A Chore by any Other Name Still Stinks (but Has to Be Done)

Dear Mr. Dad: I’m sure this makes me sound old, but when I was a kid, my siblings and I had chores that we had to do around the house. My wife, though, grew up in a house with full-time staff who did all the cleaning and meal prep. Naturally, that’s led to some arguments between the two of us about whether our kids should have unpaid responsibilities. I’ve polled some of our friends and found that most of their kids don’t do chores either. What happened to the world?

A: When I was young, chores were something that contributed to the good of the family, and every kid I knew did them. But clearly, things have changed: a recent poll found that while 82% of parents did chores when they were children, only 28% say they assign to their children the same responsibilities. In fact, I’m not convinced that the word “chore” has any meaning at all these days.

Back in my day (and yours too), chores were significant: mowing the lawn, washing dishes, cooking meals, doing and sorting laundry (even if it belonged to someone else), mopping the kitchen, cleaning bathrooms (yes, including scrubbing toilets), and so on. Our kids, however, are getting off easy, at least according to one recent survey that found that the number one chore parents assign is “brush your teeth.” That’s followed by make your bed, feed the pets, put laundry in hamper, clean your room, and pick up your clothes.

I’m sure that for thousands of years, parents (and non-parents) have complained about how “kids these days” do so little compared to what they did at the same age. But brush your teeth? Make your bed? Pick your clothes up off the floor and put them in the laundry? How on earth did those become chores? If I would have suggested to my parents that I should get chore credit for brushing my teeth or making my bed, they would have laughed me out of the house.

Oh, and it gets worse from there. Not only have parents lowered their expectations to the point where they’re barely visible, but they also “incentivize” (translation: bribe) their children to do those “chores.” Screen time is far and away the top bribe parents use to get kids to pitch in around the house; at 50%, it’s as popular as all the other bribes combined, including allowance, extra dessert, and toys.

Now don’t get me wrong: we all bribe our kids once in a while, and we’ve all seen that they work pretty well in the short term. But they’re rarely successful in the long term. For example, giving a child an ice cream cone to interrupt a tantrum may get the screaming to stop this time, but it won’t prevent the next one. In fact, it may even encourage the next one because it shows the child that pitching a fit—especially in a public place—is a great way to get what he or she wants.

Having low expectations for our kids—and compensating them for doing basic things like brushing their teeth—does them a tremendous disservice. We’re essentially telling them that a) We don’t trust them enough to give them any responsibilities, (b) They’re so special that they shouldn’t do anything unless they get paid for it, and (c) Being a team player isn’t important. With those messages bouncing around their brains, today’s kids will be woefully unprepared to survive in a world where taking responsibility, working hard, and contributing to a team are essential. No one’s going to bribe them to come into work on time, and mommy and daddy certainly won’t be there to pick up after them.

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Armin Brott

View posts by Armin Brott
Armin Brott is the proud father of three, a former U.S. Marine, a best-selling author, radio host, speaker, and one of the country’s leading experts on fatherhood. He writes frequently about fatherhood, families, and men's health. Read more about Armin or visit his website, mrdad.com. You can also connect via social media: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest,  and Linkedin.

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