Chore Wars

Like most of us, I grew up doing my fair share of chores around the house. I could make a decent cup of tea by nine, did my own laundry from 12 and was a dab hand at a pre-weekend house spruce-up (enough to make sure my mum was compelled to say ‘yes’ to my Friday night plans, anyway) by 15. My bedroom may have slipped over to the bombsite dark-side now and again but when it came to clearing it up, it was me and only me who got the Hoover out. I didn’t get or expect any sort of financial reward for pulling my weight and turned up at university self-sufficient enough to be someone my fellow students could come to when they needed to put on a duvet cover, re-start the boiler or, in one particularly poignant case, learn how to make toast.

I don’t want my own children (aged six and eight) leaving home with no idea how to boil an egg or thinking they should be waited on hand and foot so I try to get them involved with everyday tasks around the house. It’s a bit hit and miss at times but the right foundations are being laid for the future. Or so I thought, until my eldest came home saying she thinks she should earn money for doing chores like some of her friends

Now, I’m not against the idea of my children having pocket money or an allowance when they are older but the idea of linking that cash to everyday household tasks doesn’t quite sit right with me. We’re a family, we live together, to make that a pleasant experience certain tasks need to be done and, no one is paying me to load the dishwasher! That’s not how life works.

So, adamant that my way was the right way I stood strong, said no and gave her some socks to pair up. But it got me thinking. How do other parents deal with this sort of thing? Do their children help more or less than mine? Am I the meanest mother in the universe? Worst of all, could I be missing a trick?

I asked around at the school gates, quizzed a few kids when they came round for tea and, like all great questions of the modern age, asked the internet until I had a Facebook feed full of rants about over-flowing laundry baskets and bone idle ten-year-olds. Revealing, enlightening and quite possibly mind-changing.

As far as children and chores are concerned there seem to be four schools of thought, each with its own pros, cons and tips from top. Read on to decide where you stand (or want to stand) on the Chore Wars frontline. 

Decide what you want your children to do, make sure they are motivated by money, pay them to do it.
PROS Straightforward, easy to understand, teaches them the value of earning money, gets results.
CONS Younger children who don’t really need their own money can be hard to motivate. Doesn’t reflect the real world.
“My boys make their beds every morning, set the table for dinner, tidy their room and put their clothes in the washing basket, for which they get about £2 a week. It keeps them motivated and helps them to learn the value of money and how it is earned.” Nicola.

“My two boys (six and nine) get £3 each per week for putting their clean laundry away. It works for us so when they get older I will add to the list.” Mike.

“We try and do chores for pocket money. Sometimes they don’t get done though. I have been known to cancel their pocket money until all jobs have been done. The idea behind it was to help prepare them for the real world where you have to work to earn money. I think of myself as their employer!” Sarah.

“My daughter has asked on two occasions if she can earn pocket money in return for doing chores. We’ve drawn up lists, then she’s failed to do any of them – and therefore doesn’t get any money. We’ve come to the conclusion that at seven, she’s not quite at the age where she feels she needs any money, so the incentive isn’t there. However, I am very big on kids clearing up after themselves in general, once they get to a certain age. She has, in the last month or so, started clearing away the dinner table after family meals, completely of her own volition, just to be helpful. That makes me very happy.” Luci.

Expect them to help because that’s how families work, ask them nicely, cross your fingers.
PROS Teaches them teamwork, reflects the real world, you don’t have to remember to pay them.
CONS Moaning because their friends get paid to do stuff, sometimes it just doesn’t get done.
“My four make their beds and each do bits and pieces to help out. The eldest does lots of work outside with his dad, his brother does the hoovering, the little ones wash up. They like helping. And they do it for love!” Lucie.

“I think children should understand that they are part of a family and that that family needs certain tasks doing to function. I don’t think they should be paid to contribute to the household. My children (six and eight) are meant to make their beds, keep their clothes and room tidy and help clear up after dinner. Note the stress on the word ‘meant’. I have to admit, it is a rather hit and miss affair.” Alex.

“When my children are a bit older I plan to copy an idea from a super successful working mum friend. She has teens and they have a cooking rota for the whole family where each person takes their turn. They do it as they know that they all have to work together as a team and that’s just the way it is.” George. 

No rules, lead by example, hope they choose to help.
PROS No nagging, no bribery, if it works you know they are helping of their own free will.
CONS Mess, chaos, having to do everything yourself.
“Ours are 15, 13 and 11 and nobody has chores. I can’t stand the feeling of HAVING to do something so impromptu helping is welcome but enforced tasks are not expected. That said, plates do tend to get taken to the sink and clothes do get put on the stairs to be washed. But sometimes whole meals are cooked, tables get laid with napkins and flowers and name places or entire chests of drawers get sorted out. importantly there is no nagging about ‘you haven’t emptied the dishwasher’.” Sarah.

“I have never really expected my daughter (11) to do anything because there is so much expectation from school now (much more than there was for us) so once school and homework/reading is done, plus after school activities, it’s fair enough that she relaxes and is just a carefree kid. But she did decide to spontaneously hoover the other week so that’s something!” Jane.

The best of both worlds, perhaps? Certain tasks are expected and part of life, ‘extra’ tasks can be done for rewards or money.
PROS Teaches them that some tasks are just part of life with the option of earning for extras.
CONS Debates over what constitutes a normal part of life task and what is an ‘extra’.
“We pay our daughter £2 a week for recycling, which is mostly not done and we refuse to bribe or push her to do it. She’s seven. If she does do it she spends it on chocolate ice cream or brownies from the farmers’ market. She wants to ask downstairs if she can do theirs too but given the pile of it currently in our kitchen, I couldn’t give her a reference.” Jenni.

“There are certain chores my girls are expected to do every day without reminders – make their beds, put dirty washing in the laundry basket, put used crockery, utensils in the dishwasher, etc. There are also certain chores I expect them to do when I ask: hoover up if they’ve left crumbs, strip their beds, pick up and dispose of dog poo (only our dog’s!), put a load of washing on, prepare or help prepare lunch/supper, lay the table, make me a cup of tea. I don’t believe in paying/bribing them for those ‘extras’. But there are one or two chores that are ‘above and beyond’ that I have bribed them to help with in the past, things I hate to do like washing the car or cleaning the bathroom. Bribery usually involves purchasing some sort of stationery product.” Gemma.

“My two, five and nearly eight, have to tidy up after themselves (front room and table) and will set/clear the table when asked to. They are also regularly asked to tidy their room (I usually help) and they put washing in the basket. They don’t get money for it because they’re things they should ‘just do’ plus I think school is their ‘job’. When they get bigger I might use a money incentive for bigger jobs.” Rebecca & Jamie.

“There are some tasks I expect my daughter (10) to do and others I consider ‘extra’ and will pay her for like cleaning the windows.” Emma.

“Our two are eight and six and get their own cereal out, help set and clear the table, help tidy their rooms, put dirty washing in the basket and help put their clothes away too. I’m working full time and the jobs are for the whole house so they just have to join in. We used to give them dried peas in a jar with a set number for specific roles, and a trade in option for money, but they now do it all without anything.” Becca & Rob.

“My two have to tidy and hoover their own rooms and make sure their laundry is in the basket. And then they can help with laying the table, cooking, gardening, making packed lunches, putting clean sheets on, folding laundry and so on, but only if they want to. I don’t pay them in cash but they do get points which buy them screen time. They’ll do anything for a bit of screen time!” Lianne.