Posted by: Kate | May 29, 2009

Great Expectations

I sometimes wonder whether I expect too much out of my kids.

Or rather, I know I do, but I wonder whether the too-much is just enough to stretch and challenge and propel them along their own paths, or if the too-much is just, well, too much.

It’s not so much about their behavior, although I know I set a high standard there… at least in public. They’re both well-spoken and good about “please” and “thank you,” able to order their own meals in restaurants and make small cash purchases by themselves (it’s truly astonishing how quickly nerves and shyness evaporate in the face of 50 cents’ worth of candy).

They seem happy with who they are, for the most part – Emily has a few sore spots, and we’re doing what we can to help with those – and they’re visibly proud when the bank tellers or grocery store clerks tell me what nice children I have. (And somehow the reply of, “Thank you, I like them, too. We’re even thinking of keeping them,” always takes them by surprise.)

No, I’m more wondering if I work them too hard around the house. Jacob, at almost-5, can effectively empty the dishwasher (placing anything that goes in the overhead cupboards on the counter, stacked by type and size), sort the recycling into its respective bins, and do any number of help-Mama sorts of tasks like matching socks or wiping down the bathroom sink.  He’s starting to make his own sandwiches for lunch, and last night, having to remind him to clear his plate after dinner was noteworthy because he’d done it on his own for so long.

Emily, having four and a half years of extra indentured servitude under her belt, can do a complete load of laundry, from crumpled up on her floor to folded and sorted by owner.  She can cook several reasonably complicated meals – her favorite is a baked dish we refer to as “The Chicken That Willem Loved More Than Life Itself” – and has become a world-class expert at independently cleaning her room, mostly because that child creates more chaos in five minutes, just passing through, than I can deliberately create in an hour.  She gets a lot of practice with the “put your stuff away” skills.

They each get allowace – right now, a dime per chore, though I think Emily is on the cusp of a promotion to a quarter each – and, to an extent, can choose how many (or few) chores to do.  There are days when my back is screwed up enough that I can’t empty the dishwasher myself, and even when I could, I feel like it’s reasonable to expect a certain amount of contribution to the general household maintenance just because they live here.  So 4:00 each weekday afternoon begins a “homework and chores” period, lasting anywhere from a few minutes to an hour.

Really, in thinking about it, I don’t think it’s too too-much for them, because they don’t complain about it, they do their chores well, and they still find plenty of time to play and watch TV and argue with each other.  But I wonder, what’s normal in other households?  How much do/did your kids do?  Am I really that much of a slave driver?



  1. As someone without kids (but hoping for some at some point) and who grew up in a single parent household from age 8 forward and whose singe parent didn’t really enjoy any kind of domestic work, I can safely state that by age 9 I did the laundry from start to finish, cooked meals, did dishes, made lunches, cleaned my room, helped to clean the house and also corrected papers (said single parent was a teacher), helped collate and staple and was extremely useful when phone calls needed dodging. But that’s just me… So what you’re doing? Sounds completely normal.

  2. Doesn’t sound like you’re overworking your kids at all. LouLa is expected to: Get herself ready in the morning and at bedtime (dressed, hair combed, teeth brushed, etc.), pick up her toys in her bedroom and living room, take care of her dishes after meals, and assorted things when asked/told (feed the cats, get the paper, etc.). I need to get something together that is more structured, I think. She was earning a dime in the morning and at night if she got herself ready without fussing, but we’ve kind of let it go by the wayside. She hasn’t asked about it and still does what she needs to, but we need to start something consistent.

    A friend/coworker and I were just talking about parenting. We both agreed the most important thing was to teach kids to be responsible, in all sorts of ways. I can tell you which kids in my classroom aren’t expected to be responsible for much of anything. They’re the same kids who lose everything and who never accept that anything is their fault. Le sigh.

  3. Ummm…you’ve made me realize that my boyz should be doing a LOT more than I make them do. Eldest (7-1/2) clears the table and cleans up the playroom and that’s about it. The other two (almost 5 and almost 4) pretty much don’t lift a finger. But that’s gonna change! Thanks for the motivation.

  4. Doesn’t sound like it at all. My girls do similar lists but don’t get paid. I think that makes ME the slave driver around here.

  5. I think it’s great that you have them doing so much at such young ages. BB does practically nothing around the house, and the stuff that he does, he does poorly. I blame his mother, who, as the custodial parent, should be teaching him household chores while she’s with him. Instead, she lets him and his siblings do whatever they want, and consequently, they live in a pig sty as a result. I would love to make him do more around the house, but he is so bad at cleaning that it’s almost not worth the effort. And since we only have him every other weekend, I feel like I have to teach him the same things over and over because he forgets in the time he’s away from us. It’s very frustrating.

  6. I don’t think so – my kids are right there too – my 5 year old sorts and folds laundry (not always perfect but well enough). My 8 year old is responsible for the dishes.

    My FIL tells stories of growing up (he’s 89 so this is YEARS ago) and at the age of 8 he was running the cattle up to summer pastures and hanging out by himself for days on end……

    I think a lot of kids these days don’t have to do enough. I’m not saying we should make them run cattle by themselves – but doing laundry and dishes is “good for them”!!!

  7. If you expect nothing from your children, that’s exactly what you’ll get! I don’t think you’re working them too hard at all. From the time The Girl was 2, she was making her own bed and picking up her toys daily and the chore list has increased with her age and level of personal responsibility. She doesn’t get paid for the day-to-day stuff like taking care of her own room, doing the dishes, et cetera, but we do pay her for extras like cleaning the whole house.

    When she was around 9-ish she tried to give me a little bit of a hard time about doing chores. I told her, “You can’t live here forever, and when you grow up I’m not going to come clean your house. That means you have to start learning how to do these things now so you can take care of yourself later.” Somewhere along the line the message sunk in and now that she’s 17, there’s nothing she can’t or won’t take care of around the house, including pool maintenance and yard work.

    She just put in her 2 weeks’ notice at the restaurant and will be working for me this summer cleaning house, doing laundry, cooking and doing general clerical stuff for my practice (the batshitcrazyphone rings at my house, not my tiny office). I can’t imagine anyone I trust more to do those things because I know they’ll be done right the first time. That wouldn’t be happening if I hadn’t started when she was little.

  8. Not at all! Mine were expected to do chores from a young age but we had a gold star system. They set a goal and when they achieved the requisite amount of stars they also achieved their goal. Mind you, Clare wanted to go to Disneyland . . she won! It’s a little harder now that they’re grown but they still help out if directed. Adam does all the lawn mowing and pool maintenance and Clare’s pretty good with washing etc. Although I’m thinking of bringing in a roster system now so that everyone shares the load. They need to learn that they’re on a good wicket living at home and that they need to contribute a little more to the day to day stuff. I never paid them. I think children should help for the hell of it.

  9. I’d enjoy it now. In a few years they won’t be so eager!

  10. We are really working in your direction…though I have to admit i am a little nervous about them unloading the dishwasher. Derek (5) and Monet (3) both get ready in the morning, put clothes in the hamper and help me sort and load it into the washer. They both clear their plate and silverware into the sink after meals and help pick up toys before rest time and before bedtime stories. We also have them help with some yard work and taking care of the dogs. Derek loves to vaccum sp I let him help, even if my walls are begging “NO MORE SCUFFS!”
    Both of my parents worked lots of hours growing up so my sister and I had tons of chores and were pretty well adjusted and had time to live too. We didn’t get much of an allowance until we were in our early teens and much of that came from good grades rather than housework.

  11. My sibs are forever complaining that I didn’t have to do nearly as much as they did. I beg to differ, of course. I not only helped with the animals on the ranch, I also started handling translating and banking duties at a young age. If there were a legal way for me to drive *off* the ranch to run errands at a younger age I know I would have had even more duties!

    I can’t imagine not instilling a sense of responsibility into kids. I’ve seen kids like that and don’t much care for them 😉 Yours sound like the kind I’d like to be around.

  12. We run into trouble here because the homework load in middle and high school is so overwhelming. Rebecca is in honors classes in eighth grade, and three hours of homework is NOT unheard of around here, some nights (such as project nights) it’s even more. She does her laundry (two loads) every week, empties the dishwasher, does the trash cans on trash night, and cleans her room, but that’s the extent of it. We had a cleaning person for quite a while, due to my back problems, but can’t afford it now, so she does need to learn to dust and to run the vacuum…if her allergies can handle it! Also, since she’s a vegetarian, when she has time, she makes her own (limited) dinners. It is not as much as I’d like, but between school, religious school, and theater, that’s all the time available to get it (and homework) done!

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