Kids Helping with Chores and Adult Time Use

This past weekend, my 5-year-old son helped us clean the house. Tasks include emptying the dishwasher, picking up clutter ahead of the robot vacuum, and cleaning bathroom surfaces.

Here’s the advice I bet you have heard before: Get your child involved in chores by the age of 2. It will take more work to get them to help than to just do the job yourself. However, you want to raise a child who can help. It’s good for them.

Something I have my two year old do is sort clean silverware. She pulls spoons out of the dishwasher basket and puts them with the other spoons in our silverware tray that we keep in the drawer. Redirecting her and motivating her to stick with this task takes a lot of energy. It would be much easier to just do it myself.

[I am writing this from a perspective of a “suburban mom”. If you live in a tiny apartment or a big farm, then this might not apply to you at all.]

There are two benefits to having kids do chores with you that I think are underrated.

  1. Your kids have to be entertained, and we are all trying to limit screen time. My son spent at least 2 whole hours total this weekend cleaning. Those are 2 hours that I would have had to fill somehow. The “easier to just do it yourself” argument fails to take that into account. It’s true that I could have parked in him front of a screen while I did all the cleaning myself, but to me that would have presented an additional challenge of getting him off the screen. I use TV as a reward for when the cleaning is done. And then no one feels guilty about anything.
  2. It’s more fun to do chores with your kid. I can fold laundry myself, but if my kid is helping me, then it becomes quality time. As a working parent, I really value quality time. When you do chores together, you get to know each other.

Imagine that I spend 10 minutes folding laundry by myself and then I seek out my son for 10 minutes of quality time with him. That’s 20 minutes total. I could just fold laundry with him. If it takes 20 minutes, then the laundry is done and the quality time has been had. Will he spend most of his time rolling around in the clothes and whining that it’s hard to match socks? Sure, he will. But that presents opportunities for us to chat and overcome obstacles together. I could pay $1,000 for a white water rafting trip when all I wanted was some quality time and some obstacles to overcome. Folding laundry together is free. The only antic I will not tolerate is for the child to destroy a pile of clothes that I have already folded. Other goofy antics are allowed.

I understand that some of my readers outsource housework. I believe in the specialization of labor. More power to you. Some of my readers probably should be outsourcing more than they do.

My advice is, if you are doing thing like laundry and dishes and cleaning in-house, don’t do it alone. Getting your kids involved is less costly in terms of your own time than you might think.

Tip A: Do not expect your child to be efficient and hurry through their job. She might lie on the floor for 20 minutes before even starting. If you try to hurry kids you are setting everyone up for miserable failure.

Tip B: Be flexible. Technically, we are supposed to clean the whole house together on Saturdays. Sometimes the jobs bleed into Sunday if Saturday is busy. Sometimes I’ll do one task myself on Friday. Routine is helpful, but do what works for you.

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