Why My Daughter Does Chores

Teens learn about more than laundry when they pitch in.

Posted Nov 20, 2019

Sarah Brown/Unsplash
Source: Sarah Brown/Unsplash

My 13-year-old daughter vacuumed last night, right after she helped to load the dishwasher with the dinner dishes. She was slow. Geez Louise, was she slow. She complained about it. Declared that "none of her friends have chores" and then she got ‘em done.

We all pitch in around here. Dishes and laundry and bed making and caring for the pets. It takes a lot to care for a house. And a family. I’m not over the top about the house part. I like it tidy, but look too close and you are bound to find crumbs and dust bunnies, and coins between the cushions.

The teen’s to-do list isn’t about keeping things pristine. It isn't about control. Good thing too because recent research out of the University of Houston shows that kids don't necessarily learn self-control by doing chores.

Yet, in our household, chores are an important way to connect. We learn to work together as a team.  Itis about coming together. Giving good effort. Contributing something valuable. 

Everyone wants to feel as though they belong. As though they have something meaningful to contribute. And when my daughter helps me cook dinner, or does the vacuuming, there is a sense of meaningful contribution. It helps the family.  Leaves her feeling good. And that matters. 

I grew up doing -- and hating -- chores too. And I learned much more than the practicalities of laundry and cooking. They taught me about time management – if I took my own sweet time doing the dishes, I had less time with my friends. I learned about working hard and doing good quality work – the first time out. And, I learned what it felt like to have others counting on me. 

Last night, in this house, we turned on the “working music” and the three of us danced around the kitchen while doing the dishes. My daughter vented about her day, shared her stress, taught us some lyrics, shared the eighth-grade gossip while drying dishes with her dad. That's good too. Girls who see their fathers tackling household chores are more likely to have higher-paying jobs, according to research.  

They are less limited by gender roles. Perhaps, they see equality embodied over the kitchen sink. Researcher Alysa Croft found girls seem to have broader aspirations in households where parents share domestic responsibilities. "How fathers treat their domestic duties appears to play a unique gatekeeper role," she wrote.

Of course the fun times, the easy conversation while dancing around doing the dishes -- a chore that theoretically might help us achieve success in life -- is the ideal.  Most nights, we are light years away from that ideal. Instead, we do get plenty of sullen expressions, eye-rolling, silent plate clinking. Getting our kid to help out can be as messy as the saucepot after a spaghetti dinner. She whines, complains, and disappears into the bathroom. When she comes out and finds her chores still waiting for her things can get loud. 

But, even then, when this process is a full-on drag, there is value in the practice. She's learning practical skills and accountability.   

And kids who grow up doing chores tend to be happier and more satisfied later in life, according to research out of Harvard. Chores teach work ethic and that contributes to success and happiness in adulthood. That's a plus even if I rarely feel successful and happy when my daughter is explaining how I'm ruining her life by asking her to take out the garbage.  A chore that takes her roughly 30 seconds. 

And yet, we are a team here. We pitch in. Every day. Whether we feel like it or not. And that’s the way it works in life too, right?

Life is about participating. It’s not about sitting around. It's not a spectator sport where someone does life for you. Life is in the living. The doing. The connecting. The belonging.The contributing.

And when we do all that, when we are part of this life, then we feel like we matter. We become part of something bigger. That's what I want my daughter to know. That's what I want her to feel.

How convenient that she might just learn that while folding the laundry.