they are not burdened with an unlimited amount of jobs. This works for us; will it for you?

Note from 1994:

Four years later, this method still works well for us. We evaluate it a couple times a year because jobs that used to take 20 minutes have, with experience, been trimmed down to 10. With Abel now able to assume a full share of the workload, there is virtually nothing that Dan or myself need to do. However we do participate in a token way to remind ourselves that being a family is not a spectator sport.