Chore charts. Oh how I loved them! They spell organization! They say, “We’re a well-oiled home!” And the options are endless! Laminated and colorful. Structured and trendy. Chalkboards. Pegboards. Fridge magnets. Interchangeable pictures for the non-reading kiddies. Rewards and incentives!
I plotted. I planned. I executed. And then I failed. Again and again. You see, there is that ideal. And then there is our reality. For us, chore charts sat right on the “reality” end of that continuum. No matter what system we set up, I just couldn’t sustain it. We lost the charts. The kids lost interest. And I lost the plot!* That would be South Africanese for the fact that chore charts were adding to my stress instead of lessening it. And the kids’ attitudes towards chores were fast becoming a bartering system of “What do I get if I do this chore?” Chore charts for the Hayes family? Fail.
That was two years ago. Two years ago when I had to give myself a bit of a reality check. Yes, I love organization. I love intentional parenting. I love systems. I’m a homeschooling mom with a laminator, for crying out loud! I should be the Chore Chart Queen! But it turns out that I’m the Chore Chart Klutz. It was time for deep soul-searching and the question of “What actually matters? What do we really want?”
The answer, as far as chores go, was two-fold. I wanted my kids to 1) do chores and 2) do them with a good attitude. I didn’t want entitlement creeping in. I didn’t want, “But it’s not fair! She doesn’t have to…” And I definitely didn’t want to have to nag, fuss, and complain. I wanted hearts that were glad. I wanted, I realized, an ideal that no chore chart was ever going to achieve. Was it possible in the reality that is our home?
It was. And it is. And I never would’ve believed it.
How? We chucked out the chore charts and started afresh with just one simple rule and one simple consequence.
In our home we do whatever chores we are asked to do, with a good attitude.
If we have a stinky attitude, we clearly need more practice, so we will do another chore and another chore until Mom is satisfied with the job done and the attitude.
I sat my three eldest kids down and explained that we wanted them to grow up into responsible, caring adults who do what’s required of them with a great attitude. Yes, they were only 9, 7 and 5 at the time, but learning to do big chores with a great attitude is part of that process – and the bonus is that they will be well-equipped to run their own homes one day. So, no more chore charts. No more external rewards for a job done, or even a job well done. Instead, they are required to do whatever I ask of them with a good attitude. To help them along, I showed them what I meant by good attitude – and that included coming to tell me that they had done their chore, along with the question, “Is there anything else I can do, Mom?” Yes, I kissed chore charts goodbye.
It was win-win: both in the process and in the outcome. In the beginning, the kids quickly forgot our deal and dished out the sulks and complaints. Well, let’s just say that my house was never cleaner than those first few weeks! The adjusted attitude initially came rather reluctantly. But we kept at it, and soon they realized that we meant business. For one child in particular, it meant a two-chore list became a 10-chore list. This child learned quickly that it just wasn’t worth the groans and moans.
The unexpected benefit, however, was how much my children began to enjoy contributing towards the home. I watched little faces light up with delight when the heart rewards took root. Having Mom beam and hug them with a, “Thank you for doing that with such a great attitude!” and having the satisfaction of having done something constructive and helpful seemed to go far further than the rewards of our haphazard charts.
It’s been about two years, and we reap the rewards as a family. There are some chores that the kids do daily. But mostly we follow our “do as mom asks” pattern. Last week, our homeschool co-op group ended up meeting at our home. We had planned an outdoor picnic, but buckets of rain put a stop to that. It meant that the picnic came indoors, and our home was a bit of a domestic disaster by the time everyone left. We had just 15 minutes to get things straightened up before we had to be out the door. We blitzed the house in 10 minutes with all the kids chipping in and coming back for the next instruction. They swept, tidied, packed away, ran the dishwasher, cleaned bathrooms, and were ready to leave the house in record time, all with a great attitude! I realized in that moment how far we’ve come.
Of course, there are days when there is a grump or a groan. That usually means more chores. But there is also grace given to the child who respectfully asks not to do a task or for the one who has had a rough day. They don’t always remember to ask whether they can do anything else to help. And, it’s not a magic formula that has them transformed into little angels in all spheres of life. We also have a housekeeper who comes regularly, so the bigger jobs like laundry and deep-cleaning don’t fall on them too often. And our youngest, who has escaped most of the chore responsibilities in the past, is having to catch up to his siblings on the attitude scale. But, I’m not worried – after all, a stinky attitude doubles a chance of a super-clean house!
*Lost the plot = also known as: “threw my toys out the cot,” “blew a gasket,” “freaked out.” Meaning: behaved in a way unbecoming of a mother as a result of uncontrolled temper. Ah-hem.
Note from the Hip Homeschool Moms:
We know that different things work for different families. Younger children in particular sometimes respond very well to chore charts. If your children do well with chore charts or if you just want to give chore charts a try, click here to read “I Can Clean My Room by Myself: Chart with Free Printable.” (The link to this article will go live after the article is published on Monday, October 13, 2014.)