Why consistent chores, and a whole lot of love, are the hallmarks of a successful future for our kids.

Few things get a conversation going faster among parents than the topic of household chores.  Some say YES!  Some say NO!  Many say I WISH, but who’s got time for that?!  Most parents can agree that designated household tasks in one form or another are beneficial to kids, helpful to busy parents, and necessary to keep a house organized and running smoothly, but we often struggle to keep chores consistent, or existent, for many reasons.  Comments I hear (and say) often included:

TED Talk about parenting, chores, organization, and successful kids.

Julie Lythcott-Haims speaks on the TED stage
Photo: Ryan Lash/TED

“My kids are much too busy.”

“School should be their only priority.”

“We hired cleaners to take care of everything.”

“He doesn’t do a good job.”

“I’m tired of the chore battles.”

“It’s easier just to do it myself.”

“Who has time to assign chores, let alone enforce them?!” 

HOW TO HELP KIDS SUCCEED AND BE HAPPY

Many who know me, know I am a huge fan of Julie Lythcott-Haims and am often overheard praising (read: obsessing over) her book, How To Raise an Adult. I’ve listened to her TED talk so many times, I can practically recite it in my sleep. As a parent and former dean of freshman and undergraduate advising at Stanford University, she acknowledges that, of course, we all want the best for our kids. The real issue lies in how we, as parents, “help” them succeed.  Do we expose our kids to every enrichment opportunity we can find, spending amazing amounts of money for extra workbooks, training, or scheduled activities? Should we help our kids with their homework so intensely that we are actually doing it for them? Are we pushing our kids toward summer math programs, enriched and AP classes, personal trainers and elite sports camps, filling every minute of every day with “valuable” skills that will ensure they are the best student, with the best grades, best curveball, and best standardized test scores?

In a nutshell, how do we help our kids grow up to be happy and successful? Many argue that giving kids every opportunity and advantage, but sheltering them from the unpleasantness of real life, is actually resulting in more anxiety, less resiliency, and a greater sense of entitlement than ever before. So how do we help our kids right now, increasing the likelihood that they will be happier and more successful as adults?  The answer is apparently quite simple: as parents, we give them unconditional love and chores. Yep…you read that right: Love and Chores.

HARVARD LOOKS AT CHILDHOOD VARIABLES THAT INFLUENCE HAPPINESS

Does doing dishes make you happier? Maybe!

The Harvard Grant Study, which began in 1938 and is still going strong, has identified love and chores as two things that kids need to be happy and successful as adults.  Chores are one of the ways we, as parents, can help our kids develop a sense of self-efficacy and resilience.  That is to say, we are encouraging our child to form a solid belief in his or her own ability to succeed in specific situations; to believe they are capable of completing tasks and achieving goals.

Chores also help develop a strong work ethic.  By making kids accountable to the family, despite the drone, messy, or unpleasantness of the task, we are teaching them that we are all in this together.  It’s got to get done, and Mom and Dad can’t do it all, nor should we have to.  As Lythcott-Haims says in her TED talk, and in greater depth, in her book, with a constant flow of unconditional love and routine chores, we are helping our kids develop “a roll-up-your-sleeves mentality.  A mindset that says ‘I will contribute to the betterment of the whole.’  That is what gets you ahead in the workplace.”

FOCUS ON CONSISTENCY, NOT PERFECTION

Kids as young as 2 and 3 years old are capable, and usually enthusiastic, regarding routine chores.  Starting chore routines early, and remaining consistent throughout adolescence, increases the likelihood of success and a “pitch in mindset” into adulthood.  Try to keep chores consistent and straightforward, adjusting the type and quantity of tasks as your child grows older.  Consistently doing all chores well and on time are the goals, but remember, kids aren’t perfect.  How Sally makes her bed might be a far cry from how you make a bed, but the goal here is that it gets done consistently, to the best of her ability.

I hear your groans.  You love a well-made bed (I get it!), and your 5-year-old has yet to master (or appreciate) the art of hospital corners and perfect pillow placement.  Trust me on this – you must resist the temptation to redo a chore for your child.  If you remake that bed (or refold the laundry, or reload the dishwasher…), you are sending the message that her efforts aren’t good enough. As time goes on, she will likely abandon all efforts to do the chore well, if at all.  Why?  Because she knows you will redo it later. She knows you think she isn’t capable of doing the task well, so why would she even try?

Now, don’t misunderstand me, if your 12-year-old says he cleaned the bathroom, but he left toothpaste in the sink and a less-than-sparkling toilet, by all means, have him clean it again, as soon as possible.  Bring him back to the bathroom (calmly and without nagging or overexplaining), remind him of the expectations, and offer to review Bathroom Cleaning 101 (again) if he is at all confused.  (Remember, you aren’t angry, you are teaching him.)  Leave him to finish the job to the best of his abilities, and thank him when he’s finished.  He’s learning a valuable skill about receiving feedback and evaluation, and if you suspect he rushed through the chore, he’ll eventually catch on that it’s faster to do it right the first time.

LIFE HAPPENS . . . AND THEN WE REGROUP AND KEEP MOVING FORWARD

Finding balance is always a driving force in my decision-making, and chores are no exception.  Kids today are overscheduled, and unfortunately, my kids are no exception.  In the short term, it would be easiest to skip household chores all together, but the house would fall apart around us, making everyone angry, frustrated, and resentful.  At its core, my husband and I have always believed in the value of chores, so we started small, and we started young.  When making strategies related to chores, we strive to establish clear expectations regarding various household duties, and our kids are aware of those expectations. Some negative consequences are attached to unfinished chores, but with each failure, hopefully, the kids learn a bit more about accountability, time management, and setting priorities.Making dinner is a great chore for any kid.

When deciding on and implementing chores, it’s important to be flexible and understanding, knowing that kids will forget, test boundaries, and make poor choices.  As parents, we are also human, and tired, so some days my husband may not be up for the battle to get kids to finish chores, or I don’t have the energy it takes to enforce discipline related to not getting things done.  Despite these parental setbacks (and sometimes, they are frequent), we regroup and keep aiming for consistency because we know chores are worth it in the long run. (Here’s where a nice cocktail, along with Dory’s mantra, comes in handy.  🐠🍸 🎶Just keep swimming, just keep swimming…🎶

Each case is different, and sometimes, under the circumstances, letting a chore go undone one more day without consequence is the right thing to do.  Sometimes, doing an assigned task for your child unsolicited is a loving act of service that won’t go unnoticed by a frazzled 16-year-old with a math final and two term papers due on Monday.  And of course, yet another situation may result in a 12-year-old missing dance practice because she had to stay home to clean the bathrooms.  Regardless, you know your kids, and yourselves, so reevaluation and changing things up to ensure life balance is always the best course of action.

MAN, THIS PARENTING GIG IS TOUGH!

As a parent of three in a world full of access, excess, privilege, and perfectionism, I am always feeling the pressure to “do right by them.” I am not a parenting expert, but I am a learner, and I’m always looking for evidence-based suggestions that will help ensure my kids grow to be functioning, competent, intuitive, global citizens that will contribute to the betterment of our society.  I often wonder if my words and actions are sending the message of unconditional love? Do they know I appreciate them for who they are, and not what society, peers, or college admissions officers think they should be? Do they know that I see them as smart, capable, and good enough? Am I setting them up for success by allowing them to experience real life:  failure, disappointment, consequences, and trial and error, as well as laundry, dog poop, dirty dishes, and soap scum? According to the longest-running longitudinal study in history, my husband and I are off to a good start.Walking the dog is a good chore option.

Research shows that happiness and success as an adult is strongly correlated with unconditional love and doing regular chores as a kid.  The key to long-term success and less push-back related to chores is to simply get started, build a consistent routine, set clear expectations, and stick with it.  You will hear grumbling.  You will meet with resistance on way more than one occasion.  You will have to remind them (again and again) to do their chores, despite every effort to provide lists, schedules, and instructions at every turn.  They are kids.  You are helping them to develop self-efficacy, resiliency, and a solid work ethic, all the while filling them with unconditional love.  It will take time, patience, and much repetition, but you’ve got this . . . and your kids will be happy you stuck with it (someday).

How do you feel about chores, and the role, if any, that they play in the future success and happiness of our children? Remember – as parents, we are all in this together, doing the best we can. Kindness and constructive feedback, free from judgment, go a long way in helping us all do better for our kids. So let’s hear it…tell me what you’re thinking. 😉🍷