Getting kids to help with household chores is difficult even with the most helpful of children. Add a pandemic, boredom, and a healthy dose of anxiety, and the inevitable temper tantrum is just seconds away. And let’s face it, no kid wants to get their hands dirty cleaning bathrooms, washing dishes, organizing messy closets or dusting when they can sit in their rooms playing computer games all day.
So flashback to more than a decade ago: On a personal note, I couldn’t stand the way they would scrunch up their faces in distaste and claim how “it’s not fair!” For kids who forget on a daily basis where it was they last left their shoes or their homework assignment, their memories were pretty sharp when it came to recalling who cleaned the bathrooms a week earlier. I must have been mulling over this problem when I went to bed one night because I woke up suddenly at 3AM with a sudden flash of brilliance. Not trusting myself to remember come morning, I quickly wrote it down and went back to bed. And when I woke up the next morning, there it was, written messily on a scrap piece of paper next to my bed.
Ultimately, I realized that the problem was me. I needed to take myself out of the equation. As long as I was the one doing the assigning, they would always turn to me with complaints. Removing myself from the process would leave them no one to complain to. So I instituted the job jar.
Basically, because I have four kids, there had to be either 4, 8, or 12 jobs in the jar. (Or 16 when I was feeling rather vindictive…) I wrote each job down on a piece of paper, gave it a twist and stuffed it into an old Nescafé jar. I gathered the kids around and we passed the jar round robin until all the jobs were gone. But here’s where it gets interesting. I decided on a number of rules which made the job jar go from a good idea to a great one.
Rule #1: No complaining. Whoever complains gets an extra job from EACH of his/her siblings.
That more or less nipped the kvetching in the bud. First week, one kid complained and then suddenly had an extra three jobs. You’d better believe that was the last time any of them opened their mouths…
Rule #2: You had one hour to complete your jobs from the minute you picked them. In theory, my goal was to harness four extra hours of cleaning help and get it done within one hour. I proposed that we would and could do something on a Friday like going to the beach or to the park if – and only if – everything got done a reasonable amount of time. Realistically, it doesn’t always work. As the kids got older, one had a music lesson, one had a driving lesson and one insisted on not doing the floors in the kitchen until I vacated it. Fair enough. But most of the time, the work got done within the same period of time and the house buzzed with the work of its busy bees.
Rule #3: Not a rule per say, as much as a guideline. You are allowed the trade amongst yourselves – one kid preferred vacuuming to laundry and was willing to trade with his sister – fantastic. I didn’t care as long as it got done. In the end, it’s quite interesting to see your kids engage in quiet negotiations with each other in order to get what they each wanted. Sometimes, jobs were switched happily and sometimes they weren’t. But they knew better than to complain. See Rule #1…
In the end, it works like Russian roulette, I explained. Sometimes luck was shining your way and you got easy jobs two or three weeks in a row. But sometimes you ended up with bathrooms for weeks on end. But that’s life. I’ve never understood why some parents engage in being 100% fair with their kids. It’s a crazy concept – that everything should be fair and even-handed, and raising your kids to think that the world operates fairly in everyone’s favor is just nuts. Just look at your kids – if you’ve got more than one, you’ll know that one kid might be a graceful gymnast while one can barely do a somersault (yes, that one is personal….) One might be artistically and musically inclined while one can’t manage a stick figure or hum in tune. You win some and you lose some and ultimately life isn’t always fair and they might as well learn that lesson now. Those of you who disagree with me should not wonder about the shocked look on your kid’s face when life throws them a negative curve….
One mother argued with me once that her kids were too young to benefit from the job jar. I disagree. There are always jobs you can find – or create – for kids at any age. Folding dish towels is something even a five year old can handle. Buy them a miniature broom and shovel and you’ll be surprised at how excited they’ll be to push that thing around. Yes, you’ll have to re-sweep the floors, but you’ll be teaching them the importance of pitching in around the house, in doing their share, in giving and not just taking. The mother of that five year thanked me a few months later – her kid eventually got the hang of it and she didn’t always have to refold the towels.
In the end, the funniest thing to come out of this experiment was this:
I was sitting in the living room one Friday afternoon and heard one of my girls shouting at her sister:
“Don’t you dare walk in there with dirty feet! I just washed the floor!”
It was music to my ears…..
And if this “job jar” concept goes viral, remember you heard it here first.