DIVIDING CHORES FAIRLY
“I have to do all the work around here!” is a familiar complaint in many households. Not all such complaints are created equal. The twelve-year-old who voices it when asked to put his own plate in the dishwasher is obviously just being lazy. But it’s easier to sympathize with the mother who spends eleven hours a day, five days a week, in job-plus-commute, then staggers in the door each night to find four people (including Dad) demanding to know where their supper is. The same four people who’ve already tossed their jackets, shoes, work/school supplies, and toys all over the place with no evident intent of picking anything up themselves.
Regardless, it’s unwise to decide by default who “should” do what. What that usually means is that the bulk of the work lands on whomever can least bear the sight of a mess, or on the person who has “always” done the cleaning. While everyone else learns to take being waited on for granted, to the point they consider themselves unfairly burdened if asked to do the tiniest little thing.
Here’s a better approach to distributing chores among household members.
- Make an agreed-upon list of what needs doing and how often.
- Decide what other responsibilities household members have (including kids’ homework and extracurricular activities) and how much time that leaves for household chores.
- Let everyone share what they’d be most willing to do. While it’s only fair to have everyone take turns on the most popular and the most dreaded tasks, there are often things a single individual is partial to.
- Assign duties and schedules based on all the above.
- If there are stubborn points of disagreement—how often the bathtub really needs scrubbing, whether the family should buy a labor-saving device—take a vote, find a midpoint compromise, or flip a coin to decide which approach to experiment with first.
Things that should not be deciding factors in chore divisions:
- Who brings home the most money. While the one-breadwinner-one-homemaker system still works for many families, a higher per-hour salary doesn’t necessarily mean fewer at-home hours for chores.
- Nit-picking perfectionism or blind habit. Most floors really don’t need mopping every day, so why demand anyone make time for it just because that was how you “always saw it done” in your childhood?
- “Man’s work” vs. “women’s work.” (Need it really be said?)
- Strict lines based on age. Not that a four-year-old should be allowed to use a power mower alone, but many kids are ready for many chores earlier than you might think—or are ready later than you think they “should” be. Don’t just dismiss anything someone expresses interest in; if you can’t hand them the full responsibility yet, provide them with opportunities to help the person who’s currently doing it.
That last item brings up an important final point: make chores a shared experience whenever possible. The ancient saying, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor” (Ecclesiastes 4:9, New International Version of the Bible), proves itself not only in the “return” of getting work done faster, but in the camaraderie that shared work generates!