My cynical pragmatic husband often says that much of American culture is just clever marketing. As much as I hate to admit it, he’s often right. Just think about all those things you had to have on your baby registry…that you didn’t need and sometimes didn’t even use. (I’m looking at you, bathtub thermometer.) And don’t even get me started on the recommendations about food. Are eggs/butter/coffee/red wine/dark chocolate good or bad for you? It all depends on who you ask.
But before I get depressed about how much we are all swayed by advertisers and the media, I have to realize that I engage in these mind tricks all the time as a mom. I mean, I knew that caring for another human being would involve feeding, bathing, and attending to other physical needs, but I had no clue about the mental gymnastics involved with raising children.
It’s not my job to entertain my children, but I am definitely not above turning chores into a game to get it completed quicker. Why calmly put dirty clothes in a hamper when you can shoot them like a basketball? Why pick up toys like a responsible person when you can have a dance party? Why get dressed the first time someone asks when you can have a race?
Maybe I shouldn’t be teaching my four-year-old how to gamble, but I am not ashamed to admit that she already knows how to win a bet, a la “Bet you can’t (insert task here) before I count to 30.” Challenge accepted.
It was in this spirit that I set about incorporating morning chores into our daily quarantine routine. Maybe we didn’t learn a new language (we did watch a couple of sign language videos) or do cute crafts, but I’ll be darned if we didn’t make an effort to clean the bathroom on a regular basis.
Each morning after breakfast before our daily “sanity-saving” walk around the neighborhood, we cleaned/took care of one area of the house. I like to plan, so each day of the week was a different chore: Monday-pick up toys/clutter, Tuesday-bathrooms, Wednesday-kitchen, etc.
Our kids were on board, and it went mostly well. But after a while, I discovered that on certain days, chore time was quick and efficient, yet on other days, I had to nag non-stop.
For whatever reason, our girls love cleaning the toilet and have yet to lose a laundry-putting-away race, but they drag their feet when it comes to picking up toys and clutter. Even if I turn on music and try to make it a dance party.
Things came to a head when my husband started collecting toys they failed to pick up into a cardboard box. Said box made it all the way to the curb before our girls tearfully promised to put their toys away. Things had to change.
Enter chore sticks.
Rather than having an designated chore each day, now our children randomly draw a popsicle stick from a jar. Whatever task is listed on that stick is the chore that child will do that day. There are also some fun activities mixed in the jar, like “sing a silly song” or “build with Legos,” to add to the element of surprise. Since I am no longer assigning jobs, there is less of a struggle. “You get what you get, and you don’t throw a fit.”
I am not even going to pretend like I made this idea up. In fact, while searching for the original crafty blog post where I got the idea, I found dozens more examples of the chore stick concept. Sure, you can make it as fancy as you want, but you lost me at Mod Podge. Ain’t nobody got time for that.
Basically, all I did was take a bunch of popsicle sticks and a Sharpie and write down all of the age-appropriate chores I could think of, breaking things like cleaning the bathroom into short tasks such as “clean the toilet,” “wipe down the counters,” and “mop the floor.” Nothing takes more than 10-15 minutes, and they are all things that my kids can do (mostly) independently. Prior to letting everyone draw, I weed out anything that doesn’t need to be done that particular day like emptying the dishwasher or moving the trashcans from the curb.
It’s not a perfect system of course. There are hurt feelings when one child draws “do a funny dance” while another draws “clean off dresser,” but overall, it has helped reiterate that in our family, there are certain things we all must do to keep the household running. There is no magical “clean-up fairy” (I wish!) that is going to swoop behind us to do the chores.