Awhile ago, I called my mom in a desperate, desperate moment.
The boys were wearing diapers over their heads. They kept poking each other in the stomach and talking like babies. (Toddler baby talk = the bane of my existence).
They were annoying the heck out of me, and I couldn’t get them to listen to a word I said.
MOM YOU HAVE TO HELP ME. THESE KIDS ARE BEING AWFUL. I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT TO DO WITH THEM.
“Oh, I was thinking about this, Jessica. They need some sandpaper. That’s what.”
SANDPAPER? (And I’m wondering if all those years of me sleep deprivation I’ve caused her with my random questions and worries has caused some serious mental damage.)
“Yes. Doesn’t Todd have any? I’m sure you have some in the garage. Go get them some sandpaper. Take them out on the porch, and just make them sand the porch, the whole thing. You guys should really redo that, anyways.”
It was almost as annoying as the baby talk, honestly. These children are nearly driving me to an early grave with their sinfulness, and this dear woman is suggesting that we need a porch makeover??
It took a few weeks of this, actually. Me: whining about their boredom, their misbehavior. And mom: “They need jobs!”
Finally one day I gave it a try. It was the day the boys had taken all the chairs out of the kitchen and partitioned in the living room in an apparent rendition of a Star Wars Episode No One Has Seen. They were arguing over who was the “controller” and hammering each other with the rails of said chairs.
I walked over, nonchalantly as I could, and ordered, Guys, I need you to help me wash these windows.
Of course they looked at me like I was Darth Vader himself, incarnate. But can I tell you, that the most magical, heavenly thing happened?
They DID wash the windows.
And furthermore, can I dare to admit what resulted a mere twenty minutes, 75 rags, and ten gallons of vinegar water later?
They were happy! Not happy like “I got that toy from Target, happy.” Like, genuinely, proud, calm, focused…well-behaved.
It was eerie.
Not one to draw unfounded conclusions, I tried it again with woodwork-washing. The same mystical transformation – from thumb-twiddling little hellions to smiling, peaceful human beings.
I have now performed this experiment daily, for the last few months, and I can assure you:
Work. They needed work.
I know what you’re thinking. I thought it, too.
“You cannot imagine the weeping and gnashing of teeth that will ensue when I try to make these children fold a dish towel.”
I hear you, friend, I hear you. The first time is the worst. They will act like you are ripping out all their their baby teeth with dental pliers. Push through. If you need to, read this.
“But it’s just so much easier for me to do it myself.” Amen, sista. Yes. Yes it is! But try it once. Watch them be occupied happily for thirty minutes, while you are all working. See their little faces when they’re done. Watch how the house transforms into a heavenly den of structure and order. You will never turn back.
If you are intrigued by this idea that your kids need less karate camps, fewer mom-orchestrated perfect Pinterest crafts, and more scrubbing the kitchen chairs, here is what you need to know to give chores for kids a try.
Remember our ancestors, and that you are not doing anything cruel and unusual by having your cherubs work. Two hundred years ago, for example, in early American colonies, children as young as three got up at 5 a.m…to work. They would feed the animals, weed the garden, wash the dishes, and then practice their knitting – not to make doilies for Grandma, but to support the family with clothes-making. They worked in the morning, worked in the afternoon, often late into the night. (source.) Nothing in the DNA in the species of “human” has changed since then. If the preschoolers then were capable of knitting all their sweaters, I am pretty sure ours can empty the trash cans without suffering severe mental anguish.
Don’t make up “kid jobs.” Let them actually help you. Man, did my life get easier when I learned this one. Previously, I tried to make all these little chore charts, mindful of the “age-appropriate, child-appropriate chores.” What a drain! Now, when I get that inkling that the kids need a job, I ask myself, “Self, what do I need done?” Usually Self can come up with 379 jobs that need done, so I pick the first one, and think of something they could do that would ACTUALLY be helpful to me. Am I making lunches? Have them get out ingredients. Washing dishes? Make them dry. Floor crusty and dirty under my feet? Get the broom! Everyone works together to run the household.
Model exactly how you want it done. If not, you may end up with a dead plant from zealous over-watering. (Said with experience.)
When you are tired, stressed, with a gazillion jobs to do, MAKE THEM WORK WITH YOU. It is the weirdest phenomenon today. The moms, overworked, Pinterest-pressured to run manicured houses and produce gourmet-looking meals, and yet additionally product a day’s worth of crafts and activities and games and fort-building for the day’s “summer fun” activity. I’m as guilty as the next mom of it.
I submit to you, the problem is the solution. Stop creating more jobs for yourself by adding “entertainer” to your job description.
Just stop it.
And the remaining jobs on your plate? Do them together, as a family. Mamas, trust me. Chores for kids work wonders. We can chill on the the glitter and apps and Kidz Zone and gardening camp and sidewalk chalk Pictionary…Sandpaper, mamas. All we need is sandpaper…
This post originally appeared at Smartter Each Day, published with permission.