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The Family That Cleans Together

June-July, 2009

By Sheila Wray Gregoire

When the final bell rang on that last day of school, children cheered as they were released from their torment. Today, many parents feel as if the torment is now theirs. We are in the midst of summer vacation, and that means seemingly endless weeks of entertaining our kids. Yet why do we have summer vacation? It's because when public schooling started, children - yes, children - were needed to work on the farm.

The idea of kids working has fallen into disrepute, largely because for so long children, the most vulnerable in our society, were horrendously exploited. Yet being free from labor is not exactly the natural state of childhood, either. Proverbs 10:5 tells us: "a child who gathers in summer is prudent, but a child who sleeps in harvest brings shame" (NRSV). Kids are supposed to help with the family's work! It teaches them some important lessons.

I love knitting. And not just regular sweaters, but the kind that requires tiny needles, 35 colors and four years to complete. When I do finally finish, I feel such a profound sense of accomplishment.

That feeling is something that is unique to being productive. We can feel something similar, though not nearly so thrilling, when we finally clean out the garage, or weed a large vegetable bed, or fix a leaky toilet. To a large extent, though, we have deprived our children of these experiences. Our fridge doors may be plastered with art creations, but often this is as far as their productivity goes. The idea of actually helping with the dishes, for instance, is laughed off as the X-Box is turned on. Most families in the United States today do not require children to do chores. Even when they do, it's usually only to clean up after themselves by making their own beds, cleaning up their toys, or putting their own dishes in the dishwasher. Helping the family is no longer required.

But we're not only excusing them from chores; we're also turning our lives upside down to make theirs as easy and pleasant as possible. We rearrange our schedules to take kids to soccer, baseball, or the beach. We chauffeur them, clean them, feed them, and show them they are the centre of our universe. During the school year, in return, we may expect them to do homework. But summer is like two months of get out of jail free cards.

In the process, we're inadvertently contributing to children's propensity to being self-absorbed. If we give them a chance to think the whole world revolves around them, things that really don't matter in the long run take on way too much importance. Work is the antidote to this sense of self-importance and entitlement. Work was not God's punishment for the fall; God created work before it. It's an essential part of our humanity.

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In my book, To Love, Honor and Vacuum, I talk about strategies to encourage kids to do chores, including tying chores to allowances. But these must be tasks that help the whole family; only then do they get a share in the family's money. Kids should never be paid for cleaning up after themselves! Then, you need to show kids the benefit of money. If you buy them a chocolate bar everytime you're out, or pick up that pair of designer jeans they've been begging for, you're not giving them any incentive to earn their own money.

Many of us are now feeling the mid-summer burnout. But unless you want to spend the rest of the summer picking up popsicle wrappers and putting away beach toys, maybe it's time to introduce your kids to a chore sheet and a toilet brush. They may not like it, but you'll be doing them a favor. They will learn that life is more than having fun; life is also helping and serving others. And that's a good thing.

© Sheila Wray Gregoire
Sheila is a popular Canadian Christian speaker and the author of four books, including "To Love, Honor and Vacuum" and "Honey, I Don't Have a Headache Tonight". She's a homeschooling mom to two daughters, and when she's not doing school at the kitchen table, she's likely off exploring a park with her two girls. Or sneaking chocolate. But you moms understand! Visit


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