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Mondays on Mothering: The Family that Cleans Together
It's Mondays on Mothering over at Bow of Bronze, and I thought I'd contribute how I handle summer vacation.

When the final bell rang on that last day of school, children cheered as they were released from their torment. Today, many parents feel as if the torment is now theirs. We are in the midst of summer vacation, and that means seemingly endless weeks of entertaining our kids. Yet why do we have summer vacation? It’s because when public schooling started, children—yes, children—were needed to work on the farm.

The idea of kids working has fallen into disrepute, largely because for so long children, the most vulnerable in our society, were horrendously exploited. Yet being free from labor is not exactly the natural state of childhood, either. Proverbs 10:5 tells us: “a child who gathers in summer is prudent, but a child who sleeps in harvest brings shame” (NRSV). Kids are supposed to help with the family’s work! It teaches them some important lessons.

I love knitting. And not just regular sweaters, but the kind that requires tiny needles, 35 colors and four years to complete. When I do finally finish, I feel such a profound sense of accomplishment.

That feeling is something that is unique to being productive. We can feel something similar, though not nearly so thrilling, when we finally clean out the garage, or weed a large vegetable bed, or fix a leaky toilet. To a large extent, though, we have deprived our children of these experiences. Our fridge doors may be plastered with art “creations”, but often this is as far as their productivity goes. The idea of actually helping with the dishes, for instance, is laughed off as the X-Box is turned on. Most families in the United States today do not require children to do chores. Even when they do, it’s usually only to clean up after themselves by making their own beds, cleaning up their toys, or putting their own dishes in the dishwasher. Helping the family is no longer required.

But we’re not only excusing them from chores; we’re also turning our lives upside down to make theirs as easy and pleasant as possible. We rearrange our schedules to take kids to soccer, baseball, or the beach. We chauffeur them, clean them, feed them, and show them they are the centre of our universe. During the school year, in return, we may expect them to do homework. But summer is like two months of get out of jail free cards.

In the process, we’re inadvertently contributing to children’s propensity to being self-absorbed. If we give them a chance to think the whole world revolves around them, things that really don’t matter in the long run take on way too much importance. Work is the antidote to this sense of self-importance and entitlement. Work was not God’s punishment for the fall; God created work before it. It’s an essential part of our humanity.

In my book, To Love, Honor and Vacuum, I talk about strategies to “encourage” kids to do chores, including tying chores to allowances. But these must be tasks that help the whole family; only then do they get a share in the family’s money. Kids should never be paid for cleaning up after themselves! Then, you need to show kids the benefit of money. If you buy them a chocolate bar everytime you’re out, or pick up that pair of designer jeans they’ve been begging for, you’re not giving them any incentive to earn their own money.

Unless you want to spend the rest of the summer picking up popsicle wrappers and putting away beach toys, maybe it’s time to introduce your kids to a chore sheet and a toilet brush. They may not like it, but you’ll be doing them a favor. They will learn that life is more than having fun; life is also helping and serving others. And that’s a good thing.

You can also download a talk I gave on To Love, Honor and Vacuum! Find out more here.

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At 9:19 PM , Blogger ~Tami said…

I've spent the evening fighting with my daughter over her bedroom. Thanks so much for writing on this! It has encouraged me greatly!


At 10:26 PM , Blogger Barb, sfo said…

Thanks for the encouragement! This summer I have been holding the "I won't take you here or there until your chores are done" cards...and I'm not afraid to play them. But I know that my kids have had a free ride for way too long and it will take a while to break them of their expectations.


At 10:33 PM , Anonymous Amy B said…

Hi! Thanks for joining Mondays on Mothering today...

I am on vacation at my sister's house; so I am not sure I could get away with Spring cleaning, but I think we might try to clean up our living quarters tomorrow morning! Thanks for the tip.

Amy B


At 4:30 PM , Blogger Tara said…

My kids do chores! My husband was an only child and barely knew how to do laundry when we got married. Forget about cleaning the toilet, grocery shopping or even clearing his own place at the dinner table! His mom did all of those things for him because she thought it was her job as the mom. I think my job as the mom is to work myself out of the job. :) Here's a post I wrote about my kids doing chores:


At 11:04 AM , Blogger Christie Martin said…

We need work. Without it we become restless, small, and bored. Being helpful in our house begins with a loud and happy game of "Put that away!" after playing with our toys. When our 1 year old puts something into the toy box (even after she has to have her little hand closed on the block), she is met with claps and cheers from everyone. Even my autistic son has chores to do that are designed around his abilities and preferences.

It takes a lot of effort up front to help children see the value of work. In fact, sometimes I even struggle with seeing the value in mine! But we all need to learn that we are a part of and a contributor to the life of the family!

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About Me

Name: Sheila

Home: Belleville, Ontario, Canada

About Me: I'm a Christian author of a bunch of books, and a frequent speaker to women's groups and marriage conferences. Best of all, I love homeschooling my daughters, Rebecca and Katie. And I love to knit. Preferably simultaneously.

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