Why Don't Kids Do Chores Anymore?
By Jeff Opdyke
When I was growing up, I spent many summer days struggling to shove a
bulky Toro mower through the thick mat of grass that was my yard. That
was my main weekly chore. I pushed that same mower around the
neighborhood with my buddy, Mike, hawking lawn-cutting services for $10
I mention this because I've noticed something peculiar while driving
around town in recent weeks: Though it's summer, I've yet to see a
single kid out mowing a lawn. I don't see any kid-produced signs
offering mowing services. I see teams of lawn-maintenance workers
neatly tending yards...but no kids.
It's not just lawns, mind you. During our time in New Jersey, I don't
recall seeing any kids raking leaves in the fall. In three years not a
single kid stopped by our house offering to shovel the snow off the
driveway. I never hear my son's friends lamenting the chores they're
charged with after school or on weekends. All they ever do is ride
bikes or dash off to this practice or that game or some camp.
I don't blame the kids. I blame the parents.
To put it bluntly: We've gone soft. Partly, I think, we remember how
much we hated the chores when we were younger. Partly we feel guilty
about all the time we spend working. Partly we're just too lazy and
it's easier to hire somebody than force our kids to do it. Whatever the
reason, many of us are slacking off when it comes to imposing on our
kids the same sorts of obligations our parents required of us.
In watching my son water some plants for me the other day -- meaning,
watching him barely sprinkle the plants amid his goofball antics with
the hose and an anthill -- I realized that it's time to reverse the
trend. Child-labor laws be damned, it's time my son went to work.
* * *
I don't recall how old I was when my grandfather -- who, with my
grandmother, raised me -- started asking me to cut the grass, though
I'm pretty sure I was about 9 or 10. I remember in second grade helping
him in the garden and with odds and ends around the house. I also
remember hating it: I would much rather have been down the street
playing with my friends, or inside watching Scooby Doo on a Saturday
morning. Occasionally, he might give me a couple of dollars for my
effort, though usually he just patted me on the back and said, "Good
Looking back on those days, I realize now what my grandfather was
trying to teach me then: that you must establish a work ethic; you must
learn to take care of your property; you can't always expect money for
simply helping the family; and you must earn through an honest day's
work what you want in this life.
I can't say that I've sent an equally meaningful message to my own son
up to this point. In fact, the message I'm sending is pretty much the
For instance, we have a lawn-service guy who cuts the grass and edges
the yard for $35 every week or two. I hired him because I don't have
the time on weekends, between writing and rehabbing an old house I
bought with a friend. The amount of money I can make on those
activities far surpasses what I pay the lawn guy to cut my grass.
Yet I'm beginning to see that the cost of hiring somebody to cut my
grass goes beyond that $35. This is the first house we've owned -- and
we've owned six -- where I haven't done the yard work. What my son sees
is his mom and me paying someone else to do what we could do instead.
So, I imagine he figures: "Why should I do what Mom and Dad won't?"
Traces of that come out when he's assigned a small chore. He gets bored
quickly and begins to play, and soon drops the task all together. It
isn't a priority for him because I haven't instilled in him that it
should be a priority.
A couple of weeks ago, for example, I asked him to water some day
lilies we had just planted. I watched him through the window: He spent
about a minute on that duty, then began spraying an anthill, stirring
up the ants and watching them busily try to preserve and rebuild their
mound. When that lost his attention, he turned off the water, left the
hose splayed across the yard and came inside to watch cartoons -- while
the day lilies wilted in the heat.
I know I've got company here. Not only do I see it in the absence of
kids cutting grass and raking leaves and shoveling snow, but I also
hear it from friends I talk to. Lots of parents don't force their kids
to do much work around the house. Why, though? Why do we let our kids
shirk the same responsibilities we once had?
I can think of a few reasons...
* * *
Perhaps the key reason is that we live in an age that's more
touchy-feely. Many parents -- and I concede that I am one of them --
are more lenient and less authoritarian than were our parents. When I
was a child, my grandparents gave me a chore and they expected me to do
it. Period. These days, Mom and Dad aren't so much setting the rules as
they are negotiating with their kids. And kids learn to negotiate
themselves out of tasks they don't want to be burdened with at the
But that isn't the only reason. It's also a question of money: Many of
us have more of it than our parents did when they were raising us. If
we can hire somebody to cut the grass every two weeks for less money
than we'd spend on one dinner out, why not?
Also, so many kids are overscheduled these days. They have soccer
practice and tennis lessons and dance class. By the time they get home,
there are barely enough hours for homework and dinner. Who has time to
weed the garden?
And then there's guilt. More couples both work nowadays, often logging
long hours. That leaves us anxious not to waste those precious hours we
do have for our kids. Chores, we rationalize, are inconvenient when we
could be doing something as a family.
So there are lots of reasons, many of them valid. But I'm convinced
that none of them are good enough, and I'm going to change things
around my house.
My son isn't quite old enough to push a lawnmower across the yard yet,
but he is old enough to help me weed the many flower beds we have. He's
also old enough to rake leaves in the fall, to help me change the oil
in the cars and to help me wash the dishes at night -- all of which
will soon be on his to-do list. I may decide to pay him a little
something for a few of those chores, since some of them are beyond what
I view as weekly obligations.
For the most part, though, I'll just pat him on the back and say, "Good
-- July 01, 2005
I began mowing lawns when I was about ten years old, and never had a
problem, even with equipment (early 60s vintage) that wasn't nearly as
safe as today's models.
I think parents today don't give kids enough credit -- if taught how to
use mowers & trimmers properly, there's no reason a boy 10, 11 or 12
couldn't handle them safely.
If we could it do it back then, why can't they do it now?
Well not often for other families but that's because the properties are
somewhat sparse and "yards" here are rather big and generally daddies (or
mummies) mow them with a tractor. However kids do things like water
gardens, gather manure for same, feed animals etc - usually at their own
place - they do baby sit for neighbours (for pay) however.
Before moving here when we lived in the suburbs with our own kids they did
chores for their pocket money at home and baby sitting etc for neighbours.
We didn't have a mower (no lawn) so I wasn't too keen on them learning not
to cut off extremities on a neighbour's machine even if they wanted to.
There are kids in the neighborhood who offer to mow yards (for pay, of course).
As there are who offer to shovel driveways in the winter.
The difference I see from when I was younger is that, I'd take on a chore like
that as a committment. That is, I have x customers counting on me to shovel
their driveway when it snows. So I'd be out the door when the snow stops, with
three driveways to do.
As a homeowner, though, I find that it was more, my driveway will get shovelled
OK, but only if there aren't a bunch of kids putting together a ski trip that
day. In the latter case, the driveway stays snow-covered. Not good. So I have
a contractor with a truck who picks up a lot of cash on snowy days do it - it
gets plowed every time. But then I'd have to turn away the kid that does come
to my door.
Except now my son has enough muscle to do it - so, yes, some chores do get done
I ran into similar things getting babysitting. I arrange babysitting for my
bowling night. Back when I was babysitting, such an arrangement meant that
Thursday nights are spoken for, period. As a parent, I found that I'd get calls
from my regular babysitter if there was a club meeting or something that night.
So anymore, before my son got big, I'd hire kids for one-off chores or single
babysitting nights, only. Can't make any continuing arrangement.
And, yes, it was coming from the parents. I've had all of three conversations
with parents about this pattern, and the response is along the lines of "you
don't expect them to give up THAT ...". So I'd go elsewhere to make
arrangements I could count on. But then the kid's parent would be disappointed.
My oldest daughter would love to babysit, but today's mommies don't tend to
leave the baby's side for a minute. So finding customers has been rather
hard for her. She has a news paper route though.
My sister babysat a lot in hs - I didn't do as much. Mostly New Years
Eve as a last resort kind of thing.
I didn't use babysitters much as most of the time I would take the
children to the base nursery instead of getting sitters. I didn't much
care for the older ladies because I wasn't sure they would do things
as I wanted, because things changed since they had their children.
Also they cost more.
DD#1 was babysitting by the time she was 11 - at least with her own
siblings for short periods (half an hour) and a little later for the
lady down the street. So after that I almost never had sitters.
We don't use sitters much, either, just one college age one who fills in.
We do have a dcp who is a mother with grown children, but being that she is
professional, she does respect our wishes WRT the kids.
My preferable age for a sitter was 13-16. Any older than that and they are
interested in boys, being on the phone, and/or having more of a social life
than sitting. I have had great experiences with sitters of this age group,
as they love to sit and play with the kids and will do stuff with them,
rather than sitting them in front of the TV. Then if you go any older, then
it costs an arm and a leg to have a sitter come in.
I don't know if I have a preferred age other than I want an adult. We have
a college age sitter who is great with the kids. She's not as you describe.
She gets down on their level and plays with them. They totally love her and
they beg to see her. She charges $10/hr whether for one or both of my kids.
We often give a little more. I think she's very much worth it.
I think it's a combination of age, interests, and temperament. You are
probably most likely to get that mix in the 13-16 age, however! I
remember when I was growing up. We had a favorite babysitter would
always play with us. When she got too old (I forget how old - probably
when she went away to college), her younger sister starting babysitting
for us. She was probably the same age - but wasn't as interested in
playing with us, and preferred to watch tv and/or do her homework.
My problem finding a babysitter is that the girls I wanted to babysit
were also active on the basketball team, and didn't sit during the
season. I'm really looking forward to when the two girls down the
block turn 12 - they are planning to team-sit together. One of them is
better with kids than the other (she has already shown aptitude - one
day last summer she had 4 3-4 year olds practicing Stop Drop and Roll
by rolling down the hill next to her house, for instance) while the
other I think mainly wants to hang out with her friend.
That's very true. I was generalizing too much with just my experience.
That is a problem too. Kids are very busy these days. DD1 is not able to
play any sports, so she isn't as busy as most kids, but she still has choir.
they are >planning to team-sit together.
You can do what I did, if your interested. You can have them start coming
over now and just be a mother's helper to you. I trained my friends daughter
this way. When she was 13 or so, she came in the summer while I was working
at home and play with the kids and then as she got older, I was able to
leave her here on her own and then gradually worked up to more hours, when I
aptitude - >one day last summer she had 4 3-4 year olds practicing Stop Drop
My oldest daughter turns down babysitting jobs constantly, and only
occasionally babysits for one family down the street. She started sitting
for the when she was 14, and is now 16. They are now 7 and 12. Her friends
who like babysitting are overwhelmed with offers. However, these aren't
diaper aged kids, they are 4 and up.
Too bad you couldn't give some sitting jobs DD1's way. She is getting
frustrated. She did have one family that had her sit, but they moved away.
There are some new families moving in the sub behind our house, so maybe
there is hope. It certainly isn't like it used to be. I was very much in
demand in my babysitting days.
When my kids were in high school and babysitting, they got most of their
jobs through church -- after they volunteered to help in the nursery or
preschool classes. The kids liked them, and the parents got to know
them a bit, so THEN they'd ask if they did any babysitting. (The youth
group also sposored a babysitting class, which they took together over
several Saturdays, so that helped, too.) It worked out pretty well --
for a time, there were people who would call here to ask which of the
three was available; they might have a preference, but would accept any
Children won't care how much you know until they know how much you care
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