Over the past few months, my husband and I have been concentrating on helping the kids become more involved in household duties. At some point we simply realised that they were perfectly capable of doing more around the house and we figured giving them some tasks would do a number of things including:
-Foster more personal responsibility (oh, we have no dishes to eat on if the dishes aren’t washed and put away!)
-Develop their capacity for housework (how do I separate light and dark clothes for the laundry?)
-Teach them what it means to be an active member of the household (everyone can be involved in caring for the home, and this makes family life more enjoyable for all).
As I mentioned in this post, which is about nurturing compassion in boys, I think it’s especially important to instil patterns of behaviour in our sons that are focused on caring for others. As women and girls stereotypically get tagged for jobs such as cleaning, cooking, and organising the house – I am trying to be especially conscious of giving my sons opportunities to develop these capacities so when they get older they are comfortable and capable of handling these jobs as well.
When my husband and I first started talking about how exactly we would encourage our kids to do more around the house, we came up against the word “chores.” My husband had a strong aversion to it, mostly because he had the association of chores with payment (an “allowance”).
As we discussed it more and more, we realised we don’t want to teach our children that they have certain tasks around the house that they begrudgingly feel they have to do, or they only do so they can earn some money. We want to teach them to enjoy helping others – and helping themselves. After all, our ultimate goal as parents is to help them learn to live a life of service, and this includes in and out of the house.
So my husband came up with the term family service. It really makes sense because the kids see us (mother and father) serving the family every day, and so it’s easy to understand that everyone in the house has the opportunity – and responsibility – to contribute. We all serve each other! No one has to do “chores,” but we do tasks each day that serve our family.
My husband is especially good at pointing out my service to the family. He has always said things like “Thank you for serving the family today by cleaning and making us this lovely meal” in front of the kids, and I know that this attitude of gratitude and seeing housework as service is definitely rubbing off on our sons. Both of them often thank me for things like making their favourite meal or reorganising their drawers. 🙂
So how does “family service” work exactly?
Each morning after the boys make and eat their breakfast (and take their dishes to the sink), they are to find ways to do family service. Usually they ask me what they should do and I will give them a job or two… eventually I will encourage them to look around and find the job on their own.
My older children are 6 and 4 years old now, and these are their main tasks:
-Emptying the dishwasher (one does dishes, the other does utensils)
-Sorting the laundry into lights and darks, and putting a load in the machine (I still do the soap and start the machine for the time being)
-If necessary, transferring a load of clean laundry to the dryer and turning it on
-Taking a load out of the dryer into the living room, sorting the laundry into piles for each person, and putting those piles onto their respective beds
-Putting their clean laundry into their drawers (it helps that we have pictorial labels on their drawers, which you can see in this post)
-If there are no laundry or dishes to do, they either tidy up the lounge, their rooms, or the outdoor play area.
As you see, these tasks are basically laundry, dishes, or tidying! But they are new skills for the boys at this time, and it’s lovely to see them learning how to do them independently.
Family service usually only takes 10 to 15 minutes… unless they decide to do something out of the ordinary like make patterns on the floor with the clean dishes like in the picture above, haha! We do family service way before school starts, so that it’s never a rush and they have plenty of time to complete the tasks at their own pace. They know that taking a long time to do their jobs simply means they will have less play time before we leave the house for the day… so they can decide what pace to do them.
It’s been about three weeks since we’ve had daily family service and I’m really loving the dynamic it’s bringing to our home. I personally feel more supported because everyone is actively contributing to the housework, and the kids are naturally developing a better understanding of what it means to keep a household in order.
I should also say that I think the routine of incorporating family service into our day was much easier to establish because we already have a basic morning routine going anyway. This includes the kids getting breakfast, getting dressed, and getting the school bags packed – mostly on their own. You can read about how we helped the kids develop those responsibilities in this post.
I hope instilling the concept of serving in the household will help my sons in their future relationships as well – whether that’s with roommates at university or a spouse later on – because they will see jobs at home as just something that needs to be done, not something they must be asked (or nagged) to do.
I want them to understand that it’s a joy to serve those you love (I’m reminded to display this attitude, myself!), and I hope this new pattern of family service in our household continues to foster this mindset.
How do you encourage your kids to be active members of the household?
The Holy Spirit is amazing! I was having this exact conversation with my children this morning. For many years now, my children have been doing “chores”. They are 11, 10, 5, 2. Every day is a list of things to do in our household. Most times they do their “chores” without too much complaint, but lately, its been a struggle. They do work very hard for our family around the house, and I try often to reward their assistance. We don’t do allowance at our house, but sometimes I’ll let them eat dinner at the coffee table in front of the TV, or I’ll give them more time on electronics. But I’ve personally be struggling with the word “chores” because it does imply that they are being “forced”. Thank you, and your husband, for the word family service. I’m going to adopt this term for my own family!
Chelsea Lee Smith
So glad the timing worked out well for you Staci! I hope the terminology change works well for your family, let me know how it goes!
Love the term ‘family service’!
Our kids also don’t have ‘chores’ and we don’t give them an ‘allowance’ that relates to doing jobs either.
They are asked to help with various things around the house – some of them are things they need to do to take care of themselves (like put their clean clothes away and keep their rooms somewhat tidy) and some of them are things they are asked to do to help take care of our home and our family because they are part of our family and they contribute just like the adults do (like empty the dishwasher, help cook dinner, or help a younger sibling).
I won’t say my kids always do these tasks without complaint (the older they get the more they seem to complain) but for the most part they understand why everyone pitches in and they do what is asked of them.
We also give our kids opportunities to earn money from doing extra jobs so they can experience the joys of being rewarded for hard work, and working for something they want… but these jobs are extras, and generally things I’d love to pay a professional to do if I had the chance. So washing our giant windows, stacking fire wood, and shoveling chicken poop are all jobs for hire at our house! LOL
Chelsea Lee Smith
We’ve also discussed paying for “hard jobs” when the kids get older – because we know they WILL want to earn money eventually. Still haven’t worked that out but I love hearing about your system!!!
Thanks katepickle! My wife and I were having this discussion just the other day and I was telling her how I grew up doing chores to earn an allowance to learn you have to work for your money but my wife was saying chores should just be part of living at home and helping the family, not doing it for the money. This solves it for both of us. Our children can still do chores just to help at home and they can work for their money too.
What a wonderful idea! My parents did something similar; we were all responsible for each other and for the house. They also had fun doing housework, so it was easy for us kids to absorb an attitude of “Taking care of each other and the house is fun”!
Chelsea Lee Smith
I love the idea of being responsible for each other and the house. Before I was married, I hoped to have Saturday set aside for the whole family to clean together – alas, my husband does shift work, so we cannot have a regular day. But pointing out that we ALL take care of the house definitely puts housework in a unifying light.
yes very helpful thankyou for sharing
Chelsea Lee Smith
You’re very welcome 🙂
Love this, Chelsea! Such a better term than “chores,” which automatically has a negative ring to it. 🙂
Chelsea Lee Smith
Thanks Annie, glad it resonated! I didn’t actually grow up with many “chores” (and we were never paid) so it’s taken me a while to figure out what to do about it all. So far I’m definitely pleased with the way the kids are responding 🙂
Bek @ Just For Daisy
Chelsea I love the term family service and we’ve adopted a similar tone to helping in our home. The girls don’t have set jobs or tasks each day but have seen the fruits of being involved in tasks around the house and how it helps, feels good and makes our house run smoothly making everyone happy.
My girls love putting the clothes in the dryer (we have a top loader machine so I do the washing!) and they also LOVE pegging it onto the portable clothes line by the fire! 🙂
Thanks for sharing. I been looking for ways to encourage my children to take care of our home out of appreciation; instead of obligation. That task is daunting to say the least, but we have doing our best. When I present “family service” to my family I hope they understand the concept and love behind it.
Thank you for this post, Chelsea! My son is 3 years old, and he loves to help. When I grew up, I never had to do any chores because my mom had lost her dad when she was 9 years old, leaving her with the responsibility to care for her sick mother and doing all the work at home. So my mom didn’t want my brother and me to have any chores at all, but this backfired when I moved out – it was hard for me to learn how to organize all the usual household chores.
Now that I’m a mom myself I want to achieve a good balance. My son will learn what it means to take care of each other, and how to take care of a home. Your approach is wonderful, I’ll simply have to think of a good German translation for “Family Service” 😉
Chelsea Lee Smith
So lovely to have your feedback 🙂 I didn’t have chores growing up either, we helped when asked but really did not do much beyond our own rooms. I had no idea how to cook a meal or clean a toilet till after I married! I agree it’s all about finding a balance!
Kristy as Giftie Etcetera
We’ve always called them “chores,” but we TALK about family service much like the way you presented in this piece! I have boys, too, and I think dad being a part of the process and talking about it is so important!
I’m a Montessori guide for 6-9year old children. This year my son told me he did the work of service in the atrium (Catechesis of the Good Shepherd) by cleaning windows. I was thrilled! I want my child to feel the value of service to others at 7 so he carries it through his life. Usually, if I asked a child to help restore something in our classroom most would respond with “I didn’t take that out.” even when I would remind them that we all care for our environment and would tell them what part I was doing at the moment. Now I ask if a child or in general if he or she could do an act of service and the child peacefully and willingly does so. At this age especially (and really ever) people are afraid they are being taken advantage of or things aren’t “fair.” But the naturally goodness in each person (I believe) desires to do good for others.