When Is a Chore Not a Chore?

Dear Mr. Dad: What is the deal with chores? I did them, my parents did them, and so did my grandparents. I don’t have children of my own, but I’ve noticed that very few of my friends’ kids seem to have any chores or responsibilities at all. What is going on?

A: When I was young, chores were something that contributed to the good of the family, and every kid I knew did them (according to a recent poll done by Whirlpool earlier this year, 82% of American adults did chores when they were growing up). But today, the word “chore” has taken on a completely different—and completely absurd—meaning. In a lot of cases, it has no meaning at all. According to that same Whirlpool poll, only 28% of parents say they assign to their children the same chores they did when they were young.
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Increasing Responsibility through Smart Motivation

Dear Mr. Dad: Our teenage son doesn’t want to do any chores around the house. He never actually refuses to do anything, but he always seems to “forget” what we asked him to do unless we stand over him and make sure it gets done. Is he actively rebelling or is there something wrong with him—or us?

A: Most teens don’t have any trouble remembering things they want to do—texting, playing Xbox, getting on Facebook, or calling their friends. But as you’ve noticed, when it comes to doing things they don’t want to do (chores, for example) their attention spans are suspiciously short.

Chances are he’s not rebelling: Not playing by society’s (or your) seemingly irrational rules is a natural part of adolescence. And chances are there’s nothing wrong with him or you. The problem, or at least part of it, may have more to do with the way you’re asking.

For example, kids who are nagged are generally less likely to do chores than kids who are correctly motivated (we’ll talk about what that means below). If you stand over your teen to make sure he does his chores correctly, you’re setting up a situation where he’ll never do his chores any other way. After all, in his mind, if you have nothing better to do than to lecture and criticize, why couldn’t you just do it yourself?

The real issue here is motivation. And the challenge is to transform your son’s chores from something he has to do (but doesn’t want to) into something he wants to do (or at least will do without being nagged). There are a number of ways to do this:

  • Pay him. This one’s a bit controversial. A lot of parents believe that kids shouldn’t be paid for doing basic chores. You don’t get paid for making dinner or shopping or doing laundry, right? But there’s no question that money can be a motivating force. If it fits within your family values, consider paying him for the work he does around the house.
  • Don’t expect perfect. If the first thing out of your mouth after your son finishes doing the dishes or cutting the grass is a criticism about how he should have done it or that he didn’t do it fast enough, you’re contributing to the problem. Expecting perfection is the fastest way to de-motivate your teen. If you can’t restrain yourself from saying something about the job, at least make it constructive and positive, not negative.
  • Don’t expect smiles. Give him a list of chores he’s supposed to do and a time frame to get them done and leave him alone. The dishes will be just as clean and the grass just as short whether he smiled while he did them or not.
  • Say “Thanks.” The easiest way to motivate your teen is a simple, heartfelt thank you. This tells him not only that you acknowledge that he’s helping, but also that you appreciate his effort, even if the job wasn’t done exactly perfectly.
  • Pull your own weight. Your goal is to get your son do his chores, but teens in families where everyone helps out are far more likely to pitch in (sometimes even smiling). If you come home from work and flop on the couch, but you expect your son do his work, good luck. That’ll definitely feed his view that you treat him like a slave. Of course he’s conveniently overlooking that you’ve out earning money all day, but that’s exactly what it feels like from his perspective.

Coming Up With Your Own Child Support Plan

My ex and I are getting a divorce. We get along pretty well and we don’t want to spend a bunch of money that we could otherwise use to raise our children haggling about child support in court. Can we come up with our own agreement, rather than getting attorneys and a judge involved?

If you and your ex are on pretty civil terms, in most states you can write your own child support agreement. As long as the needs of the children are being met, the courts will approve pretty much anything the two of you come up with. And since no one knows your kids, their needs, and your own individual financial situations better than you and your ex, your agreement will undoubtedly be a lot more reasonable for everyone.
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Sharing Childearing

I’ve got a pretty flexible schedule at work and I’d really like to share the childcare equally with my wife. She seems so good at it, though, that I’m not sure I can ever catch up. Is there anything I can do to learn this parenting thing and feel like a competent dad?

Many of us-men as well as women-simply assume that women know more about kids than men. On average, women do spend more time taking care of children than men do, and their skills may be a little sharper than ours. But parenting skills are not innate-they’re learned on the job, through experience and training. If you’re willing to put in the time and effort, you’ll be able to have an active, involved relationships with your children.
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