Are Chores Child Abuse?

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toddler holding mop

Recently, as I sipped my morning coffee and scrolled through my Instagram feed, I came across an adorable picture of a former coworker and his 10-year-old son taking out the trash together. His caption said something like “This is one of my new favorite pictures. Me and my mini taking out the trash.” His hashtags were also cute and included #minime #helpinghand and #chores. I love pictures like this because I think that it is important to teach kids to help out at home, but it turns out that not everyone shares my sentiment.

After double tapping this adorable photo, some of the comments caught me off guard. One comment said, “Making kids do chores that aren’t their true responsibility is abusing your parental power.” Another comment stated, “Chores aren’t a child’s responsibility, play is.” That lead me to go and read through comments on that first commenter’s IG page, making me wonder “Are you people crazy?”

Why exactly must a two year old sort recycling? Why is it so difficult to wash a dish, sort laundry, vacuum, wash a car…that one needs to be taught these things repeatedly through childhood? Why do we need to have a 10 year old acting like a mini independent adult? These were just a few examples of what the page was about.

In Peter Gray’s book “Free to Learn,” he explains how there are tribal cultures in the world do not expect the children to do much of anything until they are teenagers. The kids are allowed to be kids without responsibility like the adults because they will one day have that responsibility anyway. The kids “play” like they are doing the jobs of the adults in the tribe. Through that play they learn and perfect things. And when the time comes that they start contributing to the tribe’s dynamics,  they are happy to be moving on and finally undertaking responsibilities, knowing what they are doing will contribute to the overall good. I think it’s lovely. Stop trying to make kids into that which they are not!

I clicked on the profile for the person who wrote the second comment and found a page filled with anti-chore propaganda, including one picture that said that age appropriate chore lists are disgusting and promote child labor, using children to do the parent’s housework. The picture goes on to say that chores are legalized child abuse only used by parents who don’t love their children. On the contrary, my children do chores because I love them, and I want them to be self-sufficient. I need my children to know that it takes all of us working together to keep our home running smoothly.

The website Prevent Child Abuse America encourages chores, saying that “involving your children in household chores from an early age is a great way to teach responsibility.” Additionally, they suggest that chores can be a great bonding experience that “helps strengthen  your relationship while teaching children responsibility.”

I’m a firm believer in age appropriate chores. I don’t believe that children should be forced to do everything while the parents lounge around lazily, but it is important for them to contribute to household responsibilities. My kids usually spend maybe an hour a week doing chores – that’s less than 10 minutes a day! It’s not like I’m pulling them away from learning or play time to slave away at their chores. We all share household responsibilities, and I rarely hear my kids complain about what they are required to do.

My daughter has to clean one of the bathrooms and vacuum the stairs, while my son has to dust upstairs and clean his room. They are not slaving away at an exhaustive chore list that will never get finished. And let’s be real – my son will be okay if he stops playing “Call of Duty” long enough to take the dogs for a walk. He won’t miss out on valuable play time due to a long day of plowing the fields and milking the cows. I promise you, he will be just fine.

Their logic about how it must be the right way because that’s how it is done in tribal cultures doesn’t resonate with me. That’s great that these cultural norms work for tribes of the world, but I live in the Southern California suburbs. Having spent quite a bit of time amongst the tribal cultures of East Africa, I can guarantee that my child and a child from that tribe have completely different lives. My children have never had to walk two miles each way to fill buckets of clean water so I can cook breakfast each morning. I don’t even want to hear what that complaining would sound like. Seriously, sometimes my kid complains because he has to drive to the store with me so I can buy milk!

The person who posted the second comment asks why a two-year-old must sort recycling? A young child can learn so much from this – mainly that it is everyone’s responsibility to take care of our earth. A child is never too young to learn about sustainability and our responsibility of a clean planet.

Another question this person asks is “Why is it so difficult to wash a dish, sort laundry, vacuum, wash a car…that one needs to be taught these things repeatedly through childhood?” It is not difficult for me to do these things, but children need to learn these skills to be self-sufficient members of society.

Before I had children, a family member told me “You aren’t raising children, you are raising responsible adults.”

This has stuck with me for so long. I want my children to have a great childhood and make great memories, but I also want them to know how to do the basic things for themselves. As much as I would love to believe that my children are going to be living at home forever, this is not the case. One day they will be on their own, and they will have the know how to wash, dry and fold clothes, take out the trash, wash dishes and all of the other things that are required of a fully functioning adult.

I needed a sanity check, so I headed over to my Facebook mom’s group for their opinions. I can always count on these ladies to keep it real. Here are 10 of my favorite comments:

  1. I want my kids to be something amazing in life and if they can’t even clean up after themselves, I did a huge injustice to them!
  2. That’s a good way to promote laziness and entitlement. Think of how hard the real world would be for kids when they grow up and get out there on their own. Teaching responsibility has lifelong value.
  3. It is not about child labor it is about teaching responsibility. Actually when my kids do chores it is easier for me to do it! It’s also teaching respect for their home and family and unity through helping each other.
  4. Not my hot wheels and Playdough crumbs.
  5. Teaching your kids to be a productive member of the household is important, like being a productive member of society.
  6. So now people are attacking me preparing my kids for the real world? Chores are not because I’m lazy. It’s to teach responsibility, accountability and essential life skills.
  7. Kids doing chores is NOT about parent laziness. When I’m being lazy I do it myself because anytime she does something it takes like 10x longer!
  8. My kids have to help with cleaning up the house they helped dirty. If they don’t want to clean then don’t make a mess.
  9. I am raising a productive citizen capable of understanding responsibilities and accountability of actions. That’s how she also learns about priorities.
  10. I think it teaches them responsibility, especially cleaning up their own toys – I feel like that teaches them to have appreciation for the things they have.

Where do you stand on this issue? Do you think that children should have responsibilities, or should they learn these skills as an adult?