ElizabethElizabeth Elizabeth is a divorced mother of two elementary-aged boys. She is a former English professor and lay minister who now manages the office and communications for a local church. When she's not working or writing, you'll usually find her cooking for her loved ones or hanging out at coffee shops and bookstores. Contact her by e-mailing her at Elizabeth@mumblingmommy.com.

My kids have been off of school for a few weeks, and I’ve already heard the dreaded words “I’m bored” coming out of my 10 year old’s mouth. He said this right as I was in the middle of putting away laundry, and after I’d made breakfast, done the dishes, vacuumed the floors, and scrubbed the bathroom. While I’d spent my Saturday morning bustling around cooking and cleaning, he had run out of things to do. I almost said something sarcastic but decided against it. It wasn’t his fault I was running myself ragged trying to maintain our home while he had no responsibilities: it was mine.

I realized two things in our brief conversation: 1) my kids think that cooking and cleaning are “Mom’s job” 2) they will continue to think of keeping a home as “woman’s work” unless I teach them otherwise (I’ve already had to correct the older one when he’s said things like “You must enjoy cleaning” and “Usually it’s the mom that cleans.” Yikes.) I mulled on this until a couple of days later, when a friend of mine posted her kids’ summer chore chart on Facebook. Her kids are close to mine in age and like me, she shares shares custody. She said that they each get daily jobs when they’re with her, and for this, they each get paid $15/ week. They must keep $5 as savings but can spend the other $10 however they like. But, if they don’t do their chores, they don’t get paid, and they lose screen time privileges.

Photo courtesy of Beth Burkey. Used with permission.

I’ve written before about how I handled chores and money. I paid per job instead of giving allowances, and they didn’t have any regular duties. But they’re older now (8 and 10) and are ready to take on more responsibilities. They’re no longer little kids with short arms and even shorter attention spans.

I sat them down and told them, calmly, that I think it was time for us to change the way we thought about the house. I said, “You’re old enough now that it’s time to shift away from thinking ‘Housework is Mom’s job and sometimes we help’ to ‘This home belongs to all of us, so we should all take responsibility for its condition.'” I showed them my friend’s chart and asked them if they wanted to pick their jobs or be assigned jobs, whether they wanted the same jobs every week or trade off (her kids trade off), and how we would set up bank accounts so they could save up their money over time.

They surprised me by saying they’d rather I choose jobs for them than give them a list of choices. My older son said, “You know what jobs are harder than others, so you can divide it up more fairly.” This also made sense because the 8 year old has a broken arm, so that affects what he can do. My older son also said that he’d rather have the same jobs each week “so we can get really good at them.” It reminded me that kids feel proud of themselves when they master new skills and enjoy feeling helpful. Chores aren’t punishment: they’re self-esteem-builders!

They’re also excited because one of their “jobs” is to make supper together (and clean up afterwards!) once each week. They’re both hooked on Master Chef, Jr. and interested in cooking. I plan the meal so that they’re not doing anything dangerous, but it’s remarkable how much kids can do in the kitchen: make sandwiches or salads, bake simple dishes, microwave vegetables, assemble and bake pizzas with a store-bought crust, etc. It’s not Master Chef, Jr. but they’re proud of the food they make, and I enjoy getting a night off.

It’s not all cheap labor and roses, though. Chores aren’t exciting, so it’s hard for them to tear themselves away from reading or playing and vacuum the floor. And honestly, it’s sometimes easier to do the work myself than to patiently wait while my 8 year old takes 20 minutes to mop our tiny kitchen floor (that’s not the broken arm, that’s just his normal “chore speed”). But I hope I’m teaching them valuable life skills: how to take care of their pets, how to live in a clean and sanitary home, how to do laundry, and how prepare healthy food. The sooner they learn life skills, the more equipped they will be to go out into the world as individuals, roommates, or partners.

“I’m not as into cooking as my brother,” said the older child, “But I think it would be good to know how to do it.”

“Yes, it is, because you know what you’re going to be doing for the rest of your life?”

“No, what’s that?”

“Eat,” I said, and he agreed. Life skills, people.

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