Chores or No Chores—That Is the Question
by Joan C Benson
The concept of family chores has forever been tossed about in the world of parenting. Is this something children must do or they will be “ruined for life,” or should it be optional? Is there a rationale for young children taking on chores? Or, should parents wait until their offspring are more mature before launching them into duties? Some of my thoughts have grown from personal experience raising four children. However, I’d like to build a foundation by taking us back to the beginning of time, with Scripture and the first “children.”
We know God created a beautiful garden as described in Genesis. There He lovingly placed his first human creation, a first child, so to speak, in the form of a grown man. In Genesis 2:15, we read, “… put him in the garden of Eden.” But wait. There is more. Scripture goes on to say, “… to tend and keep it.” Hmmm. We don’t know the specifics, but we know it must have been pleasant to tend back before sin entered the world. Even then, in that perfect place, Adam had something to tend.
However, you might argue that Adam and Eve were adults, not young children, so how does this apply? Adam was an adult, so he should be expected to tend his residence. Regarding children and their specific training, let’s look at another familiar Scripture, Proverbs 22:6: “Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old, he will not depart from it” (NKJV). Children need instruction, we may all agree. When to begin teaching family responsibility is at the core of this quandary. We have ascertained that from the beginning of time, humans have had things to “tend,” and then even more challenging work for survival following the onset of sin. Building on a biblical principle that children don’t grow up without tending (i.e. training), we recognize a need for instruction.
With these biblical principles as our framework, I will add some observations from my experience as a parent and an educator. We adopted two twelve-year-old boys when our first two children were young preschoolers. I quickly learned I couldn’t keep up with everything on my own. My husband was an airline pilot and wasn’t always home to pitch in. I needed some help. We set up some basic responsibilities, which were age-appropriate for the twelve-year-olds. However, an additional dynamic quickly manifested as was often the case in those days of my trial and error parenting. Having come from settings of abuse and neglect, the older children examined every aspect of our family as if through a microscope. Fairness was their filter. What applied to a twelve-year-old had to be applicable for a two-year-old in their narrow perspective. Right or not, it was how they responded emotionally.
I decided to try reaching our emotionally deficit sons with a new approach. In pursuit of equity, fairness and justice for all, I developed some chores for my three-year-old son and two-year-old daughter. I’m giggling at my tongue-in-cheek description, but at the heart of it, I wanted my older boys to understand each one was loved and respected, even if their perspective of equality was skewed. As a result, I had four more helping hands, but I also had more follow up as a parent. Making sure each child accomplished their chores was as important as creating an all-hands-on-deck home environment. I didn’t want to teach them by omission that it didn’t matter if or how they did their assigned tasks. I asked, was this additional effort only adding to my responsibilities? Should I scrap the whole chores idea?
What I discovered was not in my viewfinder when we began. My little ones burgeoned in confidence. I noticed the pride each one took at taking on his or her simple tasks—like the “big boys.” The older boys began the tedious process of learning to finish what they started and accomplish good results. My two-year-old daughter was taught how to make her bed, in the most simplistic way with a coverlet. She also was in charge of helping push the dinner table chairs back in place after we ate. Note the words “in charge.” She was in charge of something which improved our family life. She knew it, and she achieved with confidence. The tasks were suited to each child’s age and ability to accomplish.
The resulting benefits for all of us were beyond my expectations. I began by trying to appease my troubled boys—empty vessels needing to be filled with love and respect. Yet the benefit for our little ones was observable. I watched their self-concepts flourish, and it started a healthy work ethic which I still see in their adult lives today.
In the classroom, I later carried over my family observations. I knew how important it was to build responsibility in my students. It was my job as their teacher to make their learning successful, doable in steps they could achieve. In taking on responsibility for their projects, their learning goals, their homework, I believed I was helping develop people who could someday take care of themselves, their families and their country.
I believe our children of all ages can benefit from having chores as they learn and grow. I did indeed have to follow up on their duties, creating another “chore” for me. I will admit chores for children may not be the only way to train children to become responsible adults. However, I know valuable lessons can be taught through appropriately assigned tasks at home and at school. Children can learn first-hand the value of doing their best, contributing to others and developing their own skills by being given chores. There is something good in family life where everyone learns to “pull their own weight.” Contributing to the common good begins in our small family groups, but once instilled, eventually will reach the greater circle of humanity in adulthood.
Joan Benson is a freelance writer, a former (K-8) classroom teacher and reading specialist, and a wife and mother of four adult children. She enjoys traveling to spend time with her eight cherished grandchildren who live in various parts of the nation. Joan has produced devotional materials for CBN.com, written numerous magazine articles (most recently for LifeWay’s ParentLife and Regent University’s The Christian Leader). She developed children’s Sunday School curriculum for over twelve years for LifeWay. Joan and her husband, Jan, live in Chesapeake, VA, with their two Bichon Frisé pets.
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