In my work with parents, the question of chores often comes up. I find so many parents (myself included) struggle with consistency and follow through when it comes to chores. It’s easier and quicker to do it ourselves and sometimes we just don’t feel like the battle that precedes chores.

I have also been enjoying the writings and ideas of Kerry Kelly Novick  a child, adolescent and adult psychoanalyst and founder of Allen Creek Preschool in Ann Arbor, MI. In this week’s newsletter I am going to share her response to the question of chores. I hope you find it useful.

Too tired to clean? Prioritize tasks, then try ‘chore time’ for the little ones

Posted: Aug 21, 2010 at 5:30 AM [Aug 21, 2010]

Dear Kerry,
I have two very young children (3 ½ and 18 months). My husband and I spend a whole lot of time in the evening after their bedtime, when we’re really tired, or on the weekends, doing household cleaning and chores. It’s impossible to get anything done when they are awake, but I’m beginning to feel pretty overwhelmed. Any ideas?

Dear AH,
I’m not surprised you are tired at the end of the day and don’t feel much like putting up curtains, waxing floors, sorting papers and so forth. Two young children are 24/7 in themselves, on top of all the other responsibilities of modern parents.

The first thing may be to consider which household tasks really matter to you. Maybe the floors only have to be waxed once every month or two, not every week, for instance. Your children won’t be this little forever, and you can return to different standards when they are older, if those still feel important. A sparkly-clean house is lovely, but may not be worth extra fatigue and resentment at this point.

Sharing the load with your partner is the next priority. Make your list of necessary tasks together – you may find that you care about different things and it will help to clarify with each other which things are super-important and which things you can live with according to the other’s standard. I’m sure you will want to try to meet both your priority needs. But that also means both people pitching in.

Next is to make a plan or timetable for how often tasks need to be accomplished and think through when is the best time to do them. This is where the kids come in. Of course it’s easier to do work when they are asleep, but, as you pointed out, that’s when you’re most tired. Here you can think creatively about how to meet your needs and simultaneously build skills and character for your children. It’s not too early to start. A young mother wrote to me about what she came up with and I think her ideas really fit the bill for your situation.

She developed the idea of “chore time” every weekend. She and her husband decided what tasks they wanted to accomplish and figured out which ones they could safely do with the kids around. Then they included their children in the family’s activity by devising chores for them. Each child is expected to do as many chores as they are years old.

For instance, her 3-year-old had 3 chores one Saturday. They were: Sort through her accumulated art work from school from the past month with her mom, tape up the ones she chose to save and display on the wall in her room, and help her daddy replace the car registration tab on the license plate. The 1-year-old’s chore was to empty the laundry hampers and hand the clothes to his daddy to put into the washing machine.

While doing these chores with the children, mom and dad were also getting the laundry done, sweeping the kitchen floor, and wiping down the baseboards in the 3-year-old’s room. Another week, the 3-year-old dusted her shelves, while her mom changed the light bulb in her ceiling fixture and installed a new rod in her closet. The possibilities to mix and match tasks are endless.

This plan won’t keep you from having to do some chores later, but it creates the possibility of fun family time that might otherwise be filled with drudgery for you. Your kids will acquire the habit of enjoying contributing to the work of maintaining a family household. You will be laying the groundwork for a lifelong set of skills in your kids.

Working collaboratively, persisting to finish tasks, planning and executing – these are all crucial skills for school and work. Research has demonstrated that these emotional muscles are needed for kids and grownups to be successful in later life. They are more important than particular academic content or achievement levels. They represent positive character traits, interpersonal skills of teamwork, and dependability as a person.

Try “chore time” and watch your kids grow in pride and competence, while you enjoy their new capacities and defuse your own tiredness and resentment. Please let us know how it goes!

Kerry Kelly Novick is a local child, adolescent and adult psychoanalyst, affiliated with the Michigan Psychoanalytic Institute and the Michigan Psychoanalytic Council, and is a founder of Allen Creek Preschool. You can reach her through, or you can email her your comments and questions for future columns. The ideas and opinions in this column are Kerry Kelly Novick’s and do not necessarily represent the views of Allen Creek Preschool, MPI or MPC.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.