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Jen Pollock Michel

( author + writer + speaker )

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From Welfare to Work: How to get your kids to do chores

There’s nothing like blogging to out all your ridiculousness. When school began this fall, I admitted to having created a spreadsheet in order to evaluate the time I would have for writing this year. I tallied the time it would take for laundry, grocery shopping, dinner prep – down to the quarter hour, no less. In my defense, that exercise was worthwhile for taming my expectations. Everyday life is always busier than I expect.

On the other hand, it may have caused you to wonder what medicine the doctor was prescribing for my condition.

One friend texted me after the post, asking if we could meet for coffee. Or, had I, she needed to ask, used up my 1.5 statistical friendship hours?

Yeah. Ridiculousness.

The fact remains, though: I want to spend my time wisely and purposefully.

Which is why I'm writing about the new Welfare-to-Work program we’re instituting around here. It's a program, which I’m hoping will not only keep our house cleaner, teach our kids greater responsibility, but also free up a bit more of my time to do this: write.

For years, we’ve been doling out allowance as a kind of proverbial share of the family’s resources. We didn’t necessarily equate the money the kids earned with the chores they were doing around the house, although pitching in has always been required. Our kids have been folding their own laundry and helping with meals for years now.

Ryan has technically always worked for the allowance bank, although since moving to Canada, allowance accounts have gone into arrears. The kids ask for allowance, and Ryan shrugs ambivalently. This scenario happens most Saturdays: same question, same noncommittal look. It’s become a more serious problem as Audrey (who is saving for a wooden clarinet) has expressed growing concern that Dad isn’t ever going to pay.

“Will you talk to him?”

In Ryan’s defense, I shared his growing ambivalence about allowance.

Was it really meeting our broader parenting goals, or were we just shelling out cash for more legos?

We wanted the kids to learn money management (giving, saving, spending), and we wanted them making real-life decisions.

We also wanted them to contribute in more meaningful ways towards household responsibilities.

I think the biggest challenge in whatever chore/allowance system is insuring accountability and making it a real-life exercise. It takes no little parental oversight to keep the whole thing humming. I’ll admit that’s where the proverbial wheels have always fallen off the cart for us.

If you’re like me, you need a chore/allowance system that requires less from you and more from your children. Or, in other words, you need another paper chore chart and sticker pack like you need another girl scout showing up at your door selling you three more boxes of thin mints.

I am happy to say I think we’ve found a solution, and I wanted to share it with you. is worth a try: it’s an online chore system, and we’re finding it’s working here for us. You can input your children’s chores (according to day, a.m./p.m.), assign a point value to each chore (or no points, if you choose), and let them do all the work from there. They manage the list, checking off what’s done. When they finish their list, the computer sounds a chorus of applause and sends you an email indicating what’s been done. The site also allows you to divide earned points according to your spend/share/save goals. It keeps track of everything.

Can it be this easy?

Of course not. The task is still yours and mine to make sure that no points are awarded for shoddy jobs. Yes, we still need to enforce measures of quality assurance. But the other parts (keeping track of who’s done what and what they’ve earned) is managed by the computer.

I’m hoping we’ll stick to our new system, not simply because I would more time to write (which I would), but most importantly, because I want our children growing into responsible, capable adults.

* * * * *

If you find you’re ambivalent about allowance, read this essay by Elizabeth Kohlbert from The New Yorker. It’s entitled, “Spoiled Rotten: Why do kids rule the roost?” It will shock, even infuriate you, and light a fire in your parenting belly. Your kids will be doing chores today.

If you’re unsure about what jobs to assign your children, check out this great book by Christine Fields: Life Skills For Kids: Equipping Your Child for the Real World. It outlines what work even a young toddler and preschooler is capable of accomplishing around the house.

And if you simply want to talk about Biblical principles as a foundation for “welfare to work” programs as well as general attitudes/practices of money management, you can read and discuss these passages with your children:

2 Thessalonians 3:6-15

1 Timothy 6:17-19

Matthew 25:14-30