Do You Let Your Children Help With Household Chores?


“I have this friend…” Isn’t that the way most of us share our own mistakes publicly?

I’m not above attributing my poor judgments to others, but in this case, I claim separation and distinction from a friend who is a perfectionist when it comes to her home. She refuses to let her elementary-school-aged children help out with household responsibilities.

I often tell her she is crazy—in a nice way.  But since I can’t see things her way and she can’t see them from mine, how about if you tell us if we’re both nuts or if you tend more towards one of our philosophies (not that you won’t get a biased picture of mine here…)

Her side of the story (told in my words) is pretty cut and dry.  She likes things the way she likes them and would prefer to do all of the housework herself rather than have her children do things “incorrectly.”

“But what about passing on all that you know about making perfect beds and setting a beautiful table?” I protest.

“They can learn that from watching me,” she reassures.

“Doesn’t your daughter ever ask to pick out her own school clothing?” I wonder.

“She used to ask, but now she just knows that I lay all of the clothes out at the beginning of the week and that’s what she wears,” she replies with pride.

“Don’t you ever get tired of doing everything for all three of your kids?”  I ask, exhausted just thinking about it.

“It is a lot, but it makes me more tired to think about undoing their mistakes.  When I do it myself, I know it will be done the way I want it.  It’s a lot easier now that I don’t let them have play dates here anymore—that used to be a real mess for me to handle,” she says, finally tiring of my queries.

So, what do you think?

I’ll tell you my take on my friend-with-the-immaculate-home.  In a word—crazy!  In two words—control freak!  In more compassionate terms—she is meeting her own needs for control at the expense of teaching her children valuable lessons in responsibility, choice, and contributing to the household.

So here’s my side of the story; I actually feel a little ping of embarrassment whenever my kids see me scrubbing toilets or mopping floors.  I do want them to know that I work hard to keep a clean house for our family, yet I worry that they’ll think that cleaning is what “moms do.” When they look back on me in 20 years, I would prefer their memories to be of a mom who joyfully played with them or at least one who involved herself in intellectual pursuits. Visions of me knee-deep in cleansers and laundry would be such a waste!

Likewise, when I don’t let them help, I feel guilty. I know that kids who routinely help out around the house benefit from improved self-esteem and greater personal responsibility. I also know that kids who experience the drag of cleaning up after themselves are kids who tend to make fewer large messes.

Most of all, I am holding out hope that when my kids are teens, they will feel comfortable inviting their friends to our house. My own controlling tendencies mean that I want to know who my kids’ friends are and where they are hanging out, so I want to lay the groundwork now for a home that is inviting to young people. When my friend tells me that she doesn’t allow play dates at her home due to the mess, I worry she’s in for a much bigger clean-up job down the road.

So, what do you think? Where do you fall on the Let Them Help vs. Do It Yourself continuum? Do you let your kids help around the house even if it sometimes means more work for you? Do you teach them a “right” way to do things or can you accept their method as “good enough?” Do your kids feel good about themselves when they are given household responsibilities or are they relieved that you take on the domestic chores yourself?

By Signe Whitson. Her advice is provided by a baby clothes boutique. Her experience is as a licensed social worker and speaker who presents workshops all over the country on child and adolescent mental health. She is the Chief Operating Officer of the Life Space Crisis Intervention Institute and co-author of The Angry Smile: The Psychology of Passive Aggressive Behavior in Families, Schools and Workplaces.
Top photo courtesy of D Sharon Pruitt.
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