Are Children Winning the Chore Wars?

Modern parents struggle with how much responsibility to give to children and when. Typical American practice calls for parents to keep children available so they may have the time for enriching, resume enhancing activities or for just being kids. Yet even once we found our houses dominated by spoiled kids from 20-somethings down to toddlers, we still use a ‘less and later’ responsibility pattern.

Modern parenting stories are loaded with unintentionally humorous “paradoxically” comments. From a New Yorker review of a slew of books about how to avoid raising spoiled kids, “Paradoxically, [an author] maintains, by working so hard to help our kids we end up holding them back.” That hard work by Group A on behalf of Group B results in less work from Group B? This is not a paradox. It is cold reality.

I’m tempted to be smug on these chore wars. My kids are expected to do chores, but I usually have to be “instructionally repetitive.” (That is my husband’s polite phrase for “nagging.”) The New Yorker review suggests — and I think she is on to something — that we get “kiddie whipped.” Describing her own experience with chore assignment:

[M]y husband and I gave [our children] a new job: unloading the grocery bags from the car. One evening when I came home from the store, it was raining. Carrying two or three bags, the youngest, Aaron, who is thirteen, tried to jump over a puddle. There was a loud crash. After I’d retrieved what food could be salvaged from a Molotov cocktail of broken glass and mango juice, I decided that Aaron needed another, more vigorous lesson in responsibility. Now, in addition to unloading groceries, he would also have the task of taking out the garbage. On one of his first forays, he neglected to close the lid on the pail tightly enough, and it attracted a bear. The next morning, as I was gathering up the used tissues, ant-filled raisin boxes, and slimy Saran Wrap scattered across the yard, I decided that I didn’t have time to let my kids help out around the house. (My husband informed me that I’d just been “kiddie-whipped.”

That I would have made my children clean up the grocery and garbage messes doesn’t change the fact that it would have been easier to do the jobs myself. That thought undermines my resolve to have my children help around the house. Even though I’m trying to raise responsible kids, they still see that I don’t always expect them to do chores, and so they don’t.

Any parents out there who avoided becoming “kiddie-whipped?” I’d love some advice.

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