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How to Trick Your Kids Into Doing Chores

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Dear Catherine,

My parents were just visiting and had plenty of criticism for my children, ages 8 and 11, who don't do anything around the house! I repeatedly fielded questions like "Why don't your children have chores?" "Do you always let them wake up and watch cartoons?" "Why don't your children clean the bathroom, you work so hard and your children do nothing?"

How do I raise my boys to want to help? I don't want to force chores on them!

Thanks,

Soft Mom

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Dear Soft Mom,

When I started reading your question, I was sure you were going to ask for advice in handling your judgmental mom. I’m glad you didn’t because I’m still trying to figure that one out myself. Whenever my mom criticizes my parenting, I immediately become possessed with a desire to feed her objections. Like, if I were in your shoes I would probably end up stealthily encouraging my kids to laze around in the presence of their grandma, just out of spite. I’ve never been great with criticism.

Had you been looking for help with this kind of criticism, the French model would be of very little assistance. From what I’ve seen, French moms of moms do not hold back. However, unlike a lot of American grandmas I know who passive-aggressively deride their own daughters but spoil their grandkids outright, a French grandma will go after her children and grandchildren with equal horsepower. And, since it’s much more common in France for kids to be disciplined by adults other than their parents, French moms don’t bristle in the same way as, say, I do when their children’s shoddy behavior is questioned.

I discovered that just the word “chore” makes my daughters think that they are being unfairly worked and/or that they deserve to get some money out of the deal.

Thankfully, you are just asking after chores. Since I am not your mom, I’m going to tell you that it might be time to toughen up. But, you don’t necessarily need to give your kids chores. I discovered that just the word “chore” makes my daughters think that they are being unfairly worked and/or that they deserve to get some money out of the deal. Instead, I’ve couched it as their “roles” in the family. We all have roles. Mine is to take care of them, feed them, stuff like that, but also—to tell them what to do. Their roles are to make their beds, set the table, collect toys scattered throughout the house and—my favorite—to listen to me. If the don’t listen, then I can’t do my job. This reasoning, giving me ultimate power, somehow works with my kids. It’s the greatest and has everything to do with being The Chief.

As my kids grow, The Chief (me!) will announce changes in everyone’s job description. I am going to go with this as long as I can. I’m not delusional, and I’m sure I’ll have to alter my omnipotent tone when my girls become moody teenagers (Lord, have mercy on me), but it’ll be a lot easier to hold on to some kind of authority if it’s already been established.

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As for watching cartoons—I’m all for letting the kids spend their early morning weekend hours with some of their cartoony pals if it means my husband and I get to sleep in a little longer. They can forage in the kitchen for sustenance enough to survive until I’m up and ready to cook something (by the way, we are talking 8:30 a.m. if I’m lucky). Their job is to let The Chief rest; mine is to eventually cook them some breakfast. See? Fantastic!

To sleep and strength,

Catherine

Have a French (or any nationality) parenting question for Catherine? Email her at mommecs@bermanbraun.com.

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