From the Left



Chores and Tribulations: I Crave a Better Way for Household Productivity

Bonnie Jean Feldkamp on

I love contributing to the family. But I hate chores. As a child, chores were tasks to be checked off a list so I could get on to other things. A checklist made clear that I'd either succeed or fail based on chores completed. I often felt overlooked, reduced to tasks. Patted on the head for duties that meant nothing to me so I could disappear into a hobby that meant everything to me.

Chores are supposedly good for kids. Those who do chores get better grades in school. Good grades are another overused measure of success or failure. I wasn't one for getting good grades in school, but no one could beat me when it came to playing the marimba for band class, and I was a pretty good writer. A regimented household of chore charts and focus on good grades can be miserable for kids who don't fit in the box. It can also fuel dysfunctional perfectionism and bouts of anxiety.

As an adult, I crave a better way.

The frustration of many parents who resort to a chore chart is that they just want a clean house. One that everyone participates in keeping livable. But the kid who just swept the floor will litter that same floor kicking off his shoes five minutes later and that fact will drive you nuts. Tensions build and we bicker about little things that have little meaning and forget the end goal.

What do chores represent?

The larger lesson is what household contributions should prepare kids for down the road. Are you preparing them to take care of themselves and their own home when they are grown? Are you teaching them to value their contribution to their family and their communities?

The kitchen can be a great place to experience both. After school, I serve up a bowl of popcorn and listen to the stories of my child's day. I pretend not to look if they tear up over a spat with their friend or when they have trouble with a teacher. I wash dishes or cook dinner and I listen.


I hand them a potato to peel, a jar to open or a dish to dry to put away as I go. Though less regimented and without any charts to check, contribution to family is valued in our house. I may not have a chore list, but I expect my kids to help when asked or where they see that help is needed. Just letting the dog in when she yips at the door is a simple way of recognizing a family need and responding.

I have no daily checklist of household duties. Instead, my kids contribute to the greater good when the need arises. I hope they see the value while also feeling valued. To me, that's family, that's community and that's the way the world will turn more gently and kindly around.


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