Chores,  Parenting

Because You Live Here, That’s Why: Kids and the Battle of Chores

I crafted a plan. I felt prepared. I started with the basics when he started walking and talking. My voice sounded cheery and I easily herded the little man into my camp.

“Can you please put Finding Nemo back in the movie cupboard?”

“Where does your stuffed orca go? No… not there, silly.”

“You want to clean the kitchen with mommy? Sure!”

Chore time with one toddler felt easy because he actually wanted to help. And the jobs were like him—short and sweet.

Then we moved to Baja, birthed another baby and adjusted to living in the land of dust and mud. The harder chores required more direction, but my voice still rang in the positive range as the kids grew.

“Hey, Bud? You can’t stuff clean laundry under your bed and tell me your room’s done.”

“Can you please stop putting clean clothes in the laundry and dirty clothes on hangars?”

“Um, no. Making your bed doesn’t mean throwing your comforter over the top of your mess.”

These weren’t difficult tweaks, just minor changes to help them be successful.

Jumping to the tween and teen years blindsided me. My hard work constantly seems to slip backward and I regularly feel irritated around chore time. Haven’t they paid attention for the past decade?

“Whoa there… when you clean the toilet you can’t use baby wipes.”

“If you fold the clothes over the line before putting on the clothespins, they’re less likely to fall in the dirt.”

“Dude—can you please explain to me why it took two sitcoms to iron four shirts?”

Then I remembered my teenage years. My mother gave me so much grace—probably too much at times. I doled out great excuses as to why I didn’t clean the bathroom floor well (or at all), and followed my arguments with arguments while we faced off in the hall.

The thought of getting a bowl, filling it with water, adding a chemical, finding a rag and washing the whole bathroom floor by hand almost put me over the edge.

Didn’t mops exist in the ‘80s?

Time-consuming chores were not my style. I played three sports and had loads of homework, not to mention a few episodes of Family Ties, Silver Spoons and Different Strokes to watch.

One day my mother, fed up with my lazy attitude, ran downstairs to the kitchen, grabbed a timer and put it in my hand. I furrowed my brow in confusion while she stayed calm, locked eyes with me and simply said, “Time me.”

She took the bowl, walked into the bathroom, dropped to the linoleum, told me to press start, and proceeded to wash the whole floor on her hands and knees.

I stood shocked. And embarrassed. Behind the toilet, past the tub, in the corners, around the pedestal sink, behind the door and into the hall.

“Stop,” she said. “How long was that?”

I looked at the time and wanted more than anything to lie. Adding at least 30 seconds would’ve helped prove my theory about how there wasn’t time for such lengthy activities.

I kept my head down and mumbled. “About a minute and a half.”

“A minute and a half?”


She dropped the rag and walked away.

No loud voice. No lecture. No consequence.

As a young teen I possessed enough skill to clean a small bathroom floor. But it took a creative mom to give me a quiet, in-my-face lesson to reveal my lazy, ugly, selfishness. I’m guessing she didn’t realize the brilliance, yet it remains one of the most powerful lessons she ever taught me.

How much auditory and visual information we retain is highly debated among professionals, but in my own life I know what my parents did became considerably more memorable than what they said.

If your version of clean does not line up with your child’s… step back. And breathe.

And maybe count to 73 in German.

When kids intentionally cut corners and try to get out of their jobs, consequences can certainly help, yes?

But this is where I get stuck.

I know what I should do when they try to pull a fast one and skate by, but I either forget or start telling the negligent party why the job wasn’t done well. I am the parent; why am I sometimes leery about following through with the discipline?

Maybe because I get weary of always sounding negative.

“The broom isn’t meant to be used like that.”

“Please don’t mow over dog poop.”

“Why are you on the roof again?”

“Do you know how many times I’ve answered that question?”

“Yes, chocolate comes from a plant. No, it can’t be your breakfast.”

“Don’t smack your brother there.”

“How do you plan to get down?”

“Why is your face black?”

“No, you may not put a saddle on the dog who is half your weight.”

“Your village does not need to be updated or reinforced before school. Power down, amigo.”

Ugh–the drain is rapid. My husband gets to the point better than I: “Stop talking about it and give them the consequence.”

I knowwwww, but I always think they need to understand what they’re doing or not doing first. Mini lectures can prove helpful, right?

“Here’s why you need to use something scrubby in the tub.”

“No, you may not pick up dog poop with a stick. Wanna see why?”

“Give me your hand. Does this feel clean to you?”

Which most likely resembles white noise in their ears, but I say it anyway.

So I took my husband up on his offer, knowing he would back me when their sighs blew the wrinkles out of my shirt. Based on some great advice from a friend, I always try to make the consequence match the offense:

“You may not treat your brother that way. You will do one of his chores, and he gets to pick which one.”

“You missed your bedtime last night, so please be in bed 15 minutes earlier tonight.”

“Homework and chores get done before technology, right? Go turn in your iPod.”

If you’re thinking this sounds potentially negative and draining for the mom, it can be. Only for a short time though because it usually works and the behavior doesn’t continue.

For Example:

  • When your sibling gets to pick your chore, you’re probably getting the worst one.
  • If your child is driven by technology, saying goodbye to the outside world can prove devastating, and therefore motivating.
  • Peer into our home at 8:44 p.m. and you will most likely see one particular child running through the house and diving into bed before the clock strikes late.

Photo Cred: Stevi Conner

Focus On The Family created an Age-Appropriate Chore List I highly recommend. Every once in a while I refresh my memory to make sure I’m giving each child sufficient challenges. Thinking of their future roommates and spouses does wonders for my motivation when the whining escalates.

Here’s another fantastic resource for older ones: Chores List for Older Kids and Teens

Last summer our ten-year-old started doing his own laundry. Guess what changed? Instead of throwing still-clean play clothes in the basket, he’s wearing them two-to-three times. Less work for him, less utilities for us.


Stand strong, brave parents. Your house, your rules. Choose what works, stay consistent and please, for the love of chores… share your wisdom!

What works like a charm under your roof?

“The diligent find freedom in their work; the lazy are oppressed by work.”

~ Proverbs 12:24

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  • Jeanne Baker

    I love Saturdays because of Carrie Talbott Ink !

    Well, yep your blog sounded familiar… laughed my way thru it!

    Did lots of motivational stuff for the ol’ chore lists!

    “Oh, you didn’t make your bed today? Well, then all of the sheets etc will end up on the floor; maybe you’ll remember tomorrow!”

    “Hmmm… forgot to turn off lights? Well, that will be a nickel!”

    “When you start paying rent … then you can have a messy room!”

    ETC ETC…

    I’ll have to look up the chore lists you suggested … however, both sets of parents seem to be doing a wonderful job raising our grandies !!!

    Have a fun day…


    • Carrie Talbott

      Love this, Jeanne! Thanks for your kind words, and your memories too. I’ll have to remember a few of those! 🙂

  • Candace Gehl Spong :)

    Excellent! Best discipline my Mom ever doled out? My sister and I were bickering about who would empty the dishwasher……..we did the dishes by hand for a week. Ended that argument!!!