By Holly Richardson

holly richardson author pic

As a mom to a mega-family, I got asked a couple of questions many, many times. The most common were “You have how many?!” and “How do you feed them all?!” Following close behind, however, was a question about who – and how many – I hired to help me. 

Hahahahaha. Phew! That’s a good one.

No judgment here if you have someone come help clean your house. I wish that had been an option for us, but it wasn’t. The answer for our family was to teach the kids how to work.

As my children started getting older and didn’t need me to be right there for help and instruction as they were doing their chores, I had the brilliant idea to just assign them jobs and voilà – they’d get done. 

Create a family culture where contribution is the expected norm. Everyone works in the family. Mom is NOT the slave.

Funny thing, though – when I told them to get up early on Saturday to go weed the garden because I was up during the night with a baby – nothing happened. I would get frustrated at their unwillingness to work but eventually, I came to realize that I had to be the one to set the example. I began to get up earlier, get dressed for the day and then wake the kids and have them join me in the garden. We had races for who could complete a row the fastest and sometimes, we worked for a specific amount of time, but I worked with them to keep them moving. 

I’m guessing that many moms are like me and have gone through some trial and error with how the chore thing works in your house. Working with the kids is one thing that worked well. It also wasn’t possible to be with every single child for every single chore.

teaching kids to work

What we ended up settling on – and it lasted for years – was a weekly job rotation, divided by age. Big, medium and little kids. The somewhat arbitrary age designation was largely up to age 7, 8-12 and 13 and up. One issue that I saw come up was not completing the weekly job(s) and then just sliding into the next week’s chores. So, we instituted a policy that said that the person who followed you in the rotation had to agree that the job was done before you passed if off. 

I don’t have my lists anymore, but here are some basic chores we assigned to the littles: unloading the dishwasher – and a mom hack here – we moved all the dishes to a low cupboard so they could unload and set the table without the extra step of mom having to move the dishes to their level. They swept the floor, pulled up the comforter on their beds and put away their toys. I stopped using top sheets and it became super easy to just pull up the blankie. 

teaching kids to work

The middle kids began doing their laundry, after family meetings where mom explained how to sort clothes, how much detergent to use (detergent pods are genius – as long as you don’t eat them) and dryer settings. Also – the reason I taught them to do their own laundry was because I was sick and tired of doing laundry, including folding (who needs that kind of stress in their life?!) and putting the clothes in their room to put away, only to find wet, stinky, dirty clothes ON TOP OF THE CLEAN FOLDED CLOTHES!! So – they got to do laundry and I got to not stress. No clean underwear? Well, darling, guess you better go do your wash. Yes, we had some clothes shrink and some colors bleed, but they learned. They also learned to load the dishwasher  – and when the dishwasher broke and we were broke, they learned to wash dishes by hand. 

teaching kids to work

The older kids continued to help with dishes (there were LOTS – Sundays usually required 8 dishwasher loads plus washing big pans by hand), but we also added in cooking meals once a week. They picked the menu, I bought the food and they made the meal. I was available to help them learn to read a recipe and try new things. My high school senior (my second-to-youngest) knows what a roux is and does lots of experimenting. Sometimes, though, they wanted to do it themselves. Once, one of the kids did not realize you were supposed to drain the water after cooking macaroni so it was mac and cheese soup. Also, inedible. Only happened once, though. 

We also got chickens, not because the eggs were cheaper that way (they’re not) but because we knew it would teach the kids responsibility. Several of the kids asked how my husband and I were going to manage the chickens when the kids were gone. Here’s the answer: now that the kids are mostly gone, the chickens are too. 

I had to resist the urge to go in and “fix” their attempts.

I learned a lot about realistic expectations, being ok with the Paredo principle (the 80/20 rule) and being happy that the jobs were mostly done. I had to resist the urge to go in and “fix” their attempts. If I did, two things happened: one, it sent a message that they were not doing things “right” and it also sent the message that if they did a subpar job, or didn’t do it at all, mom would eventually step in and do it. Smart kids.

I also learned that in spite of the moaning and groaning and dragging of feet at home, they actually DID learn something. I remember after one Scout trip, a leader came to me and praised my son for what a hard worker he was, jumping up and pitching in without being asked, working quickly and well, helping others… I asked if he was sure he had the right kid, since his room looked like a bomb had gone off in it… However, every one of my adult children, without exception, has thanked me at some point for teaching them how to work. #MomPayDay

teaching kids to work

Funny story: one of my teenage daughters got a job at a restaurant and one of her assignments was keeping the salad bar wiped down. She did it quickly and well, night after night. Her manager praised her for her good work. When she got home, she told me she was a bit confused by the praise, because cleaning up a few pieces of errant lettuce was NOTHING like trying to keep the counters clean in our home. She was not wrong. 

Teaching kids to work can feel a lot like Groundhog Day, the same thing over and over and over – but just like in the movie, repetition over time can lead to some great results. Will you teach them everything they need to know before they leave home? Nope. You won’t. They get to be lifelong learners just like you. However, teaching them to work and helping them gain a broad variety of skills gives them a much-needed, solid foundation before they fly away.

So – that’s a lot of words. Here are my top tips in bullet form:

  • Your kids are able to learn to work at young ages
  • Learning to work efficiently is a HUGE boon at school, on missions and in the job market
  • Mom leads by example. I have learned to love to work.
  • Work with your kids.
  • Create a family culture where contribution is the expected norm. Everyone works in the family. Mom is NOT the slave.
  • Kids will have to be taught how to do a job through repetition – sometimes a lot of it.
  • Some people are “born organizers” but all can learn. 
  • Be really flexible in your expectations and adapt as needed. What a 7-yr old can do will be different than what a 17-yr old can do.
  • Drop perfectionism.
  • Manage, but don’t micromanage.
  • Don’t give in to your frustration and “do it anyway.” Yes, it’s easier for you – but that’s not the point. 
  • Having jobs/chores while growing up teaches time management skills. Teenagers think they’re busy – and they are, but life doesn’t get less busy.
  • The payoff comes down the road.
  • Finally, remember what’s most important and that’s your relationship with your child. Every.Single.Time.


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