Tweens and chores - talking points needed
July 4, 2018 12:45 PM   Subscribe

The time has come for kids 10 and 13 (boys) to shoulder more of the household chores. Up until now, their responsibility has mostly been helping to take care of pets and cleaning up messes they themselves made (put garbage in the garbage, dishes in dishwasher, books back on shelf). They disagree with this proposed change. Debate ensued.

We had a conversation the other day about our desire for them take on more, to learn more skills, share more of the family burden on the path to adulthood. The ask was a few daily tasks, separate tasks for each, to help with day to day type cleaning and meal prep. Think – unload the dishwasher, not deep clean the rug. Maybe an increase of 10 minutes a day in terms of time spent cleaning. The amount and intensity of the pushback was a bit surprising. I’m looking for counter talking points and suggested approaches to defend against these arguments, particularly for use with the eldest who really enjoys debating for the sake of debating.

Sample arguments from kiddos: “I don’t want to do more work unless you pay me”, “I shouldn’t have to help more because it’s my summer vacation”, “it’s not fair to change the expectations” and a whole lot of “I just don’t want to do that work”.

They were unreceptive to the argument that, “hey, we are a family and everyone has to pitch in.” They acknowledged that a lot of stuff (driving, organizing, research for hobbies, getting electronics fixed, shopping, emotional labor, keeping up with communicating for clubs/sports etc., deep cleaning, home maintenance ie. painting their bedrooms) is done for them, but don’t think they should have to contribute more. There was also a lot of squabbling about who does what, and tasks not being fairly distributed. Both my partner and I grew up in homes where our chore load was high, and while we don’t want to load them up with what we experienced, it is frustrating that they don’t feel they should have do work. They’ve got a pretty good ‘deal’ all around, a fair bit of freedom and influence on family decisions and we like to talk these sorts of conflicts out. We also don’t want to raise lazy men.

Please give me your suggestions on arguments to put forth, and suggestions on how to continue to navigate this. What’s worked with your tweens ? How did you transform them into responsibly family members who contribute without complaining bitterly each time?
posted by walkinginsunshine to Human Relations (50 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
 
You don't want to do chores? Pay rent, and pay mom&dad for their labour.
posted by porpoise at 12:52 PM on July 4 [22 favorites]


Well, for one thing, I don't think trying to convince them is the right approach.
That they need to pitch in is not up for discussion.
What I think you can do, is offer them options and clearly communicate consequences.

That is, they say they won't do it... okay. Then they also don't get [X thing] done for them. You provide the basics, they have to earn the extras.

The "unless you pay me" comment deserves a big laugh.
posted by M. at 12:54 PM on July 4 [83 favorites]


Stop doing stuff for them? Say “I’m not driving you to X unless you pay ME”? At least that will get the “everyone pitches in” message across. If they want a capital-based household economy (rather than more “from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs” collective), give it to them. Past that, it’s just not optional/up for debate.
posted by supercres at 12:58 PM on July 4 [41 favorites]


Or doing the classic “chore board” thing. List *your* chores too.
posted by supercres at 1:00 PM on July 4 [7 favorites]




Consequences that are actually enforced by both parents with regularity. Otherwise they'll play you against each other.

They're teenage kids and of course they want to argue for fun!

I understand the dynamic you and your partner came from, having known some kids in high school who had to do a ton of stuff and I on the other hand had to basically take out the trash sometimes.

Asking them to unload the dishwasher is not saddling them with unbearable responsibility.

When I was a pushy teenager, I was doing this kind of thing bc I secretly wanted the pushback and for them to lay down the law bc I got away with EVERYTHING.

Just tell them this is how it is now. They can complain the whole time if they want. They still need to do it.
posted by sio42 at 1:06 PM on July 4 [8 favorites]


"You were mistaken assuming this was open to debate. We've told you what to do. There will be consequences if you don't do this."

Then have consequences.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 1:07 PM on July 4 [34 favorites]


It's not so much about trying to convince them, as it's having a more sophisticated argument than 'don't be lazy'. We try to encourage discussion, generally, so shutting down all objections point blank is tricky. But I hear ya.

There was laughter at the 'pay me' comment... :)

Keep the thoughts and insights coming, and thank you for your time.
posted by walkinginsunshine at 1:08 PM on July 4


"Honey, I love you, but life doesn't work that way. I've been your cook, cleaner, chauffeur, activity planner, etc. Now is your turn. And I don't want my future in-laws complaining about how you sit on your rear after work while they do all the chores.
"Now... you are in charge of tomorrow's supper, what are you going to fix? I wash, you cook. Next day we switch. This includes shopping and checking the kitchen for the gadgets you will need.
"Let's start simple and I will gradually help you build your toolbox of kitchen skills. And ask your friends about their recipes -- they can come over and teach you what they do at home.
"I'm open to exploring this with you, but I'm not open to starving. You only have a few years until you are batching it at college or at your new apartment, so let's get your skills up to date.
"By the way, you're learning how to rotate auto tires this weekend. Love you."
posted by TrishaU at 1:12 PM on July 4 [5 favorites]


If you have a child who likes to argue, he needs to learn to make better arguments. "I shouldn't have to work more because it's my summer vacation" is an unsupported assertion. Instead of coming up with better arguments on your side, force him to come up with better arguments on his side. Ask him to explain why and how that is true, and what it means for the family and the world if no one ever works because it is summer, etc.

He might be more amenable to the chore change if he comes around on his own to realize that his arguments are bullshit that he can't support and there are no actually good reasons why he should not do a small amount of chores.
posted by jacquilynne at 1:17 PM on July 4 [27 favorites]


I got away with zero to very few chores as a teenager, coupled with a close-in-age sibling who would do everything I didn't to keep the peace. I loved it, but it did not serve me well as an adult. I was never acceptable at chores until I was well into my thirties. Even if it causes some minor strife right now, push for a minimum and stick to it. This will put them years ahead of their peers when they leave high school and make them more attractive to both genders when it comes time to shack up.
If "don't be lazy" doesn't cut it, come at it from a life skills direction. You need to know how to do laundry just like you need to know the basics about cars and how to deal with a checking account. You need to know how to wash the dishes so you don't make yourself sick. You need to pick up after yourself so no one trips on your crap.

I agree with treating the chores as transactions if they continue to push back. We had some weeks where we got our own grocery budget for everything but family dinner nights.
posted by soelo at 1:18 PM on July 4 [6 favorites]


"When you leave home are you going to pay someone to do these things for you?"

A huge number of young people can't thread a needle, much less sew a button back on. If kids don't learn to cook then they'll only eat fast food after they move out. Life skills include not only how to run the vacuum cleaner but why you should do so regularly.

Look for one of those lists that 20-somethings make about things they wish they'd learned/done as kids to get ready for being on their own and expected to know how to be a grown-up. If they don't know how to do laundry how will they dress sharp and not ruin their clothes?
posted by irisclara at 1:20 PM on July 4 [5 favorites]


We try to encourage discussion, generally, so shutting down all objections point blank is tricky.

I get what you're saying but I also think you're doing your kids a disservice if they grow up thinking perfectly acceptable demands by authoritarian figures are open to debate because in life, they're not. There will be teachers, professors, supervisors and co-workers who will one day tell your kids things that need to be done. I say this as a high school teacher who has had her fair share of kids who think homework is my opening gambit in a chess game, I know it's a behavior that's encouraged at home, and I really wish their parents wouldn't do that.

I think it's more than okay to give teens perfectly reasonable demands, explain why if you need to, and then end the discussion.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 1:21 PM on July 4 [86 favorites]


Just go on strike. "A lift to practice? (Or the movies or whatever.) Nah. I don't really feel like it. It's summer, I'm just going to kick back with a beer. It's not really fair to make me give up my leisure time, yanno?"

The pair of you obviously need to be 100% together on this, and absolutely see it through. You have to be okay with a stroppy, furious, even weepy teenager missing practice or missing out on the movies or both, until this gets through.

THEN you go back to the table and tell them that while you hope they accept that everyone must contribute their skills and abilities to keep the household running, these are the new rules. Would Child A prefer dishwasher unloading or laundry separating? Would Child B prefer garbage duty or dishwasher loading? Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:23 PM on July 4 [15 favorites]


I don't think this is a situation where you can or should convince them to pitch in. I like supercres' answer. If they say they don't feel like doing more work, then you are totally in line saying that you feel like doing less. Do they do their own laundry? Well, they do now! Then, perhaps, you can exchange some chores for others. If it's easier to do all the family's laundry together, then you'll shoulder that burden in exchange for unloading the dishwasher.

On preview, yes I said yes I will yes makes a really great point that I was trying to articulate but couldn't figure out how.
posted by lollymccatburglar at 1:26 PM on July 4 [2 favorites]


I've posted about this before, but generally speaking when there's push back, I remind my guys about the amount of work I'm already doing for them. Not in a martyred way, but just "Hey, I hear you. It can feel like a lot, and it's not exciting stuff. How I know that is that these are the things I do to keep our family running functionally, like [short list: meal plan, grocery shop, cooking, etc.]. And hey guys, every time you take on more responsibility, you're learning how to be the roommate and partner other people will want to have. " That last part is some kind of carrot, I think? Our current focus is less on the jobs they do and how well, but on noticing the job needs to be done, and doing it.

But if they protest too much, I simply ask which of the tasks I currently do for them they would like me to stop doing. Laundry? Meals? Hey, anything they pick is fine with me. Usually this is best delivered while you're either involved in something like washing dishes or, at the other end of the spectrum, kicking back and reading a book or something. The key is to deliver it in the most offhand way possible. "Yup, got it, so just lemme know what job you're going to pick up that I now do for you. I'm happy with anything less on my plate." They usually balk at this and opt instead to do the new 5 minute chore.

I am also pretty clear, as a single mom to two privileged white boys, that my agenda is explicitly feminist/anti-patriarchy. Men who will not contribute to the practical, daily, thankless running of a functional home have learned a helplessness that assumes women will devalue their own time and energy, and there is no excuse for that. They cannot call themselves feminist men and shirk this reasponsibility. (For my middle schooler and tweener, this actually matters.)
posted by cocoagirl at 1:34 PM on July 4 [79 favorites]


My knee-jerk response is that I'm pretty appalled and disappointed that they believe chores are somehow debatable, like this is a basic part of being someone who is growing from child to adult and participating in the family.

So, I would not look for arguments or debate it with them.

I would tell them point blank that I am appalled and disappointed in their attitude and beliefs and that I am seriously rethinking where as a family we have gone off course that they don't believe they should have to contribute. I would say that it makes me feel like they are on a course to become lazy, entitled men. I wouldn't say this angrily, but I would say it from my heart.

Then I would walk away and let them sit with the shame of it. If that didn't work I guess I would apply some of the other strike-like principles in the "How to Talk..." way like "Gosh, I would love to take you to soccer practice but unfortunately I have to do chores." Again, tone here is calm but real. It's true. You have X minutes in the day and you have to prioritize. They've deprioritized helping you.

I grew up in a family that was crazy mean about chores, so I get why you are where you're at, but your kids are being jerks here and need to contribute. Not just because it's part of a family but because they need something to be responsible for, as they get older.
posted by warriorqueen at 1:34 PM on July 4 [45 favorites]


What's negotiable: "Oh my god, parental unit, do you have to use every pot and pan when I'm doing the dishes?"
What isn't: "I have to study so tonight is bologna sandwiches... again." No, you have chosen washing dishes night, because dude! Really?

Payment is: offspring will not gain 15 pounds after high school because of a steady diet of fast food, will not freak out about the cost of bald tires (rotate those tires!), and meanwhile learn other general adult responsibilities.

Expect to find your children are earning their juris doctorate degree on this: "Parental unit, I'd love to make this recipe I bought all the ingredients for but we don't have the exact type of rice steamer -- bologna sandwiches?"
"No... parent's choice for your chicken and rice, because you do it so well. I'll swing by and get a rotisserie chicken at the grocery store while you get the rice started."

Maybe money can go into an account (save for a car down payment). But pay-per-chore only works if the offspring are money-oriented. Otherwise, Chill Offspring will be paying Banker Offspring to do their laundry, and that's not the point. Or there will be arguments and finger-pointing and no chores done (unless parental unit breaks down and does it "the right way") which is again, not the point.

And... things will be rocky. Don't correct their mistakes. Don't take over and do it "the right way." Laugh and learn.
And keep bologna handy, just in case.
posted by TrishaU at 1:41 PM on July 4 [1 favorite]


We’ve had pretty good luck with changing the framing from “you need to do this” to “7-8pm (or whatever) is Family Chore Time and everyone in the family needs to be doing a house thing.” My kid finds solo chores very lonely.

Alternatively you could have it be something that expands on “taking care of yourself” that you then drop off your to do list, like laundry, which obviates a lot of the “but what’s in it for me” counter-arguments. The only downside is truly staying calm when they leave the house filthy. :)

Or, you frame it as “only small children have no chores. If you don’t think you can be trusted with these tasks I can’t trust you with [cool big kid thing they’ve recently started doing].”
posted by tchemgrrl at 1:48 PM on July 4 [24 favorites]


One of the hardest parts of parenting is the urge to treat every idea and opinion as equally important/valid/worthy. But, honestly, they're just not. I understand you want a discussion, and that's good. Bet the discussion can be about your ideas on the situation, you don't have indulge their laziness. The reality of the situation is, your kids are being selfish, ungrateful, unreasonable, and detrimental to their development. But they're at the age when this is normal and expected, and not a flaw of their character. Its your job as a parent to make sure their juvenile traits don't carry on past the age where it's acceptable. I would not use those words with them, obviously, but it does need to be laid out that the behavior they're trying to hold onto is ugly, and they're capable, and should take pride in accomplishments through labor. (again, adjusted for the level of a 10 year old)

this is coming from someone who grew up in a house where, as a female and a child, my opinion or say on anything was unwanted. My father was very much "children should be seen and not heard". At the age of your youngest (maybe somewhere between the two), my sister and I were the only ones to wash dishes in the house (except for an occasional night where an adult would do them). At that age I also did all of my laundry, vacuumed, mopped, dusted, and soon after was responsible for my own meals except dinner. So I am very, very aware and perhaps sensitive to the fact that chores can be used as a vehicle for abuse and belittlement. But i still do not think that treating their opinion on how this should work as valid as much as yours is a good idea.
posted by FirstMateKate at 2:02 PM on July 4 [8 favorites]


They may think doing household chores is demeaning and inconsistent with the kind of masculinity they aspire to.

I did nothing around the house up until I left for college, and my mother used to tell me that my wife would hate her, but what really happened was that the first girlfriend I lived with was very, very unhappy with me -- until I learned, painfully and rather haltingly, to pull a bit more of my weight.

Tell them they're going to have trouble holding onto any partner they might really want unless they're prepared to do their full share of housework.
posted by jamjam at 2:05 PM on July 4 [5 favorites]


You're old enough to take some responsibility.
It's not optional; this is a requirement; we are a family and you will be expected to pitch in.

posted by theora55 at 2:08 PM on July 4 [9 favorites]


Honestly, regarding the kid who thinks that being given more responsibility for the same pay (allowance) is a raw deal -- he's not wrong. That's something that practically all of us adults would complain about, too, albeit not when it comes to chores in particular.

Why not say that you're giving the kids a raise in response to their higher level of responsibility (it can even be a % change from what they're already getting if you want to make this as realistic as possible -- a 10% raise, say). But that they are going to need to adhere to the higher level of responsibility in order to keep their raise (aka or else they will face demotion).

Just be aware that with that one kid, a wildcat strike and collective action may eventually be on the horizon!
posted by rue72 at 2:12 PM on July 4 [1 favorite]


One thing that could help is the old standby illusion of choice. Work with them to write down a list of chores that they could do that have about the same level of difficulty, or maybe a set of low annoyance and a set of high annoyance chores, and be like "you get to choose one of these every other day. When you get it done, you get to cross it off" (or in the case of low annoyance, bump that to two). If lifestyle changes occur you can add or remove things from this list. Then siblings can self-sort into the tasks they prefer to do (or hate the least) and have some variety, but they're still doing more chores overall. I know that when I was a horrible tween, I had such an extreme aversion to a perceived lack of choice that I practically grounded myself out of misguided protest. But when I was presented with options, even if both options sucked, I loved being able to pick.
posted by Mizu at 2:23 PM on July 4 [3 favorites]


I can see why it would seem like a huge change to them--from zero to responsibility one day, and how is today different from yesterday? This is one reason a lot of people start giving chores really young, even if they're only nominal and not that useful: to make the idea of pitching in seem natural.

Arguments I've used with mixed success:
"Parenting is about teaching you to be a good, healthy person, and a good, healthy person takes care of themselves and their environment."

"In a family, everyone gets things from the family that they need and does part of the work to take care of the family. Chores are part of the work of taking care of the family, and (allowance/rides places/buying you things/meals) are the things you get out of it. You're old enough to be able to put in instead of just take out."

Chores generally are added at the same time every year--birthday and beginning of summer (when free time changes). On birthdays, my son gets a raise in his allowance, a little time added to his bedtime (usually extra time to read in his room at night) and a new set of chores. He doesn't get his allowance if he doesn't do his chores, OR if he whines about them (after one whining warning per week). He does not have to remember to do them, though; I am happy to remind him.

If you treat kids like equal members of the family in having a say but not equal members in having to pitch in, it makes sense that they think this is the way things should be. They have an idea of their lives that seems right to them; if you're going to change it, they're going to resist that, because there's nothing in the new system for them. Which might mean you just have to get authoritative.

This is one reason people start chores so young; so that the idea of having responsibilities seems normal. I understand why you didn't, coming from childhoods with too much work--my parents were like that, and I had very few chores growing up. I'm a terrible housekeeper and slacker, and I'm trying really hard to do better by my kid. But it's an uphill battle, because I'm fighting my own sloppy, why-bother nature, as well. Clamping down hard till they know how to take care of themselves is a huge gift you're giving them, believe me!
posted by gideonfrog at 2:43 PM on July 4 [9 favorites]


My first roommate had almost no life skills- she didn't know how to do laundry, use a stove, or do dishes. She had never been shown how to clean properly (didn't even know how to sweep and mop!), and it was no fun to have to teach another adult how to do stuff I'd been responsible for since I was a kid. Tell your kids that it won't just be romantic partners who are irritated and resentful...it will be their peers too.

One way to make chores seem more fair is to use a chore wheel for everyone in the family. These are great for visual learners, and there is something kind of exciting about seeing what everyone in the house has to do. Your kids will get to see all of the chores that need to be done in the household, helping them understand what it takes to make a household function (and they will see all the stuff you've been doing that they aren't even aware of). Your kids will learn to do all of the chores and get practice doing them somewhat regularly, and everyone will have to do some of the less desirable chores occasionally. One house I lived in allowed chore trading, so that folks could trade with one another to do the chores they preferred. After they learn how to do all the chores, you could open it up to trading so they at least get to do chores they like if someone is willing to trade with them. But yeah, as many people have said above, it's a great and really important set of life skills to give your kids.
posted by ezrainch at 2:55 PM on July 4 [5 favorites]


As a reasoning point for why their responsibilities are now increasing, would it work to point out that their privileges (likely) increased also as they got older? As in, if you want the chore load of a five year old, then it also makes sense that you should be in bed at an earlier time, get food and dessert portions appropriate for a five year old, have the media consumption guidelines for a five year old, etc.? (My god, this is the most painfully mundane parenting version of "with great power comes great responsibility" isn't it.)
posted by BlueBlueElectricBlue at 3:41 PM on July 4 [7 favorites]


Sounds like people have covered this but plus one for this isn't a discussion or debate, it's what human beings do in a family.
posted by masquesoporfavor at 3:41 PM on July 4 [7 favorites]


The whole "everything is up for discussion in this family bc we're trying to be reasonable and give everyone a voice" thing fucked me up, personally. It took me well into adulthood, like we're talking 30s here, to understand that not only are there consequences for my actions but also for my inactions, and for my inability to be bothered accepting any kind of responsibility I didn't feel like dealing with. I was easily an order of magnitude more spoiled than your kids (like lifelong live-in help spoiled) but I think the point still stands because their arguments feel extremely familiar to me.

Anyway, at no point should you feel like you're being unreasonable to ask a fully abled child to clean their own room, or learn to do laundry, or complete the laughably simple task of removing clean dishes from the machine that magically cleans them for you at the press of a single button. Also, the lesson of "sometimes you just have to do tiresome shit you don't want to do, and trying to cleverly talk your way out of it makes you look like an immature asshole" is really important for their future lives as adults in college and in the workplace.
posted by poffin boffin at 4:06 PM on July 4 [36 favorites]


There are lots of great suggestions in this thread! Two things that work well in our house are: 1) doing chores at the same time (this visually drives home the point that chores are everyone's responsibility, as part of the family), and 2) first the crappy stuff then the fun stuff. You want to go to the park/hang out with your friend/go to a movie? Sure thing, but you've got these chores to do quickly first.

I agree with all the comments above about the need for kids to be functional members of a household, and that it's fine to present chores as non-negotiable (but choice in what chores they do can be helpful). Once your kids get started it will become part of the new routine, and they will be way better off as adults for it!
posted by DTMFA at 4:21 PM on July 4 [1 favorite]


You said you broached the subject as an 'ask'? Yeah, no, you are the parent, it's your role to set boundaries. This is not an 'ask', this is a 'tell' situation.
posted by sexyrobot at 4:47 PM on July 4 [8 favorites]


Honestly, regarding the kid who thinks that being given more responsibility for the same pay (allowance) is a raw deal

I think it's a grave error to treat allowance as "pay" for chores. Chores are something you do because you care about the family and have the basic self-respect that demands that you pull your own weight, not because you're getting "paid" for it. Mom and Dad aren't getting paid for the work they do for the household, after all. Also, on a practical level, a kid may turn out willing to trade allowance for sitting-around time, which is not a strategy that will serve him well once he's out of the house.

I, too, came from a house where chores were not handled well and served as a constant source of conflict, so I really do understand not wanting to be all authoritarian about them, but the fact is that, for now: you are an authority figure. There are parts of family life that are not optional. The details may be (should be!) somewhat adjustable to fit schedules and preferences, but contributing to the household is not negotiable. You'll do your kids no favors letting them think otherwise.
posted by praemunire at 5:02 PM on July 4 [14 favorites]


Also I missed that they're both boys and honestly I think learning to do basic quality of life chores is approximately 10 billion times more vital for boys because despite what you try and teach them otherwise, virtually all of society will tell them all of their lives that it's women's work to be derided and ignored, and that all men are hardwired by nature to live in filth until a woman comes along to take care of it for them, and that's a terrible thing for them to learn. You can show them a curated selection of horrible askmes where wives or same gender partners are like "my husband doesn't know how to wipe his ass well enough not to get shit on our furniture" and be like IF YOU DON'T CLEAN YOUR ROOM THIS WILL BE YOU.
posted by poffin boffin at 5:06 PM on July 4 [51 favorites]


Not a parent, but my entire childhood (where i was doing my own laundry before my teens, etc) was “as you grow up, you get more freedom but you also get more responsibility”. If they want to do X thing they were too young for before, they have to do the dishes. No dishes, no X. Also, there’s the old standby of “if you don’t do your chores I take away the xbox”. Actions (or lack thereof) have consequences. It’s an important life lesson, but not one anyone is going to want to learn, especially in their (pre-)teenage years. You can’t negiotate that into kids. That’s why parents are parents.
posted by cgg at 5:54 PM on July 4 [1 favorite]


1. it is not fair to children to ask them to develop their own child-rearing theories of responsibility, reward and punishment. They are going to do a bad job of it and that's not their fault. they are not going to talk themselves into volunteeering to do chores, it isn't fair to expect them to. if it isn't clear to you in your own mind why they have to do things or how to articulate it, of course it isn't clear to them.

2. it's great to allow and reward intelligent debate in kids old enough to reason. but you're summarizing their positions as a)I don't want to and b) it's not fair. these are emotions, not arguments. I'm sure they're smart but they are not learning good debate skills because they apparently are able to stymie you without them. if this is way below their usual standard, is it possible they're making perfunctory pro forma arguments on purpose because they expect to be overruled?

3. if you really can't think of a convincing reason why they should do chores, you'll have to pull out the old Because we're the parents, that's why. but if you do that, you have to come clean and be very transparent about it, along with an apology. you want them to act more like adults, treat them that way. which means don't let them run things, but rather expect them to deal with you changing your mind and admitting/correcting your mistakes.

when you as a kid say "but you ALWAYS used to let us" and your parent says "yes we did, that's true, and we were wrong to have always done that. we apologize. it was bad for you, we shouldn't have done it, and it stops now. You're entitled to be angry and resentful, because we led you to expect something unrealistic. but you still have to do as we say because we as parents are broadly responsible for you, for developing your practical household skills and inculcating in you a sense of responsibility. that's the law and that's also what we believe"-- that's real hard to precocious-child-lawyer your way out of and I bet they can't do it.

but they will resent it. you have to not mind that as long as they do the chores.

4. no matter what, it's not fair for the older one to get 13 years of low/no responsibility and the other one to only get 10. there has to be a clear demarcation between the responsibilities of a teen and those of a little kid, even if it's inconvenient for the younger one to get just as long of a free-ride childhood as the older one did. he deserves it, the "it's not fair" argument is actually valid in this case.

wily parents in old-timey books would use this age difference to manipulate the indignant younger one into demanding more and more responsibility to prove he's just as grown-up and capable as his big brother. will this work in real life? probably not but give it a shot. and everything they do should come with increasing privileges and freedom, either as informal payment or just because they're growing up. there should be plenty of age-appropriate nice things they don't have already.
posted by queenofbithynia at 6:03 PM on July 4 [12 favorites]


Adding my voice to the chorus of those suggesting that reasoned discussion on this topic should pretty much begin and end with the observation that "You have legs, they're not painted on. Sweep."
posted by flabdablet at 10:17 PM on July 4 [4 favorites]


My mom always used, "do you think *I* want to do housework?" Not wanting to isn't a viable excuse.
posted by bendy at 11:00 PM on July 4 [8 favorites]


I haven't read all the comments, but I think describing it as "how you grow up" might be helpful. Kids want to grow up!
posted by rhizome at 11:40 PM on July 4 [1 favorite]


Tell them they're going to have trouble holding onto any partner they might really want unless they're prepared to do their full share of housework.

I think some other answers mention a variation of this sentiment, and it feels a bit weird to me, as it suggests getting a partner is a natural and desirable milestone of adulthood. Not everyone thinks so. Maybe your kid doesn't care about it and goes "so what" (and comes to the conclusion that being single is great because you can just live in filth). Maybe your kid is queer and won't be able to date/live with a partner like society tells them they should. In both cases, the whole "getting a partner is a WHEN thing" message is already being hammered into them by society and the media, so they don't need their parents to reinforce it, because it's not true.

And it's not like you only need to do housework when you're in a relationship – it's actually the opposite. If you live alone, you don't have anyone to trade the unwanted chores with.
posted by Vesihiisi at 12:11 AM on July 5 [10 favorites]


Maybe you need to throw back to preschool rules with a similar parenting style. Which means natural consequences. If they're not pitching in, stuff they want from you won't get done because you need to spend your time doing their chores. No ride to x place. No time to pick up special treat at store for them. Your natural consequence of them not helping is less time, but as a parent you need to make it their natural consequence. This is simulating adulthood where you have to do all the things (maybe with a partner/kid help) or you just don't have them.
posted by Kalmya at 4:19 AM on July 5


This is bringing back some guilt over the way I acted as a kid when my mom tried to get me do more. What would have hit home to me was that I wasn't a little kid anymore. When you're a baby or a small child, your parents have to do more because you can't. Being expected to pitch in and do more as you get older teaches you how to live on your own. If you move out and all you know how to do is microwave a hotdog or you throw a new red shirt in with white clothes and turn everything pink, life is going to be less pleasant.

It also isn't fair for an older kid to expect their parents to treat them the same way they would a younger kid. They benefit from having meals, clean clothes and a clean house and all that takes work. They benefit from all that work and they need to help out more as they're able to do more. It would be self centered to expect someone else to always do all the work to take care of them. Helping each other take care of where you live is part of being a family.
posted by stray thoughts at 4:22 AM on July 5 [3 favorites]


Its like you quoted my daughter... she's 12, still trying to get me to pay her for anything she does around the apartment, and / or negotiates and delays as much as possible - mostly hoping I just break down and do the chore myself.

In my better days, I think its all about consistently asserting the importance and need that the kids do the chores. Just focus for the 5-10 minutes it takes to get them to begin their chores. Remind them it won't take all day, but they must do it, and complete the task, and if you have to, watch them do it and verbally walk them through it. Don't let them slough it off, don't let them negotiate anything about it - like, no trading dishes for cat litter or whatever. Just have a list, and every single day be on them about doing it.

My experience has been its about practice, not convincing.
posted by RajahKing at 7:58 AM on July 5 [1 favorite]


My mom and I had this argument when I was around that age (more than once, probably) and some of the things she said while holding the line actually made a huge impact on me and my view/understanding of justice. Things like:

"Well, it's not like I'm doing it for fun either. I don't get some great joy from washing dishes!" (A line I later used on a college boyfriend to good effect.)
"'No one pays me, either. These are things that need to be done because you are a person living in a society."
"It has to get done, and you live in this household so you have a share to do too."

A somewhat ticked off tone helped, in part because it was so uncommon and made me actually *realize* I was being a jerk. I'd also tell your kids something like, "no one is entitled to have someone else do their chores for them. We take care of babies and little children because they can't take care of themselves, but adults take care of themselves." And maybe tell them they're sounding like assholes.

And think about what sort of models they're seeing, make sure both parents are visibly contributing too. Sounds like you're on the same page from all the "we" but this might be an area where Dad has more influence than Mom would.
posted by Lady Li at 8:59 AM on July 5 [8 favorites]


So, I will go against the grain here and say that you are being unfair and your boys have a stronger argument than you do at this point. This is not to say that you can't turn it around in your favor.
While your arguments are sound in principle, you have made the mistake of not preparing for this. The changes you are proposing are due to a change in your opinion and not a change in reality or circumstances. The extra work your boys are now expected to do are not because of the valid reasons they should be doing these chores, but purely on your whim.
The reason this is unfair to change for them now, is that if your reasoning for them doing chores were valid (which of course they are) you should have introduced these changes 3 years ago. If a 10 year old is expected to help with the housework, then your 13 year old should have been helping for the last 3 years. The real truth is that apparently now 13 year olds are expected to help in your household, so logic would dictate that your 10 year old has another 3 years of leisure before he should be expected to do anything above what he or your older son has been expected to do up until this point.
To bring this back in line with your new expectations, you will have to make this seem fair to them. You are presumably giving them money on a regular basis, and presumably they do some tasks around the house. Your best bet is to quantify these so they can see the direct connection between their chores. make it look like not so much a change in the game but a new way of keeping score of the same game they have been playing.
A good way to divide up the chores would be to assign points to each task based on the level of difficulty/time. A minimum number or points would be needed to get their allowance, and perhaps you could even have a bonus level where they would get a little extra. If the compensation will be the same for both boys, you could set their points level the same, or could give a bit of a break to the younger one, stepping up each year . For example, the younger one might need 20 points per week to trigger the allowance, while the other needs 30, while next year they step up to 25 and 35. Or the compensation could be different.
I think it is important shy away from punishments like not driving them to events or to go on strike from laundry. Part of what you say you want to do is to develop their social skills and sense of social responsibility, and reducing these activities this would also be unfair to them.
posted by Short End Of A Wishbone at 9:56 AM on July 5 [1 favorite]


Reading through the comments, I'm kind of surprised at family economies so I thought I would share a bit more about our.

The idea that if Child A didn't have chores at 10, Child B shouldn't certainly has some merit. But that's not how our family approaches "things that need to be done." Because things change a lot in a family, all the time. As an example, my youngest son is talented at a sport that my oldest didn't get to do. My oldest likes art a lot. So they both participate in different activities, but commitment to a team sport is a lot more involved than dropping my child off at pottery once a month. On the other hand Sculpey is expensive. But am I going to say "we never drove your brother to practice 3 times a week so I'm not driving you?" No...we might say "gosh with Grandpa having cancer this season we can't do it" or something but...basically we take each year as it comes and work as a team to make things happen.

So in our family, a chores discussion definitely does take age into account in that as you get older you should be doing some more and the chores might be more complex. But everyone helps all the time, and if we have fallen down on everyone helping then we just...ask for more help. So in our family it would be okay to say yo, this summer is crazy, I need way more help in the yard. And then we would all help more in the yard. Either through a to-do list or a "two hours in the yard, go!" approach.

We don't pay for that although sometimes if I have a more onerous or esoteric task like washing all the walls or pulling up bricks I will pay for that. We do supply allowance separate from chores, as a part of sharing the family economic resources.

Anyways just more thought for you OP.
posted by warriorqueen at 10:24 AM on July 5 [2 favorites]


OP, we probably have similar parenting styles, in that we also explicitly value our kids' abilities to contribute to decisions, voice concerns, and make arguments if they disagree. There are two guiding principals we use for this:

1. There are some things you'll always have complete say in (like who can hug you), and some things you'll never have say in (firetrucks are cool, but we can't own one, no). And then there is a group of things they do have input for, and that increases with age because:

2. With great power comes great responsibility, and with great responsibility comes great freedom.

They have a right as future adults and citizens to voice displeasure with a decision; as current adults, our say is final. But they also have a right to help make decisions and come up with plans, and we want to hear it: the more say they have, the more responsibility that entails, because when you make a choice you have to think about its effects.

So, for example, the 4yo is responsible for putting his dirty laundry in a basket, but thereafter clean clothes magically appear for him. The 8yo is responsible for putting that basket into the washer and then the dryer, because he's a big kid and can contribute. I am responsible for helping notice when that needs to go into the wash and remind him about the dryer, and for taking the clean clothes and organizing and folding and putting it back in their drawers, because as an adult my contribution is largest. On the flip side: the 4yo can choose what to wear out of a pre-selected range of seasonally appropriate clothes. The 8yo gets to choose what his clothes are to begin with; we give him a budget and if he wants all his shirts to have dinosaur astronauts that is 100% cool.

That decision and responsibility bubble increase with age of course - and it works both ways. You also get more power with more responsibility, and I think that's really important for kids to hear, because it seems more fair to them, and kids have so little power to begin with. I think if we push hard on "because you're older, you need to do X" rather than "because you're older and get to do Y, I also need you to do X", the more likely they are to resist - in the same way that "You need to do X because we need help" gets more understanding than "You need to do X because I say so." (Although obviously I have snapped "you need socks because it is WINTER and you will get FROSTBITE and I SAID SO" more than once in my life.)

I think it's great that you've given them so much space to contribute, and expected self-care chores before. It's obviously not great that they have dug in their heels on doing more, but a wild laughter of "hahaha NO" is 100% understandable, but if the parenting banhammer seems a little too strict and out-of-character, as it were, I'd bring them together for another discussion with a lot of transparency of:

"Guys, I messed up. It's really important that we all help each other, and I haven't stressed that enough to you before. So I totally understand if you feel like this is coming out of the blue. It is a change, and we recognize that.

"But that doesn't mean the change can't happen. I've been letting you down by taking on too much, and not giving you the opportunity to learn more. That's not fair to you and it's not fair to us adults, because we can't do all things at all time. I don't enjoy washing the dishes either!

"So we need to all reconfigure the chore plan. We want to do that together as a team. What is NOT on the table is a refusal to contribute. What is on the table is a discussion about how you can contribute, what you'd prefer to do and what you really don't want, and what kind of rewards would be fair. You may not each end up with a list of only chores you like, but let's see what can happen."

(In this perfect scenario they then thank you for being such a wise parental figure and get you a bowl of ice-cream to make up for their past arguments etc etc lolol. But I actually think this kind of transparency goes really far.)

I mentioned rewards above - I'm not saying you have to increase their allowance. (I do get why they asked for a 'raise' if allowance has been tied to chores previously, that's reasonable, but it doesn't mean you're obligated to give them dinner AND money for helping clean up the dinner.)

Rather, I'm thinking about the natural consequences of helping more (and helping less). I think sometimes we adults are pretty free with rewarding ourselves for doing stuff - like, we have an hour deep cleaning the kitchen, so let's just binge on Netflix after. Or it's been a tough week, so we pick up a chocolate bar. That kind of delayed gratification is really rewarding and motivational! But we don't always apply it to kids: the reward for sweeping is less adult-grumbling, or a sticker when they also get stickers for using the bathroom, or we feel like we rewarded them by driving them to a movie a few days later but to them this is just a random stroke of luck.

Tying effort into results is really satisfying, and that includes extra bonus results from time to time. I mean yes, in a perfect world, we would all Do Things because they Have to Get Done and then eat our oatmeal and smile grimly at our perseverance. And yes, kids don't need praise and treats every time they pick up their own dang socks off the ground. But if you kiddos need to step up, even if it is currently from a place of deficiency, is there any reflection of that greater responsibility that would mean something to them? If they are helping prep dinner, does that mean they get to choose what it is? If they are in charge of vacuuming, does that mean they can sprawl out their stuff - since they're the one cleaning it anyway? If they are "giving up" some of that previous summer break, well, are their activities or events you've already covered or are going to do to point to?

The idea of what kids are owed is really intangible, beyond the basics, and as an adults we're torn between giving them everything they want and teaching them they can't have everything they want and really not being able to give them everything they want and working on our own past demons. A movie might obviously count as a special treat, but does soccer practice? Pretzels as well as apples from the grocery store? Is the way we see those things match up with their perceptions? Because we have to teach kids we're there for them but that we're also not regenerative giving trees. Right now it sounds like their in child-typical giving tree mode, and you need to get them to contribute more, and of course they're going to whine about having to do it. But maybe try one more time bringing them to the table, instead of having to drag them there. You will if you have to, of course, but right now you're hurt because you've assumed you wouldn't have to drag - because you thought they knew how important family life was and how it important it was we all do our part. You've assumed that because their good kids, of course, but also because you thought they were mature enough to understand, and maybe if they actually aren't, well - if they can't contribute as a mature person, they also don't get to offer the input and compromises of one. Maybe just being aware of that is enough to get them at the table.
posted by hapaxes.legomenon at 12:08 PM on July 5 [5 favorites]


We're very clear in my household that chores are because you're part of the household and allowance is because you have a right to money (that is, there will be no payment for chores).

Usually when kid gets older we present new chores/responsibilities in combination with new independence. Something like: Now that you're in X grade, you can walk to a friend's house on your own/stay up 30 minutes later/have more control over how you spend your time, and you will also be doing your own laundry/setting the table/mowing the lawn. It tends to both soften the blow and give them a sense of pride in maturing.
posted by tangosnail at 1:05 PM on July 5 [7 favorites]


You don't want to do chores? Pay rent, and pay mom&dad for their labour.

I think this transactional, confrontational approach is a really bad idea. It sure messed me up as a kid. As an adult, I rarely clean because no one (ie my mom) is making me do it, and it's a big load of anxiety off to realize that I can have my house as messy as I want it without being punished by the threat of withdrawing care.

Maybe your kids are like this too. As a teenager I would have taken to an argument about how I was learning skills that were needed/would be needed later in life. I also would have taken to a chore chart and an argument about how everyone was pitching in to make the house run smoothly.

I also would have taken to less micromanagement. Not saying that you do this, but their arguments sound a lot like me as a teen trying to tell my mom, "I don't want to do more chores because you nag me forever about it and then tell me I did it wrong."
posted by chainsofreedom at 3:57 PM on July 5 [3 favorites]


I remember my parents getting a hell of a lot of buy-in from me when they threatened to take away my access to the car + free gas. This was more in the 16-18 year old range, but it was very effective. What's the equivalent for 10-13 year olds? TV? Video games? Let them buy their luxuries with their labour - just like real life!
posted by cranberrymonger at 11:29 AM on July 6 [2 favorites]


In my home growing up, this would have turned into a "family meeting", which took on more weight and seriousness than a typical conversation, and that was meaningful because we could be pretty jokey and casual most of the time. "family meetings" meant we were discussing serious business to be resolved as a family and, hopefully, bring us a little closer to each other.

In your shoes hypothetically, I would try to treat this an opportunity to discuss my and my partner's shared personal values that extend to the household we're raising. I'd want to go a bit deeper, and make sure the how and why of my personal philosophy comes across. Most reasonable people speaking will generally agree that learning skills and pitching in are good things in the abstract. But that's a hard sell for some young'uns, and can feel difficult to feel directly applicable or meaningful to them in their lives.

If your sons are good boys, they are protesting not on the merit of whether it's worthwhile or not for them to contribute more, but more just that they don't want to unless you give them concrete and compelling reasons and would rather push back to see if they can get away with it, because that's what kids do. Sharing deeply held values and beliefs, and asking them to join you in walking the walk, is, or at least can be, a compelling reason for thoughtful children. Kids that age are immature and potentially rebellious, and are at a critical point in forming their own values and identities. At the same time, they probably do still want and seek your approval and affection. Ultimately, they don't want to let you down. They want to be guided, and know what the safe boundaries are.

I'd want to relay to them something along the lines of "this is who we are, and who we are is demonstrated by what we do and how we lead our lives. We are responsible people who look after ourselves and our property. We care about each other and take care of each other, and help each other out as needed. We pitch in, because we are able and competent, and doing this work allows for easier, happier days for everyone collectively. We don't take what we have, or each other, for granted." This won't work on all kids, for sure, but it may work with your sons if you have an otherwise thoughtful relationship and good communication, which sounds like you do.

This approach lends itself less to pure logic, arguments, and debates, and instead an invitation to a deeper intimacy and thoughtfulness that I'd want to foster in my family relationships. After spelling out my reasons, I'd invite them to walk through the consequences of their decisions, and encourage empathy. Ask them questions like "how do you imagine I feel when I'm ____ (driving, organizing, painting their bedrooms, etc.), and you get to enjoy all these fun and nice things, and then don't want to help me with 10 minutes of ___? That's 10 more minutes of ___ I need to do. I'm your parent, but I'm a person, too. I enjoy having time for my hobbies just like you do. If we all do our part and help out, we help make all of us gets some time for our hobbies."

If they are smarties they'll probably point out where you're fallible and a hypocrite, and that's great! Tell them they are right, and that we all have room to improve. Talk through how you plan to be better and ask for their input.

tl;dr: They are young, but not that young. Make it less about "this is what generally responsible people do" and make it more about "this is what we do, and here's why." Then ask if they still have concrete reasons they feel they are entitled to leave work for others to do for them. If not, ask them what they would feel good doing and what are ways they feel they can contribute that demonstrates their personal values. I believe children that age can handle a real discussion that builds empathy and squashes entitled behavior.

Caveat: I don't have sons, but I was once a lazy child!
posted by Goblin Barbarian at 10:49 PM on July 9 [1 favorite]


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