I was in my first semester of teaching college students when I quickly learned how helpless some of my students were. Some showed up to class in clearly dirty clothing. As I prepared for starting class, I would overhear the students chatting. Each semester, I had students who admitted, embarrassed-not-embarrassed, that they hadn’t washed their laundry in weeks. They were waiting to head home for an upcoming long weekend or holiday break — that’s when their parents could handle their adult child’s mountain of dirty hoodies.
This wasn’t the only issue some of my 18-, 19-, and 20-year-old students had. Some didn’t know how to make an appointment for a medical exam, because they’d never had to do it before. Others complained about roommate drama, partially due to communication blunders, but mostly surrounding lack of cleanliness. They observed stacks of dishes, laundry tossed on the floor, and overflowing trash cans.
The more semesters I taught, the more I realized how helpless many of my students were (and felt). They legitimately didn’t know how to properly load a dishwasher, prepare basic meals, or treat a clothing stain. Sure, they could have looked it up online, but this isn’t a substitute for being shown and having the opportunity to practice — something I think should have occurred when they were younger and living at home.
My students who struggled with chores weren’t necessarily lazy. They showed up to class each day, they did their assignments, and many managed to go to school while working multiple jobs. They simply had never been taught, many of them having the privilege of their parents doing all the chores for them.
I made up my mind, in those nine years of teaching, that my children wouldn’t head out into the real world without the skills to take care of themselves and their place of residence. They needed to learn, from a young age, to respect their surroundings and their belongings. Parents who decide to take on all the household chores do their children a grave disservice, and I was seeing it firsthand in the college setting.
Let me pause here and empathize with you if you are one of those parents who does it all for your kids. From a parent’s perspective, I get it. Our kids are busy with school and their activities. They have full, chaotic lives which are hopefully paving the path for them to be successful humans. However, when we cram our kids’ schedules (and our own) to the point where there’s no space left to teach our kids to function in the future in the most basic ways, we’re doing more harm than good.
My four kids, ranging from a teen to a kindergartener, have daily chores — and have for years. In this house, every person pulls their weight. I’ve explained to my kids that our family is like a team, and teamwork is required. If we all do our part, our home runs better. They also learn so many lessons by working in their daily chore, such as time management, confidence, and communication. Think about it: these are things they need to get in order to be a good student and future employee.
Now before you think I am raising perfect angels, my kids, like all kids, grumble over their daily chore. However, they also know that helping load the dishwasher, packing their own lunch, hanging up their clean shirts, or vacuuming the family vehicle is a non-negotiable.
My kids’ assigned chores are based on their age, maturity, and ability. Sometimes, we teamwork chores, and other times, they’re on their own. If they encounter an issue, like the vacuum gets clogged up or they can’t find the cleaning spray, we will always be there to help them.
They have options to make their chores more pleasant, like listening to their favorite playlists while sweeping the porch or changing their sheets. Yes, my kids change their own sheets — weekly. They also do their own laundry, dust, sweep, and do a myriad of other chores.
Sure, my kids have said that no other kid in the whole universe (impressive, right?) has a daily chore. One of my kids said that they do all the work and we, the parents, do none. I laughed out loud. Then I matured up a bit and listed for them every single thing I’d done that day for the family. This was not limited to writing three articles (you know, because I have a job), unloading the dishwasher, washing all the family’s bath towels, making four appointments, filling out school permission slips, preparing homemade muffins for the next morning’s breakfast, and then leaving in plenty of time to pick them up from school.
It’s called adulting, and it’s not always fun. However, I’m glad that my own parents made had me and siblings do chores so we didn’t grow up to be entitled and helpless. Now, you may think, I just said “adulting.” Shouldn’t chores be just for adults? Shouldn’t we leave our children’s time open for the things that matter most?
I implore you to consider that chores are an essential part of raising kids. It’s essential just like school, extracurriculars, religious services, family time, exercise, and anything else your family has prioritized in order to raise your kids to be good adults.
Additionally, a simple chore or two a day really isn’t a huge deal. It doesn’t require loads of time or effort. However, it becomes normalized while having the benefit of teaching kids important lessons and skills.
As a former college teacher, I don’t want you sending your child to me one day, your child who is now in a grown-up body, without grown-up skills. If my five-year-old can load her dirty laundry into the washing machine, pour detergent in, and start the machine on the correct cycle, so can your tween. If my nine-year-old can wipe down the kitchen counter after dinner, sweep the floor, and make their own healthy lunch for the next school day, so can your teen.
Don’t buy into the we’re-too-busy for chores nonsense, or fall into the trap of just doing it yourself to avoid hearing them gripe. Having your child do chores is a matter of priority and patience. Clearly communicate what you expect — and why. Know that the grumbling will happen, but that’s just part of the kid-parent dynamic. By prioritizing chores, just as much as other essentials, you’re giving your child an incredible lifelong gift. They may not be happy about it now, but they will thank you later.