The Epic Battle over Chores
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Why Solo Moms can and should keep up the good fight
For busy Solo Moms running a household without much help, managing day-to-day tasks on their own can be really hard. It’s easy to see why chores—and managing who, what, when—can be such a torment. It is also discouraging to tidy up a room and then, half an hour later, re-enter that room and see it looking like it had been ransacked in a robbery because a child was looking for one soccer sock.
There are several benefits to children who grow up helping out. For Solo Moms in particular, asking kids to help and seeing that they follow through is both good parenting and also a meaningful nod to self-care.
Once upon a time, children in the United States helped a good deal more than they do now. Agrarian societies defined the school year according to the reality of kids being needed in the fields. The industrial revolution would eventually shift the focus of work, but children were still expected to help their families. In cultures all over the world, kids are still required to assist their families in many ways.
Therefore, Solo Moms, you are well within your rights to require that your children help. Asking them to fold a basket of laundry, tidy up, or empty the dishwasher is perfectly appropriate.
Some studies have shown that solo parents are actually less likely than parents in a two-parent household to ask for help from their children. I could understand why. The battle cry of many parents generally, and especially for Solo Moms, is a “pick your battles” kind of anthem. The wish to stay away from nagging unless it is absolutely necessary is sometimes deeply ingrained; as a result, when deciding about whether to nag about a science-fair project when the dishwasher still has to be unloaded, it may seem easier to skip it. I can see the scene: science-fair battle resolved, mention of dishwasher leads to kids’ eyes cast upward and tears. In that moment, it may feel easier to just do it yourself. Indeed, in that moment, it probably is easier—but only in that moment. There are long-term benefits to standing your ground where chores are concerned.
Put yourself back in that science-fair scene. Mentioning the dishwasher led to some exasperated tween tears or certainly to the threat of them, so you did it yourself. But consider that you are only human and how many other things you did that day. You had school and work meetings, earned money, paid bills, bought science-fair poster board and stencils, and made yourself available to help measure bacteria, to name a few things.
It is understandable that the tinge of irritation might creep into your thoughts as you unload the dishwasher by yourself. You are asking only that the dishwasher be unloaded—a 15-minute job, max. No one is suggesting that your kids plant crops for hours (which, by the way, is exactly what children used to do).
Here are a few reasons Solo Moms should regularly enforce chores:
1. The children of Solo Moms eventually understand that they are helping the family. They are a critical cog in the wheel of a larger family dynamic, and it is a good thing for them to realize they are needed and necessary. A Solo Mom can certainly make this point in a positive and an age-appropriate way.
2. The creation and enforcement of a chore wheel can lead to the cultivation of healthy relationships. Members of a family unit work together to make the house run. Older children (if they are old enough and responsible enough) can assist with younger siblings, and these added interactions, over time, can help them bond.
3. The children of a Solo Mom grow up to understand that a house does not run itself. They grow up to understand that getting things done requires maintenance and discipline. They learn gratitude and are often less entitled.
4. The children of Solo Moms can learn time management and planning. They learn to factor in what they must do before they can do what they would like to do.
5. In enforcing chores, the children of Solo Moms are learning life skills. This is an opportunity to teach kids to be competent. Kids who are treated like competent people grow up to be competent adults. I am betting there are a large number of kids today who can play Bach but would be hard-pressed to effectively mop a floor. Knowing how to do basic tasks—clean a bathroom, cook a meal—are things you want your child to know when he or she moves out.
For Solo Moms, implementing chores for your kids is advisable as long as they are allocated fairly and according to age-appropriateness. In special circumstances, you might also need to seek extra help. If a Solo Mom gets the flu, clearly it’s time to call for reinforcements; nevertheless, on a daily basis, kids can and should help out.
Solo Moms are only human. They can do only so much without tipping into the realm of the overwhelmed. As kids grow up, they can learn that helping their Solo Mom has tangible benefits to all parties. Healthy relationships based on reciprocity and respect are created, and those values can be carried forward into the future lives of these children as they form their own families. Plus, living with people who are competent around the house is nice.
Think of your kids’ friends. Wouldn’t you rather host the one who comes into the kitchen as you are cooking and asks, “What can I do to be helpful?” These people exist! I have met some. Let us strive to grow more of these helpful and pleasant people. Let us plant them in the world to shine a light on the bounty of the helpful and competent child.
And remember: you don’t have to do everything.
Hear how other Solo Moms cope with the epic battle over chores by posting this question, or any other, in our confidential Sister Chat section.
Tara Shafer is the cofounder of Reconceiving Loss, an online resource center for families coping with pregnancy and infant loss. She is a contributing blogger to the Huffington Post, Psychology Today, and BabyCenter. Her work has appeared in the New York Times and on National Public Radio. You can follow her on Twitter at @reconceivinglos.
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