It’s been more than one week since I read the WSJ article on chores. But much longer ago since I threw up my hands and said ‘I’m sorry.’ I’m sorry, rewards-based culture and gossipy parent groups, that I’ve chosen to expect my children to complete their ‘chores’ around the house without rewards. If they needed a ‘reward’ it would be the satisfaction of a job completed, a job well done, darn it. (Stamps foot for effect.) That’s old school, I guess.
Taking all that I’d been taught (including the foot stomp, see above) and all that I’d seen others doing and all that I’d read and still not rely on ‘rewards’ was tough though, thank you rewards-based culture and gossipy parent groups. And when I encountered ‘push back’, I couldn’t seem to smash together all of the knowledge and know-how into a coherent, viable, motivational solution to the age-old ‘chore’ dilemma. (OK. Maybe not ‘age-old’. Maybe just since child-labor laws and compulsory public education were introduced.)
But really. Initially, I tried not making a big deal about it, making my expectations clear and assuming they would follow suit. I wagered that since I have respectful children surely chores and ‘helping around the house’ would not be an issue. Naivete goes a long way sometimes.
When naivete couldn’t take me any further, I tried ‘conventional’ chore charts. And then renaming the ‘chore’ chart the ‘responsibility’ chart. And then using lists. And stones. And non-electronic rewards. And electronic rewards. And explaining the rudiments of the functioning of a household. And explaining kindness. And respect. And shouting and pleading and crying.
Eventually I stopped, opting instead for them to watch and learn. (Commonly referred to as
osmosis modelling.) And I waited for them to get older and want to help. (Commonly referred to as denial setting age-appropriate expectations denial.) Mainly, I discovered that it was about adjusting expectations and better communication: two things that we all need to learn how to do anyway. And it started to work. Mostly.
Then, whilst perusing the WSJ, I read about children competing to complete their chores.
Now, for those of you who don’t know me, competition and I go way back. In a complex, love/hate relationship. In an ‘I probably think too much about it and its effects’ way. But I am the mother of sons. And sons like competition and inject it into almost everything – brushing teeth, sorting clothes, walking the dog. So I upset the apple cart a bit and tried one of the apps the WSJ article suggested: You Rule: A Game of Chores.
It had the trifecta of ‘chore’ apps: competition, rewards, and, the clincher, an electronic game. Plus they got to use an app, which is still the epitome of cool for them.
Knowing consistency is the name of any game, we were diligent in its use. And it was going well. I thought. And then the ‘tweaking’ began, setting the Rube Goldberg machine into action. Naively I thought the ‘electronic game’ aspect + the app would equal immediate, fall-on-their-knees-to-thank-me acquiescence. Hah.
These boys are very particular about what constitutes a ‘chore’ and what a ‘reward’ consists of and when they receive one reward is there a time limit before they can receive another and would it be better to try to do all of the ‘chores’ in one day thereby watching their robot/superboy/alien climb higher on the score table and getting to a reward faster and why do we have to do any more chores if we get the reward we’ve been wanting unless we think of another reward then we can start doing the chores again, right?
So, in the midst of all of that, I tweaked the chores. Which then tweaked the rules. Which then tweaked the competition. Which then tweaked the rewards. Which then tweaked the use. Which then created conflict. Which then begat complaining. Which then begat explaining. Which then begat the headaches – for all of us.
And as any mother worth her salt knows, when you hit ‘the begats’, the spiral has begun and you stop.
So we stopped. And went back to our more regular, more rational, more acceptable solution: no fun ’til it’s done. (And depending on time and circumstance, fun can include sleep. It’s our ‘no sleep til Brooklyn’ clause.)
And it’s working. Mostly.
There are still frustrations and ‘off days’ and lacrosse socks in the chairs at the breakfast table for the dog to perform his snatch-and-flee. But ‘that’s life‘. And I keep reminding myself that we are experiencing the fullness of it. That time flies when you’re having fun – and drags when you’re in the midst of drudgery. That we have a choice: to look for the fun in the midst of the drudge. That we get to ‘keep calm and carry on’. But mostly that: