Paradox #4: Don’t Make Your Kids Do Chores
***This is the fourth and last post in my series on The Paradoxes of Gentle Parenting.***
This past Sunday, I was nearly in tears… over scrambled eggs.
For Sunday breakfast, NoNo normally makes bacon and K.K. makes the scrambled eggs. But on this particular morning, NoNo had woken up not feeling well and asked me to do the bacon instead.
The minute K.K. found out, the complaining started:
“Why do I have to cook the eggs when 哥哥 isn’t making the bacon?”
“It’s not fair that 哥哥’s not doing anything!”
On and on it went.
I felt my temperature rising. I was annoyed at his self-centeredness. I was irritated by his pettiness.
I finally snapped and yelled, “Forget it! I’ll just do it myself!”
I banged around the kitchen angrily as I made the bacon, scrambled the eggs, toasted the bread, put away dishes, washed the dishes, set the table, made fresh soy milk, brewed tea for my Hong Kong 奶茶…
I fumed as I thought, “Why am I the only one doing anything while everyone else is sitting on their butts?!”
That’s when it hit me:
The thing that I expected of my children was the very thing I was unable to do myself: give without expecting something in return.
When my husband and I assigned household chores to our boys, we had hoped that they would learn the values of service and teamwork, thoughtfulness and kindness.
Instead, they have been using it as a system of barter and exchange.
Their bookkeeping is meticulous:
“You need to set up my toothbrush today because I did it for you last night.”
“Since you didn’t set the table, you have to split my chore. I’ll vacuum and you wipe the table.”
“You can pay me 5 kuai for putting your toys away for you.”
Everything is accounted for. Every back that is scratched requires a scratch in return. Their goal is a zero balance.
The sad thing is, I think they get it from me.
As a full-time homemaker, I naturally do a lot for my family. But I rarely do so willingly, joyfully, or lovingly. I do it out of duty and expectation. I feel that I have no choice.
The needs of my family are not opportunities; they are demands. My household tasks are not free gifts of service that I offer; they are jobs that are required of me.
I expect reciprocity and fair compensation for my labor.
Unfortunately, I don’t get paid.
I’m always in the red.
Especially for women and mothers, we internalize so many expectations, whether real or perceived.
We get the job done, and—since we’re tiger parents—we do it well.
But when we live and serve out of obligation, it feels like a burden. When we believe we don’t have a choice in the matter, we resent it.
Our sacrifices feel more like requirements than freewill offerings.
The same goes for our kids.
When we force them to chores, they think about doing the bare minimum. When we make them write that thank-you letter, they do so grudgingly. When we expect them to always be well-behaved, they wear down from needing to maintain their image.
The demands, requirements, and expectations we place on them don’t actually produce the qualities we desire to see.
Instead, it teaches them to bargain, become bitter, or burn out.
I realized that if I truly wanted my family to embody the values of thoughtfulness and service, I had to stop requiring it—starting with myself.
I had to remove the shoulds and have-to’s from my own role as a wife and mother. I had to unplug from the sense of duty so I could tap into my own heartfelt desire. I had to be free to say No so that I could truly say Yes.
I had to have a choice.
And I had to give that same choice to my kids.
That same afternoon, we had a family meeting.
We informed NoNo and K.K. that they were no longer required to do chores.
They looked at us as if to ask, “What’s the catch?”
They were still responsible for personal tasks, like making their own bed and putting away their own laundry. But Daddy and I were not assigning them any family responsibilities. Instead, we wanted them to have a team mentality. We encouraged them to keep their eyes open for ways they could thoughtful and be helpful.
After we brainstormed a list of possible ways they could serve the family, we adjourned our meeting.
The institution of our no-chore policy has not been without its glitches. Now that the boys don’t have to do any chores, my husband and I have to pick up the slack. Things aren’t quite as efficient as they used to be. And I have a tendency to passive-aggressively prompt the kids with questions like, “Can you see anything you can help with?”
But last night as I was washing the dishes, K.K. asked me how he could help me.
A few days ago, NoNo set the table without my asking.
I asked NoNo about his thoughts on the new no-chore policy.
Me: Why were you willing to help out even though you didn’t have to?
NoNo: It makes me feel good because I know I’m helping the family.
Me: Didn’t you feel like you were helping before?
NoNo: No. It was just something I had to do.
Whether we’re kids or adults, commands and demands only create an aversion to doing the right thing.
We can only truly be thoughtful helpers, cheerful givers, and generous team players when we choose to do so of our own volition.
This coming Sunday, there may or may not be scrambled eggs for breakfast.
K.K. may not feel like making them. I may not either.
And that’s okay.
We’re both free to say No.
I’m willing to forego a plate of eggs made with tight fists and twisted arm.
I think I’d rather wait for the plate that’s made with open hands and a full heart.
Check out these other Gentle Parenting Parodoxes:
- Paradox #1: There’s No Such Thing as “Misbehavior”
- Paradox #2: More Connecting, Less Correcting
- Paradox #3: Freedom Leads to Self-Control