It all began with my plastic lawnmower at the tender age of four.
I playfully pushed it behind my two older brothers and my dad, who always seemed to be trimming the bushes. Later the torch was passed in seventh grade, when my brothers went to college and I actually took pride in this weekly effort.
Kids raised on chores go on to become employees who collaborate well with coworkers.
Unfortunately, household chores seem to be a thing of past today, as Rachel Gillett noted in a recent article in Business Insider.
“If kids aren’t doing the dishes, it means someone else is doing that for them,” said Julie Lythcott-Haims, former dean of freshmen at Stanford University and author of “How to Raise an Adult,” during a TED Talks Live event.
“And so they’re absolved of not only the work, but of learning that work has to be done and that each one of us must contribute for the betterment of the whole,” she said.
Kids raised on chores go on to become employees who collaborate well with their coworkers, are more empathetic because they know firsthand what struggling looks like, and are able to take on tasks independently, Lythcott-Haims believes.
She bases this on the Harvard Grant Study, the longest longitudinal study ever conducted.
“By making them do chores — taking out the garbage, doing their own laundry — they learn to realize, ‘I have to do the work of life in order to be part of life.'”
From the age of six through nine, I received a weekly allowance from my dad that increased from 10 cents to 20 cents over the course of these years. When I began my caddying career at the age of 10, my dad pulled me aside and said I’d no longer be receiving an allowance.
“We are all part of a team in this household,” he said, “and everyone needs to chip in. Your mother is teaching, cooks, and does the laundry, I pay the bills and do my share around the house” — he cleaned all of the bathrooms and trimmed the bushes — “your brothers have the lawn and the garbage, and for now, your job will be to fold clothes, help with dusting, vacuuming, dishes and setting the table. We are all in this together. Any money that you make from caddying is yours to spend on your ‘wants,’ and your mother and I will take care of all of your needs.”
My dad was simple, to the point, and very fair. My oldest sister, Deb, was in a wheelchair, but she would often accompany us with her good sense of humor and words of encouragement.
My parents instilled in us the importance of doing things well. Setting the table with a certain order and elegance, folding the clothes on the crease lines and stacking them neatly in piles, dusting the corners of the shelves and making sure there was enough polish on the rag, cutting the grass with precision — all of this was important. But the real test was washing my dad’s car.
The whitewalls needed to be scrubbed, the dashboard dusted off, the window shield and windows shined, the interior carpets vacuumed — and every so often, a thick level of polish needed to be applied. In the end, my dad would always tell us that our attitude of excellence in housework would later translate into excellence in our personal and professional lives.
He was tough, because he loved us, and he was very demanding, because he knew our potential. He tried to fan it into a flame.
I hear many parents tell me today that with their kids’ massive amounts of activity and academic workload, they don’t want to overburden them with housework or manual chores. Really? My two older brothers were nearly straight-A students in grade school and high school. They had plenty of extracurricular activities and sports, yet they found time to integrate a little housework into their hectic reality.
I believe this healthy discipline created a mindset that helped us be more focused and productive, getting much more done in less time. It also made me a lot more sensitive to blue-collar America and to the millions of people who dedicate their lives to washing dishes, cooking, and doing hard manual labor for a living. Kids may moan and groan and express their frustration when asked to chip in with some housework — but trust me, they will thank you one day. More importantly, their future spouse and employers will thank you for not having created an entitled, spoiled and insensitive human being.
Jesus worked as a carpenter from his childhood days, and I would like to think that St. Joseph and Mary gave him a list of household chores as well: “He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart … And Jesus advanced [in] wisdom and age and favor before God and man” (Luke 2: 51, 52).
Character and chores go hand in hand, so please don’t deprive your children of this enormous life gift.
Fr. Michael Sliney, LC, is a Catholic priest who is the New York chaplain of the Lumen Institute, an association of business and cultural leaders.