Op/Ed

Babies & Families: The glorious chore chart

AFTER AT LEAST one false start with a chore chart, the writer created this chore chart for her children, husband and herself. It gave the family a framework for getting things done around the house, taught the children responsibility and brought a sense of structure to homelife that had slipped away when babies arrive.

When my kids were young, I made many attempts to get them to help around the house — washing dishes, cleaning their rooms, laundry, etc. — I also regularly enlisted my husband, who, thank goodness, was a willing helper.

There was an issue, however. 

I was the only one who ever seemed to initiate chores. If I said nothing, asked nothing, the chores would mount up until I couldn’t stand it anymore — weeks, sometimes longer — and I would say to my family, “All right, no doing anything else until this house is clean.”

Justly or unjustly, I felt like I was the only one doing any of the cleaning while everyone else had fun. That just didn’t seem fair. My family can tell you that they were subject to a number of “mama meltdowns.” They were not pretty, and while they did result in everyone chipping in, it was not pleasant or fun for anyone to have to do it because of mama drama.

Then I had a birthday. When my husband asked me what I wanted, my initial response was to think of some neat gift he could go out and buy. Then I thought, “But I don’t really need anything.” Why accumulate more stuff when I had more than enough.

And I got a wonderful idea: The Chore Chart. This is what I requested as a birthday present — a chart on the refrigerator with a list of all the chores and who would be responsible each week. We would cycle through them so that no one did the same chores twice in a row. Mom would do laundry every fourth week, while daughter number one would do dishes every fourth week, Daddy would vacuum and dust every fourth week, and daughter number two would clean the bathrooms in the same pattern. And, we had to stick to it.

Miraculously, we did.

There were adjustments to be made. While your chores had to be done that week (usually on the weekend) you could complete them any time between Saturday morning and Sunday night, for example. And you could negotiate with other members of the family about switching, etc. It worked so well that we added dinner duty, rotating a different cook each night of the week. If you cooked dinner and it was your week for dishes, someone else would have to do them that night. 

Perfectionist that I am, I had to force myself to sit back and let the family clean on their own terms — my attempts to have an “inspector” each week failed utterly — and be happy that they were doing it. How perfectly it was accomplished wasn’t the point. The point was we all shared the responsibility and my kids learned how to manage a household. Best of all, there were no more mama meltdowns.

It was life-changing. 

Now both my daughters are in college, home briefly for holidays and summers. When they’re home they do laundry, clean their rooms, cook, wash dishes, without being asked — well, most of the time without being asked.

The chore chart is still stuck to the refrigerator, a relic of our earlier days. As empty nesters my husband and I take a much more casual view of the chores — there’s only two of us, and we’re not horribly messy. One cooks, the other does the dishes. We alternate laundry duty each week, and we fit in the other chores when it suits us. 

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