Before I found out I was pregnant, I was on a roll when it came to home systems and routines. I was in the midst of setting up our new homeschool agenda and planner; I set up the kids’ TV tickets to help limit screen time as an “after school” treat and had just set up a Chore Chart for our son who had just turned 6.
I had looked over countless of chore charts in hopes of finding a system that worked. My husband and I knew that we wanted to instill responsibility in our son and help him see the importance of being a contributing member of our family, but somehow we also wanted to teach him how to manage money well. We went back and forth about whether or not we should pay for chores, and after plenty of research, we decided on what we thought would work best for us.
The Chore Chart I created had a list of daily chores, color-coded by morning, mid-day, and evening. If our son completed all of the chores for the day with a good attitude and without needing to be reminded, he would receive .25 for the day. We didn’t think it appropriate to pay him for every chore since chores are a basic family responsibility, but we kept it as an incentive to start giving him money so that we could teach him how to manage it well. He also had the opportunity to earn additional quarters for any additional chores he did.
It seemed like a good system and easy to carry out. All I had to do was circle the “quarter” or X it out if he didn’t earn it for the day. The reality, however, was that it became a bit of a hassle keeping up with the change and payouts. I also didn’t always remember to clear out his chart at the end of the week and ended up having to make two in order to “pay out” every two weeks instead of one. Nevertheless, we moved forward for all of about a month before I found out I was pregnant and the fatigue began to kick in.
At that point, everything got thrown out the window. It was all I could do to prepare three meals, snacks, lesson plans, and keep the house in a semi-clean state. And so, the chore chart got put on the back burner, along with the TV Tickets and a few of our other routines. . . and that’s when it happened. Our son started taking it upon himself to do his chores on his own! He also saw how very tired I was a lot of the time and actually started doing more chores to help me out.
Instead of just emptying the dishwasher and putting the clean dishes on the counters, he brought in a step stool and started putting the dishes away–even in the upper cabinets. He also started to put all of the dirty dishes in the dishwasher and wipe down the counter tops after meals. Another day, he asked to vacuum my car and threw out all of the trash that found its way under our seats; and on another, he took it upon himself to dust the living room furniture.
I was so grateful for his help and thanked him often for all that he was doing. Somewhere during those months, I started wondering how much we owed him and how we were going to compensate him for all of his hard work. And then it occurred to me. Our son got it. He understood the very principles of responsibility we were trying to instill in him when we began the chore chart.
1. He learned how to take responsibility for himself.
2. He learned how to care for another by providing acts of service.
3. He learned about the benefits of keeping a clean home.
The lessons were intrinsic–exactly like we had hoped they would be. They weren’t motivated by money or a new toy. They were discovered through experience and were much more meaningful to him . . . and to us.
Through this process, we have embraced that doing chores is a part of family life. It’s carrying our own weight so that someone else does not have to. It also allows us the opportunity to serve one another and offer a helping hand when someone needs it. It’s working toward a common goal, being good stewards of what we have been entrusted with.
I’ve been asked how we “motivated” him to help out more. I’m not exactly sure what was the defining moment for him, but I do believe it had to do a lot with the conversations we had together. Resting during my first trimester of pregnancy allowed us more time to talk and helped him wrap his mind around why we do the things we do. It was no longer just a set of commands that he had to adhere to “because I said so”; there was meaning behind the responsibilities.
We constantly discussed the importance of keeping an orderly home and how we all needed to work together to make it all happen. We talked about daddy’s roles versus my own and theirs. We talked about how things work more smoothly when we all do our share and what would happen if one of us decided not to fulfill their responsibilities to the home. There were daily opportunities for discipleship in this area, and I strongly believe this is what made the most difference. Yes, it took a bit more work than flashing a dollar bill, but I do believe that the lessons learned will be much more lasting and will allow for more growth in this area in the future.
A few other things we did was ensure that we did our chores with a good attitude, even if it meant taking a break before things got done. I invested plenty of time teaching him how to do things correctly, and we talked about how we should do things correctly the first time in order to avoid having to do them twice. When it came time to clean, we played classical music or another one of our fun songs, and enjoyed the time together. We also limited his screen time, so after homeschool was done, he had plenty of time for play, crafts, and chores. Overall, he began to experience firsthand the satisfaction of keeping things clean and the benefits of an orderly home.
No, it’s not always perfect. And there are definitely days when he is a six-year-old boy who refuses to get started for a good while. Today, he actually flat out refused to empty the dishwasher because he said he didn’t feel well. Instead of dictating commands, I used this as an opportunity for discussion. We talked about how I’d be willing to help him out if he was truly sick, but if he wasn’t, it wasn’t fair for him to dump his responsibility on me when I was busy taking care of all my responsibilities like laundry, cooking, baking, etc.
He went to his room for a while, and then I called him over for story time. In the middle of our story, he told me that he felt bad about making me do his chore when he really wasn’t sick and apologized. We talked a bit more about it, then he completed his chore with a smile, and I thanked him for being a good “team player.” It’s a process, but he’s getting it.
Yes, some days are easier than others, but we’re working toward our goals as a family. His little sister is watching and is also starting to help out by cleaning up her toys at times or offering to mix the eggs for me during breakfast time. Through our responsibilities, we are honoring one another. It’s baby steps, but they’re learning what it means to be part of the family, part of a community. They’re learning what it means to have a servant’s heart and how to do everything, even the mundane, for His glory.
Now that I have more energy, I managed to put together Chore Cards as more of a “to do” list for our son, much like the one I have for myself to make sure I take care of my priorities each and every day. No, there isn’t a quarter waiting for him at the end of the day, but there is the satisfaction that comes from setting personal goals and accomplishing them. It’s much like the feeling I get when I’ve had a productive day and can cross off most of the things on my list. It’s real and meaningful in and of itself.
The yellow cards are for morning chores. The green are for the afternoon, and the blue are evening chores. Red cards are for chores that are done once a week.
Through this process, I’ve learned to see the importance in teaching our children that not everything in life needs to have a dollar amount attached to it. The reality is that it’s often the things that don’t that mean the most. . . if we allow them to.
(As far as money goes, we decided it was best to teach those lessons separate from our family responsibilities. We reflected quite a bit on what this looked like in our everyday experiences and have used that understanding to begin to teach those very important lessons to our children. In a future post, I’ll share a little about what is working for us in this area.)
So, what are some of the lessons you teach your children through chores?