Raising children who do housework without complaint and find pleasure in serving the family is a top priority for me. The developmental and spiritual effects of doing chores and sharing in the responsibility of the household are one of the most powerful teaching tools we have as parents, for both our daughters and our sons (I cannot emphasize the sons enough).
Now to the practicality of getting kids to do chores! I tried lists, excel sheets, and a white board. I sewed a chore chart, with a row of pockets for each child and decorated cards with illustrations for each chore. It made for one attractive wall hanging! We used it diligently for two, maybe three, weeks, and then like many projects in our house, it fizzled. It was not so much that the kids didn’t want to do their chores than it was challenging for me to follow up with each child and remind them to check the chart. I also forgot to lay out the chores for them in the morning.
Then, my husband had to go out of town for ten days. Alone in a new city, in a new home with unpacked boxes everywhere, with no family and few friends, I was completely on my own with four small children. That the kids help me with housework no longer became a teaching tool, but a necessity to our survival as a household during those ten days. Out of this need for improvisation, rather than out of creative parenting wisdom, I stumbled upon a much more effective, cooperative approach to managing housework together.
The inspiration started with mealtimes. Before we moved to our next activity, be it desert, a movie, a bath, or storytime, the entire kitchen had to be clean after breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Everyone had to help, and no one left the kitchen until everything was done. First everyone took their plates to the sink, and then cleared off the larger dishes. While I loaded the dishwasher, my two older children (6 and 4 years) worked together to wipe off the table, sweep the kitchen floor, wipe off the countertops, and empty the trash. My six-year-old learned how to put the leftover food into plastic containers and store them in the fridge. Even my two-year-old pitched in with pushing in the chairs, wiping off the baby’s high chair, and drying off the tabletop.
We talked and laughed, sometimes we reviewed Quran or recited adhkar, as I directed them to tasks whenever they couldn’t figure out what to do next. Because we were all doing it together, it felt more like quality family time than housework. After a few nights, the kids knew what had to be done and I enjoyed the satisfaction of seeing my little ones clean the kitchen with me like pros. And every night, we enjoyed the satisfaction of switching the lights off in a sparkling clean kitchen. When my husband returned from his trip, I told him that I wanted to continue this routine, and asked that he join the family mealtime clean-up as well. Then, I applied this approach to other chores.
For laundry, two or three days a week I dump two or three loads of freshly washed clothes on the floor in the living room and we all fold together and then every child takes stacks of clothes and delivers them to their appropriate rooms and drawers (ironing is one of those tasks that has become superfluous in our house, by necessity). I purposely do not assign a child to put away only his or her own clothes, because I think part of a healthy approach to housework is to serve the entire family not just oneself.
Beyond cleaning up after every meal and laundry, I am also trying to hold my children responsible for making their beds in the morning (still working on that one) and keeping the dining-room-converted-playroom tidy. Managing the toy clutter has been much easier since I designated only one spot in the house for toys. The children’s bedroom is a calm, clutter-free space only for sleeping, reading, and dressing. Making sure everything has a designated place, and that the children know those places well, has done wonders for keeping our home neat.
On cleaning days, so long as I am working the kids work alongside–vacuuming their room, wiping bathroom mirrors, and putting things in their place. We work together until the work is done, and I try to make the spirit cheerful by talking, playing games while cleaning, or listening an energizing soundtrack. We finish together, and then make sure to find time for the things we love to do.
Give this collective, team approach to housework a try and see if it works for your family. For me, it suits my disorganized personality more–I do not have the discipline or energy to follow up with chores or keep up with systems. I also dislike housework, and find it much more manageable when I am setting an example and connecting with my kids. I love the spirit of working together to accomplish something that this approach nurtures, as well as the lessons in teamwork and collective responsibility. On the rare occasion that one child does not want to participate (usually my four-year-old daughter), I instruct the rest of the team to leave a task for her, (i.e. sweeping under the table or putting away a stack of clothes) that she is free to complete on her own time, but must be done before moving on to the next activity. Usually, the thought of being left behind and having to work alone when everyone else has moved on to something enjoyable is enough to motivate her to participate.
Maha is a homeschooling mother of four children (6, 4, 2, and 1) and lives in Michigan. She is an active MAS worker and loves being in nature, writing, and working for Islam. She blogs occasionally at Even Sparrows Pray.