Monday, June 20, 2011

My Family is a Team: Unschooling and Chores

Lately I've been reading a lot about chores and how that might look in an unschooling family. Of course, like with any other aspect of living, chores will look different depending upon the home you are in. But in my home, it's like the one thing I feel like we are getting right. All of the time. The only thing that needs improvement is that we all need to do a better job of taking the dog outside to do her business. Otherwise, I feel like we are on target and I feel really good about the way in which my kids conduct themselves regarding chores. So what's my secret?

I'm glad you asked.

I just don't require anything of them. Just as I don't require anything of myself or my husband. They are asked to pitch in and help.
They are invited to join in when I'm doing a household chore.
They are thanked for the efforts they make but they are not paid (with one exception and I'll get to that in a moment).

A couple of years ago I wrote a post about Hunter's chores and how I used encouragement instead of praise to help motivate him. For the record, Hunter assigned himself the "chores" mentioned in this post.

Since leukemia, things have changed. We've evolved to a place where no one has self-assigned chores. We just all pitch in and get things done. Sometimes I'll mention to the group that I am tired but that the laundry needs to be done, the dishes need to be done, the floors need to be cleaned, etc. Could everyone pitch in a little and help me get the stuff done faster? I'm never met with any resistance. I don't demand that we do the work right then and there... interrupting a television show or a video game or a Lego building session. I just ask if we can do it eventually that day/afternoon. And we then move forward towards getting it done.

One night this week while I couldn't sleep I was reading some in the book Free Range Learning and I just happened to be reading the chapter about jobs and working. There was a lot of emphasis on worth and it even sited a study done that concluded that lifetime fulfillment, regardless of class or education, seemed to be predicted only by whether or not a child did jobs or chores while growing up. I feel strongly that there is a valid point to be taken from that tidbit of information. I even mentioned in the blog post I linked to earlier that when I was a kid I had a few chores but that I never felt they were of much value and I was not asked what chores I might like to take over. I just got to do the select few that I was told to do. The book seems to validate my feelings that a lack of true responsibility as a child (if I didn't feed the dog, my mom would, no one really noticed if I did or didn't) seemed to adversely affect my self-esteem and self-worth.

This leads me to my next point... I am learning so much about what makes Hunter tick. His contentment is completely contingent upon knowing that he is worthy and needed. This has always seemed to be the case for him but more so now since his illness (could be related to growing older or could be because he had been ripped from everything that seemed to give him purpose for so long and he's now trying to find his groove again). Last week I sat with his new counselor (that is still going really well, for the record) and told him about something that we had started trying at our house. Every week I have a few hours where I am trying to do some cooking or cleaning or blogging or whatever and there is a toddler interrupting me. Nonstop. With his constant climbing, escaping, terrorizing the dog, making bowls of cereal he doesn't plan to eat, peeing in the puppy's water bowl or whatever other annoying behavior that you can imagine that a toddler can do. Well, one day I said to Hunter, "If you will take care of Drayken while I finish cooking dinner, I will pay you $4.00 an hour. You can be paid $1.00 for every 15 minutes you care for him. I can pay you a maximum of $8.00 a week and if you are willing to work for free past two hours then I would appreciate that as well." Oh boy. He has embraced this offer. He is better with his brother than I am quite frankly. He gets him to eat when I cannot. He plays with him like a kid but he's old enough to keep a close eye out for his safety. But the best thing is that when he's "on duty" his acting out behavior disappears. It's like a switch is turned on and he's a happy, responsible, care free little man. I am so glad that I came up with this idea because not only am I getting some much needed help (and he knows that his help is genuinely needed and that I didn't just come up with this plan as some hair brained scheme to help him earn money or feel better about himself... he is truly helping out) but I am also more aware of what seems to be his heart issue. Now that I've told his counselor about what a difference this new responsibility seems to be making for him and his anger problems, I think we'll have a better chance of figuring out some coping mechanisms for not only him but the rest of the family as the weeks pass.

The new "job" seems to have sparked a desire to help out more and in different ways for both Hunter and Ronin. Out of the blue, my daughter sat down with me on the sofa the other day and said, "Mom, I know it's hard for you to do all of the things you need to do around the house. I'd like to start doing the mopping, laundry, and the dishes for you." Now, she already helps with those things from time to time but I believe she was saying that she wanted to take these jobs over entirely. We talked about the logistics of that and concluded that from now on, I'd remember to ask her if she'd like to be included whenever I was doing one of those chores. The very next day I'd already forgotten about it. I was up early doing laundry and when she got up she realized that I had not included her. She walked up to me, wrapped her little arms around my waist and said, "What part of the laundry can I help with right now?" We sorted, folded and put away two loads of laundry that morning.

Hunter has taken the responsibility for his brother a little further. He's started changing his diapers and getting him dressed in the mornings and at night before bed.

Hunter is never under any obligation to baby-sit. And Ronin is under no obligation to help with laundry or dishes. But it seems that the lack of obligation doesn't seem to have an affect on whether or not they will help. It almost seems like they are more anxious to help because they know that they can say no if they want to. Could this be? ;)

In conclusion, here are the tips that seem to have gotten us to where we are today when it comes to having helpful kids. I hope that these tips will help you OR at the very least get your wheels turning about how you can change your family's relationship with chores (if, in fact, things aren't going as well as you'd like them to at your house).

1. Do not require your children to perform chores under your personal rules. Allow children to choose how and when they will go about getting jobs done around the house. Maybe they like to work in short bursts throughout the week or perhaps they only want to help out with cleaning before their shower at night. Before setting any rules or guidelines, talk with them first.

2. Do let them know your expectations. I like to tell my children that we are a team and I expect everyone to pitch in on a regular basis. We talk about how it's only fair that everyone does a part of the work load. Certain members of my team require more patience from me and maybe even a bit more nudging and a few extra reminders. But I'm okay with that. They have to remind me to do things too!

3. Let team members pick their jobs. There is an unspoken rule around here that my husband changes the sheets on our bed. The bed he rarely sleeps in. Because changing the sheets is difficult for me and he can do it with such speed and precision. And because I hate doing it! Make sure your kids aren't expected to do a long list of chores that they hate. If there is a chore that everyone hates doing (taking out the compost comes to mind for my team) then take turns being miserable. Maybe there is a job that one of the kids would really like to try but you don't know because you never talked with him or her about it? Have a family meeting and ask questions. You might be surprised to learn that the dish washer you hate to unload could easily be turned over to one of the kids or each child might be happy to put away his or her own laundry.

4. Give genuine and authentic feedback. If little Bobby sprays the table and wipes it up and you fall all over yourself with gratitude, how will Big Bob feel when you react the same way to his mowing the lawn unasked? Children aren't stupid. They know when you are exaggerating and not being authentic. Let the feedback accurately reflect the job done. This will help the child build up a greater work ethic so that he or she is not working merely for your approval. And it will help you build a strong sense of trust between you and your children. Your kids will know that what you say is what you mean.

5. Ask for help with real jobs. Don't go around making up crap for the kids to do just so that they can "earn their keep". Kids are not stupid (see point number 4). Also, your child will know if the task he or she is doing is of genuine value. It's much better to allow your child to go about his or her business than to ask for help with a fake chore.

6. Do not compare your children to one another. Some kids will want to help out around the house more than others. My oldest son is much better about initiating housework than my daughter , the middle child I have a hard time remembering not to use that against her. She may not enjoy doing laundry like he does but she contributes to the house in other ways. And most of the time she is willing to do work, just maybe not as enthusiastically. This is not a character flaw. It's simply part of who she is and God made her that way.


Hunter decided that the rug needed to be vacuumed and so he
went ahead and did the sofa while he was at it.

Hunter and Ronin changing their brother's diaper and getting him ready for bed.

Even the toddler likes doing work around here.

I would love to hear about how chores and jobs are going in your home.

Do you have any tips that might help families run more smoothly when it comes to getting the jobs done?

Linking up at Unschool Mondays.

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