The Family Chore Jar: Solving the After Dinner Dilemma
A few years back, a commercial aired showing an exhausted mother slaving over the after-dinner mess while her husband and children blissfully (and obliviously) played board games in the living room. I don’t recall what product they were pitching (Paper plates? Dishwasher detergent?), but it supposedly got Mom out of the kitchen and into the family fun faster, improving her overall outlook on life. I remember the commercial, not because I bought whatever they were selling, but because I was so indignant over the whole concept. Why was Mom cleaning up all those dishes alone? Why wasn’t Dad taking any initiative? And why was my own family doing the exact same thing?!
Families that function well do so in part because of good communication. So rather than rant, rave, lecture, or guilt my family into helping out with the after dinner chores, I laid out a clear plan with clear expectations. It was the first of many strategies that I used to raise more self-sufficient and conscientious children, and it also helped to keep the contention out of my marriage.
To begin, I brainstormed every individual chore that needed done in the kitchen, pairing like chores together. They had not always been chores that we had relegated to the evening, but once I added them to the whole-family routine, they got done a lot more consistently. Any chore that was related to the kitchen was added to the list:
· Load/Unload the Dishwasher
· Sweep/Mop the Floor
· Feed/Water the Dog
· Take Out the Trash
· Take Dirty Towels and Dishrags to the Laundry
· Wash/Dry the Dishes (any that can’t go in the dishwasher)
· Take Recyclables to the Garage
· Clear the Table
· Wipe Down the Table/Counter
Of course, you may add or delete chores from your list according to your own lifestyle.
Next, using colorful permanent markers, I wrote each chore on a wide wooden craft stick. My lovely daughter decorated the opposite side of each stick, for her own purely aesthetic reasons. The sticks then went into a Mason jar on the kitchen counter. Our décor has a country vibe, so a Mason Jar fit right in. You could choose an alternative to the traditional chore jar, including:
· Pretty stones in a decorative bowl
· Toy fish in a fishbowl
· Plastic or wooden eggs in a basket
· Ping-pong balls in a large gumball machine
· Flowers in a vase
The system works as follows: After dinner, each person draws a stick. According to house rules, no one may “browse” through the sticks to choose a chore, but must choose one blind. Once the chore is completed, another stick is drawn, until all of chores are completed. Unless there are extenuating circumstances (a potty emergency or an activity for which one person is running late) no one can leave the kitchen until everyone has completed their chores. So if you have completed your chores and there are no sticks left, you must stay and help anyone who is not yet finished.
The advantages of this system are numerous. The chores are completed quickly (usually within fifteen minutes), and no one is left to slave away in the kitchen alone all evening. Being in the kitchen working together creates positive family time. No time is wasted disputing whose turn it is to clean the kitchen (as my brother and I did when we were kids), or arguing over individual chores, because at our house “you get what you get and you don’t throw a fit!” The kids are allowed to practice their negotiating skills to engineer a trade (as long as they can take “no” for an answer), but they usually just stick with what they drew. When the kitchen is messy, it has a way of infecting the whole house, so making sure that every chore gets done daily keeps us ahead of everything else.
A brief word about kids and chores...
If you suffer from crippling perfectionism, as I do, teaching kids to do chores can be tricky. For perfectionists, the pendulum swings between two extremes: Doing every job ourselves because no one can live up to our standards, or reducing our children to tears because no one can live up to our standards. When you are teaching your kids to do chores, resist the temptation to do it for them, even though teaching them can be time-consuming and frustrating, and learn to bite your tongue. Maybe they don’t do it as well as you do, but they are doing their best. The only way to improve their skills is to allow them to keep doing it. You can gently critique their performance as they get older.