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Assigned Chores vs Consistent Chores - Which is Better?

I was being interviewed for a potential new job recently, and the person conducting the interview (via Zoom) started off by describing the role as one where “…you can expect to wear a lot of hats. Do you have any experience with that?”

Naturally, I suggested that motherhood is but one example of my experience wearing lots of hats, and received sort of a bemused huff in reply, as if that wasn’t a valid example or response.

I don’t think I’ll get that job, but I did walk away from it thinking to myself: you’re not wrong, moms really do wear lots of hats!

A woman wearing lots of hats.
So Many Hats, So Little Time!

Today, moms play a lot of roles around the house, including ‘traditional’ ones like caretaker, nurse, cook, therapist, teacher, etc. But nowadays, we’re also accountants, tech support, teacher, security officer, gardener, soccer coach, Uber-driver, and a dozen other jobs as required due to our modern, urbanized and tech-driven society.

And all that is on top of the fact that the majority of moms in the US also have at least a part-time job if not a full-blown professional career.

Multi-tasking just comes with the territory now. Not that it didn’t back when we were kids, our moms had a lot going on then, too, but it does feel like the number of hats has increased and expectations are that we’re going to be at least competent at all of them.

Over time as kids get older and develop a capacity where they can actually do things other than poop, drool and look cute in Facebook photos, we have the blessing and curse of having extra sets of hands to ‘help’ with some of these things. Kids can carry a grocery bag in, they can make their own beds, they can help dry dishes, and they can troubleshoot-IT casting the tablet to the SmartTV better than we can by about age 6.

But then we have an additional burden…it’s often ‘faster’ to simply do a chore yourself rather than to take the time to delegate it and teach little Timmy or Tina how to do it properly. From the perspective of overall long-term productivity for chores, taking the time upfront to engage and deploy your resources is wise. But teaching + doing is much more time-consuming in the moment.

So, you have to be selective.

There is also the ‘trap’ of the idea of ‘chores’ as one-off events vs an ongoing process. Let’s take doing the dishes as a good example.

Whether it’s countertop wash and dry or you have the latest Bosch 500 Dishwasher in stainless steel, someone has to do it. Generally, the two schools of thought are:

1. As dishes get used, stack them in the sink or next to the sink, and then someone can do them when it is their assigned time or there is a ‘full load’ of dishes to do.

2. As dishes get used, each person can wash & dry them instead of just stacking the dirty dish in the sink, or they can at least rinse and put into the dishwasher.

Both methods have pros and cons. I’ve found that the chore actually tends to get done more consistently if it’s an assigned, one-time chore as opposed to ‘keeping it clean’ with each individual event. If I ask my little soldiers to clean the bathroom or do the dishes a couple of times a week, while they might whine about it a bit, they’ll usually do it. Whereas if I simply set expectations that they should clean each dish right after they use it, compliance is inconsistent and falls off over time, so habit reinforcement is required.

However, I still think teaching the ‘skill’ of keeping things tidy and clean on a never-ending and ongoing basis is better, as it helps to prepare them to go out into the ‘real world’ (e.g. college, job environment, their own couplehood and parenthood, etc.) with a different hat they can put on when called for. The stack of dishes that can grow in a freshman dorm room defies the laws of physics, but if little Timmy or Tina can lead them by habit and example, you’d be surprised how tidy they can actually keep it.

Dirty dishes around a sink.
An Average College Dorm Sink

“Many hands make light work,” was something I heard from my elders growing up, not really knowing what that meant until I got a little older and started cleaning up after a family. So, my leaning is that teaching members of your household to ‘clean up after themselves’ works best most of the time. Still, it’s important to leave space for those instances when it’s not practical, such as when you’re hosting 15 7-8-year-olds for a birthday party and asking them to stack frosting-covered dishes in the sink is the best you can hope for.

Finally, there is a magical skill that some of us seem to develop whereby we can convince our kids that ‘chores’ are fun. One trick I learned from my mom was that when I do chores, I ensure that I appear to be happy, contented and pleased with the results of a job well done…yes, even if I have to fake it a bit from time to time. But attitude is everything. If you treat chores like an annoying burden, you’re teaching your impressionable youngsters that they are a negative. But if instead, chores seem pleasant, fun and productive, they just might pick up on that work ethic and not avoid them like the plague.

Not that many generations ago, American families had lots of kids out of logistical necessity: when we were an agrarian-centric society, more kids meant more farm hands for the animals and crops. While most of us aren’t farmers these days, that doesn’t mean our brood shouldn’t be expected to pitch in and provide labor toward the health and well-being of the household. The more you can make it a good-feeling habit rather than a burden, the more likely you are to get them to volunteer rather than having to nag and scold them into compliance.

You may have to wear a Maid’s bonnet occasionally, but that’s at least one hat the kids can share with you!

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