Here's What REALLY Happens When You Make Kids Do Chores (It's Not Pretty)

This will not be one of those heartwarming posts about children who learn to do chores and live in cooperation with family and generally grow up more prepared for the adult world. Yes, that happens…after a time. This post is about the actual teaching — and about me hiding in my bedroom typing in self-defense.


It is the end of summer. We are just back from vacation and summer camp and there is a small possibility we will be moving house. Or to put it in to-do list language, we have loads of laundry to do, school to prepare for (son is in his two-year super-growth spurt so never wears anything for more than a few months as it is, and the girls have all jumped a size since last spring), and a house to make extra tidy.

Since our vacation was ahead of Central Time and in the tropics, we were waking with the sun. Today, everyone was up and moving by 7:30 a.m., which was perfect for a chore day.

Things started well. Two sorted and started laundry. Son dealt with the trash and luggage while I made breakfast. Then they went for a walk (to hatch Pokemon Go eggs, as one does in the Summer of ’16). When they returned, the first load was ready for folding, and I, being the cool mom I am, let them watch TV while folding.

After a couple of re-dos for messy folds, things started to go sideways. Child 3 folded less than Child 2, who kept bellowing at me to rectify this injustice. I relieved Child 4, who was doing her duties well and without complaint, from further duty on this round and divided the rest between the quibbling sisters.


In the meantime, I had gathered more trash from the mail and carry-ons, but now had to explain to Child 1 that just because he did the trash an hour ago it did not mean that trash hauling was done for the day. Repetitive never-doneness — that is the essence of chores.

Things roller-coastered from then on. Child 2 found inspiration to clean out the pantry. I try to roll with these moments. Of course I want her to organize the pantry! But while unpacking? Chore timing is an advanced chore skill. Nevertheless, she wanted a tidy pantry before I ordered the groceries.*

Instead of pulling everything out and organizing items into categories on the counter before putting it back in the pantry, however, she restocked as she cleaned. This took longer as she had to keep rearranging the shelves to fit things that were on other parts of the counter. More than a few mother-daughter “discussions” ensued over the fact that she was doing it wrong and it was taking too long.

*One of the things I missed about moving back to Houston from London was grocery delivery. Walking cities like London have fabulous delivery services for almost anything. Houston is not a walking city. It takes a huge chunk of the week to go to the grocery store. And then came Instacart at HEB, which I highly recommend.


By 3:15 I still hadn’t ordered the groceries and the pantry was only 2/3 done. Eldest called “a friend” over after he finished cleaning the game room. Or at least that’s what he asked. He’d been away for three weeks and had done his work well and mostly without complaint, certainly less complaining than his sisters. I said yes to the friend. So he called three. I didn’t mind but for the fact that they were very loud and very hungry and tried to raid the kitchen while Child 2 was still doing the pantry. She attacked them with limes.

The twins, who had been on laundry duty, did a great job folding the third load…until I realized that the job looked great because they had only bothered to unload the dryer halfway and had not transferred the wash load to the dryer, much less started a new wash load. I must have missed that cheat while taking the TV away from them for arguing over which show to watch while they folded.

And thus, I am hiding and trying not to be Ogre Mommy (my official name when I hit my limit of kid nonsense) or give up and do it all myself. Such is teaching kids to do chores.


The first time I really weathered this frustration we had just moved back from London, and I started the older two (the twins were only three) on setting and clearing the table. I had to nag, supervise, and resist the urge to just do it myself. Then one day six months later — or maybe just six weeks later, but it felt like months — I realized that I didn’t have to do that anymore. Sure, I still had to call the child to start the chore, but then it got done, competently.

Honestly, I think I’m writing this post as a distraction. I am reminding myself that if I don’t take over in exasperation, then today will pay off. It just will not pay off today.


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