A friend of mine grew up in a family of 12 children. Her mom spent most of her day managing the office of her father, a successful lawyer, and politician. To manage both the office and her large family, her mother assigned tasks to each of the kids, according to their ability to accomplish them. The family worked as a team to get everything done. I once met most of these siblings at a family reunion – all of them were smart, responsible and accomplished.
Another friend grew up on a farm. When he was only 12, his dad died unexpectedly. The responsibility for working the farm fell to the young boy. With guidance from several of his dad’s friends, he was able to keep the farm viable while going to school and participating in sports. Today, he’s a top executive in the oil and gas exploration industry. And he can fix anything, with or without the right spare parts. I’ve seen him do it.
In the opening paragraph of her chapter on chores (Get the Behavior You Want…Without Being the Parent You Hate!), Deborah Gilboa, MD, tells the story of one of her patients, a 5-year-old boy who, among other things, watered and fed the barn animals, swept and emptied the trash in the barn, and gathered eggs every morning before catching the school bus for kindergarten. His reward? He got to ride his horse! A doctor in a rural area, Gilboa discovered that chores such as these were common among elementary school children.
On the other hand, I knew a young man who, when he graduated from high school, was sent several gifts of money from relatives. When his parents urged him to send them thank-you notes, he refused. And oh, by the way, he had never been required to do household chores while growing up.
And I knew a young woman who on the first morning after her honeymoon had to confess to her husband that she knew nothing about cooking. She couldn’t even fry an egg. And her mother was a gourmet cook. Fortunately, she applied herself and after several years she had learned some basic cooking skills.
Years ago, I had been asked by several wealthy individuals to help their young adult children decide what they wanted to do in life. None of them had any desire to get a job or pursue a career. They had never been asked to help out with home chores growing up, and they knew they were going to receive a trust fund at a certain time. Silver spooners through and through, they had no fire in the belly whatsoever, and I couldn’t give it to them.
Kids grow up. In time they become adults, well past adolescence. Eventually, they discover how challenging life really is. The demands of relationships, family and career require the ability to manage their lives, deal with issues, solve problems and work through adversity. In other words, they’ll need life skills. Lots of life skills. If they didn’t learn them from parents and mentors while growing up, they’ll have to play catch-up. Or return home, which actually does happen for an astonishing percentage of young adults.
I’ve written more times than I can count that the purpose of parenting is to prepare young people to handle the responsibilities and challenges of adult life. Translation: they’ll need life skills. As Dr. Gilboa says, “Everything that needs to be done to make your home run smoothly are skills you should teach your kids.”
In Chapter 23 of her book, Dr. G does a terrific job explaining how parents can approach managing chores, so I won’t go into that here. Parents, read her book. Keep it handy so you can check the index whenever you feel stymied. (See her Chapter 26 for recommendations for giving your kids an allowance – a completely separate issue with a different purpose.)
But for now I’ll list the wonderful benefits of having your kids be responsible for chores:
1. Teaches growing children how to do the myriad tasks involved in being a healthy, happy, responsible, successful adult.
2. Prevents them from growing up with a sense of entitlement, that everything in their world will be done and provided by someone else.
3. Less work for you if you have help from your family. More time to focus on relationships and being the best parent you can be.
4. Enriches self-esteem, self-confidence, and other character strengths. As valued contributors to the family enterprise, kids learn to be people who think, “I can do this.”
5. Promotes family values.
You’re probably thinking, “This isn’t going to be as easy as it sounds.” You’re right. You’ll need to be smart about it and it will take the time to get your system fully operational. For one thing, you’ll need to be patient while your kids learn to get good at what you’ll be asking them to do. For practical, how-to recommendations…read the book!
Life skills are a big deal.
The most important life skills are thinking skills. My new book: How Your Teen Can Grow a Smarter Brain.
Also, you can download 4 FREE guides, including “The No. 1 Way to Nurture the Bond with Your Teen.”