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For the Love of Chores

January 29, 2015

A few years back, my son got into a debate with my nephew as to whose father was stricter. This was code for who had the worse parent between them. Not a contest a parent would want to win.

My son was emphatic and in proving I was the nastier parent, told his cousin that every year for his birthday, I would give him two things.

My nephew exclaimed, “Two things, what’s wrong with that. That’s not strict.”

My son clarified, “One of those things was a gift and the other a new chore.”

My nephew was gobsmacked and didn’t believe it until I confirmed the truth of the matter.

I explained to my nephew that with each year, I saw my son as more capable and more responsible. The chores were a reflection of his growing older, taking on and sharing the tasks of family life. Needless-to-say, I seemed to win an implied contest of who actually had the nastier dad. My son seemed to be gloating.

With that I turned to my son and asked him to describe himself then at 22 years old.

He described that he was responsible, good with money, good in school, paid for half of his tuition, always maintained a part-time job as well as volunteer activities and having many solid friends. In short, he described himself in glowing terms to which I agreed.

Sitting back and looking like I was pondering something important I asked him, “How do you think you developed as you did?”

The smirk he had on his face, feeling he won some imaginary contest proving whose dad was worse, began to change to a more serious outward gaze.

With that he was enlightened.

When chores are part of family routine where it is clear that everyone contributes to the care, maintenance and wellbeing of the family and has responsibility to the family as well as themselves, there is little to balk at. This is the “normal” that is established right from the moment the child can pass you their spoon. Only when we have spared the child any responsibility and the child has become indulged and expects the parent to serve them and be beholding to them do some parents realize the necessity of helping the child develop a sense of responsibility and less egocentricity. By that time though, chores are experienced by the child as a punishment and inconvenience and conflict can ensue. Either way, chores are a good thing and where possible, participate with your child carrying out the tasks of shared living and although expected, always express appreciation.

I am Gary Direnfeld and I am a social worker.

Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW

Gary Direnfeld is a social worker. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert in social work, marital and family therapy, child development, parent-child relations and custody and access matters. Gary is the host of the TV reality show, Newlywed, Nearly Dead, parenting columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and author of Marriage Rescue: Overcoming the ten deadly sins in failing relationships. Gary maintains a private practice in Dundas Ontario, providing a range of services for people in distress. He speaks at conferences and workshops throughout North America.

If your relationship is faltering, then set it as your priority.

Read: Marriage Rescue: Overcoming ten deadly sins in failing relationships.

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  1. denmaniacs4 permalink

    Excellent post, Gary. It brings to mind how difficult a proposition it is for the child welfare system to replicate some of the essentials of healthy family life. Particularly, consistency and love. Certainly my somewhat distant experience tells me that state intervention needs to simultaneously tale the short term “protect the child” view in conjunction with the long “prepare the adult for life’s journey” perspective. The system always, or usually, seemed to me to be crashing into the trees and rarely was able to see the forest. I know this is a little off-your-topic. Sorry for the tangent.Take care.

  2. in my opinion mate kids should not be even talking about whos parent is stricter than others to be honest

  3. The above blog received many comments on my other social media (Linked In) here are some of those comments:

    So few, and so valuable…..

    Well said and done. You told my story. My son and daughter came home one day my son was maybe in 5th or 6th grade and my daughter 3rd or 4th. They announced at dinner that my wife won. I said what did we win? He said we took a vote in school and it’s official you and mom are don’t remember if he said meanest or strictest parents. I said you say that as if it’s a bad thing. I say we love you enough to be willing to deal with the push back to prepare you for life. Thanks for sharing.

    I was a single, full time parent with two sons. As the boys grew, we worked out a plan which entailed weekly “chore rotation” among the three of us, and there were logical consequences
    when one of us had to do something because didn’t do his daily or weekly chore.

    Wow, Gary, you are a role model for today’s parents, especially those who overindulge their child(ren)! In the video, “Thoughts on Parenting,” I include chores in the discussion. See:

    I know when my 17 year old is mad at me she is headed for a great life lesson. An a-ha moment yet to come!

    I replaced children and family with words like residents and house (transitional), and it fits perfectly.

    Excellent article!

    I believe with each new birthday comes a new responsibility and a new privilege.
    (the party with the cake, ice cream and presents is just a diversion from these 2 most important gifts).

    If we are to launch our children successfully into adulthood so they can be independent, the basics begin with understanding and accepting responsibility.

    I think you made that point perfectly in this article. Well done! 🙂

    I really liked this!!!!

    If more children understood that having chores when they are young would benefit them in the long run, they would not have a fit when you give them chores. Our household was so structured with chores that as my children became older, they would wake themselves up, do their chores and were off to school/ work while I slept through it all most of the time. One the weekend, we would do them together.

    My oldest children were raised on a farm as was I. They learned at least a couple of life lessons from doing their “chores” each day. Firstly, being in a family is a cooperative partnership where all contribute to the good of the whole. Secondly, failure to do one’s best can result in negative consequences up to and including death of the plant or animal which is depending on us for life. These were useful life lessons and all are responsible family members and employees in their adulthood.

    Looks like we all agree. I did the same with my son … as a member of the family … our own smaller cosmos of a community . . . we are all responsible for taking care of our environment, our ‘community needs’, each other, and our selves. We didn’t call them “chores”. Seems to be a loaded word sometimes. Picking up after yourself, clearing your dishes and also some from the table, sorting laundry, pulling the comforter up on your bed, watering plants, putting utensils away from the dishwasher, etc. all were part of the rhythm of what we all did everyday. No questions asked. If his room wasn’t ‘presentable’ for guests, play dates were cancelled (THAT only happened ONCE ! Criteria became clear with follow through). Don’t want to get dressed, go to school in your pajamas. Learned helplessness doesn’t foster growth and development in anyone. And this started for him as a Toddler. He is now an adult, and his character reflects all we have talked about. He is a fine young man. AMEN.

    I have to say, “had I not been involved in Montessori before I was a parent, I don’t know if I would have understood how ultimately empowering it is for children to have a sense of independence and industry in their lives”. There has been much discussion comparing youth of days gone by with that of today … where in former decades, children did have important roles in taking care of their needs and the needs of the family … now, there is less compelling need … so how DO children have a place in authentic responsibilities? And how has the absence of that affected our society. Now, instead of making a contribution to family and community life, they are spending time in either ‘scheduled after school activities’ or on one screen or another. Hmmmmm.

    Congratulations, Judi. You and your family are also role models. I agree with your last sentence.

    Great Article.

    Gary I loved your article! Sometimes it takes childfren and even adults to recognize what makes them great! Good job with parenting your older child. Also, love the idea of adding a chore a year. Though I may not add them on the actual birthday day! 🙂

    Very good article Gary and also great comments, I was glad to see that no one seemed to want to tie chores to allowance which has always looked like bribery to me and as part of the old carrot and stick is manipulation and disrespectful. My belief is that as you pointed out chores are part of family responsibility and should not be rewarded. However if a child wants ti do extra work – something you might hire an outsider to do – to earn some money let that be a business arrangement – services for hire. Allowances on the other hand should not be tied to chores – but instead just represent their fair share of the family wealth to cover discretionary spending, etc. Money is power and even young children – as soon as they understand the concept – should have a little of that power. For more on the pitfalls of the carrot/stick approach:

    I’d give you a high five, if I could. Beautiful story, great example of fatherhood!

    • I think children treat professionals the way professionals treat children so change has got to be equally

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