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More than chores or homework: Why they count

Jen Klein is a New England-based technical writer and mother of three. When she isn't asking her kids to stop bickering, "caramelizing" the dinner or actively ignoring the dust bunnies under the couch, she enjoys knitting, gardening, pho...

Do I have to?

If you listen closely, you probably can hear the kids in the house down the street groaning when their mom -- your friend -- asks them to do their homework or do their chores. It probably sounds a lot like your kids. And the kids on the other side of the neighborhood, and the kids across town, and across the country, and so on: It's meaningless, why do I have to? It's a fairly common parent experience. Read on to learn why it's important for kids to do chores and homework -- and how you can help them understand why.

Do I have to?

We give kids chores and they do homework in part to develop a sense of responsibility. But are you following up the work with discussions about what it means to work, and the give and take of work? Work is more than chores and homework, and, someday, paychecks. Work is how the world goes round — even though it's not always paid or repaid in obvious ways. We are all connected, we all have a role to play; how will your kids learn theirs?

Your home as a microcosm

You likely introduced some household jobs to your child at a young age. You have your big jobs and your child or children have little jobs to help out. But as the kids have gotten older, have you talked to them about the way all these tasks are interconnected? One thing has to happen for another to happen for another to happen, and so on.

For example:

  • Mom works at her office in the city on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and because of that she gets a paycheck.
  • With the paycheck she buys food.
  • When the food comes home from the grocery store, it's one child's job to put away the groceries so there is space in the kitchen for Dad to make dinner so everyone can eat.
  • After dinner, one child clears the table and another takes out the garbage so there are dishes for the next day's meals.
  • And so on and so on.

It's simple, yes, and it seems so obvious to us as adults. But even the most obvious things need to be discussed with kids — and repeated.

Give and take

All the world is give and take, and work is a part of that. We all do tasks that move things along. The value of those things varies, and not all value is tangible. While some work is valued in dollars, other kinds are valued in subsequent experiences, and some may not be realized for sometime. For example, your son's work in algebra homework is work, and the value of that work may not be recognized until much later, when he realizes that it's algebra he's using to figure out a carpentry project — maybe even for pay.

Outside your windows

Beyond your home, the work you and your children do in the world has value. You can take the lessons and discussions you have about work and the value of various kinds of work beyond the home and into the wider world. The simple act of collecting food for a local food pantry can have profound impact and value; the summer job your teenager gets in a mall may seem somewhat meaningless to you, but perhaps she helps some cooking tools to a man who goes on to perfect his barbecue sauce recipe and opens a successful company. Or maybe he just goes home and can more easily prepare healthy meals for his family — there's value in that, too!

The bigger point in work and in valuing work is how we all are interconnected and how all our work, whether the return is obvious or not, is necessary and important. More than just chores and homework, kids need to learn how all work has an impact — so we should all do it to the best of our ability.

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