Thursday, April 28, 2011

134 chores

I got up this morning and the dining room table was clean. The living room looked reasonably good, too. The open shelving in the kitchen has recently been wiped down, and the toilet is scrubbed. There are no wet towels on the carpet in the kids' room. What's going on?

Ten days ago I discovered that someone knocked my laptop onto the floor, cracking the cover and breaking part of the joint between the keyboard and the screen. I know it was one of my two youngest, but so far neither has 'fessed up. Less than 24 hours later, Little Guy and Snuggler decided to use the family camera. In the process of determining who would use it first they dropped it and broke the lens.

I was not a happy mama. When the worst of my storm passed, I knew two things:

1. My two youngest needed to learn the value of things (and that would take time), and
2. We did not have a camera.

I looked online, and discovered it would cost $268 to restore the household to camera-owning status. So I explained to my children that they were going to work off the cost, at the pay rate of one dollar per chore.

That's 134 chores per child.

Yeah.When the mean mommy awards are handed out, I'm gonna be a contender.

Or maybe not. At heart, this isn't about punishment. It's about indulgence. You see, someone once told me that indulgence is defined as 'whatever is more than your child's character can take." Indulgence isn't a matter of how-much-is-too-much in absolute terms, but how much is too much before a child slips into selfishness, bad habits, and poor behavior.

Some kids retain a spirit of gratitude when they're showered with gifts. Mine are pretty good at that. Some kids can own many things and take good care of all of them. This is where mine are weak. And the truth is that it's my fault.

My two youngest are poor stewards of their (and our) belongings because of my work habits and requirements. In the flurry of work/homeschool/shlep-to-activities I haven't stayed on top of the pick-it-up-and-put-it-away routine, which is step one in taking care of your belongings. If I can 'pay' for a block of work time by letting my younger ones make a mess, I've been willing to strike that deal.

But the laptop/camera incident made it clear that I'm not the only one who pays for this. My kids will pay, too, if they're allowed to grow up with a sense that it's someone else's job to absorb the cost of their carelessness. So I am scaling back their (our) freedom to the point where their enjoyment of playing with something equals the amount of effort they are willing and able to put in to make that play possible.

Trust me, getting my two youngest to do 134 chores each is a penance for all of us. It takes a ton of energy to muster my reluctant troops to do the additional chores they are now required to do each day. It takes a thought-through plan of effective consequences, and a heart of steel to deflect the numerous please and arguments. But I'm steeling myself.

So far they're on #14 each.

Wish me luck.


  1. That's a lot of chores to supervise....

  2. Yup. I put the broken camera on a shelf, and whenever I feel my courage lagging, I look at it and get back to work.

  3. Julia I think this is a fantastic idea! Keep us posted on how it works out.

    I have a toddler who we call godzilla. Unfortunately other than a swat or being sent to her crib there is little I can think to do. But she has poured a cup of water into my laptop and flicked off two of the keys in the last few weeks. Infuriating to me....but she is 20M old. What to do?!

    My 3yr old, on the other hand, is just the type of kid that was born with a sense of boundaries and right and wrong and would never even think to do things like that.

    You are right that it takes all kinds!

  4. This is an even harder job for an urban mom to create the chores... You can't quickly send them outside to do those physical jobs. There's NO wash the car windows, vacuum the car, clean out the trunk, pull weeds, clean garage, mow lawn, edge lawn, cut back bushes for an urban family...

  5. Oh, we have windows, and screens, and all those baseboards that need scrubbing... fingerprints on doorjambs and walls... the refrigerator, the shower stall, the armrests on sofas that need cleaning... laundry, more laundry, more laundry... books that can be dusted, grout that needs replacing, wooden chair backs that can be washed, shower curtains to wipe down, dishes to wash, trash to take out...

    And then we can do it all again ;)

  6. @Jamie, Maybe, "Computers are not for two year olds" followed by a prompt time out?

    You might want to take a look at this post:

  7. Here's some applause from my corner ... we had an incident similar to yours, and now have a young family member who has been working off his own hours of "family service." This plan is worth every bit of your effort. Stay strong. - D.

  8. Now that my family is all grown and have children of their own, I'm hearing things I "could have done"! It's too late for me, but I'm sure you are inspiring young mother's with your good ideas.