The Chore Challenge, Week 5: Respect Their Ability to Do It Right

We own a horse barn, where my younger three kids work most weekday mornings before school. When we’re down there, I’m not in charge—our barn manager, who runs the business, is. And when it comes to chores for kids, she just taught me a really valuable lesson.

Last week, my youngest son, who is 10, was having “one of those mornings” at the barn—he just couldn’t get anything right. He’d just come back from following Nasa way out into the snowy field (a long, slippery, hilly trip) because he’d forgotten to take the horse’s halter off, when I saw the barn manager greet him with more bad news: he’d put another horse, Pimms, out in the wrong field. Fixing that would mean another uphill slog.

I really wanted to say I’d go for him. Or suggest that one day out with his old paddock-mates wouldn’t hurt Pimms, who had just been moved (because he kept chasing one of the older ponies).

But just as I was about to speak, I saw my kid—who just the day before had put on a dramatic rendition of “I can’t do it” when faced with a single pot to wash—square his shoulders, sigh, and say “Should I go get him?”

And off he went.

We’re not asking our kids to do anything they can’t do with our chores (in fact, we’re probably not asking nearly enough). They’re capable. They can wash the pot right, or clear both their cup and their plate from the table, or put the dishes in the dishwasher AND wipe the counter. They can do the job the way it’s supposed to be done, and we (by which I most certainly mean me, too) need to require that they do it.

That doesn’t have to mean nagging (although it might at first). It means teaching them the way it should be done, then teaching them some more, then possibly “teaching” them when they’re just hoping to wear us down. It means calling them back, every single time to begin with, to do that last thing, wipe those last crumbs. It means pointing out their mistakes and allowing them to make them right, not in a spirit of scolding or anger, but just in a matter-of-fact way. The horse is in the wrong paddock. The counters are not clean. The bed is not made. There is still a towel on the bathroom floor.

It only feels like we’re doing them a favor when we don’t hold them accountable. Because if we routinely do (as my barn manager does) then they’ll know that they have to do the job right—and that they absolutely can.

How’s your chore challenge going? I’d love to hear stories of set-backs and successes. I swear we will get there. Want to join in from the beginning? Sign up here for weekly encouragement. Getting kids to really do their chores isn’t easy—but it can be done!

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