Why Household Chores Mean Happier Kids ... Really

Want happier kids? Give 'em chores!Want happier kids? Give 'em chores!Moms of one or two kids often seem amazed that I'm able to function, let alone get anything done, with my crew of five. But moms of many kids have it easy in a lot of ways. Sure, we paid our dues when the biggest ones were very small, but we barely remember those days now. Instead, we function in a world where we don't always have to be the ones to do the dishes, push the smaller kids on the swing, walk the dog, or carry out the trash. And yes, the fact that I can run to the grocery store at noon without having to take my three-year-old is sheer magic.

Of course, all moms have a built-in workforce like I do. But I'm not sure most of those who stopped at one or two kids take adequate advantage of their young family members. I started out as a fairly typical American parent, wanting my kids to pull their weight, but not always sure how much to expect in an increasingly child-centric culture.

There was no pressing need to drop the hammer from day to day. Even without their chipping in, I could still more or less manage (if grumpily). And frankly, expecting kids to pull their weight - and enforcing those rules day in and day out - is tough. When I had "just" the two kids, the daily trade-off hardly seemed worth it: It was better to just do it myself than try to oversee a pair of rambunctious, clumsy, pint-sized employees.

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It was only when my third was born (my oldest were four and six at the time), and I realized that I would have to expect more of the older kids for sheer survival's sake, that I began asking my kids to step up. And step up they did, and have, if reluctantly at first.

Oh sure, there's the bellyaching sometimes. My oldest kids tell me that they are the only ones of their friends who have to (fill in the blank.) Or, my favorite, coming from my teen son Jacob: "I just want a weekend to lay around once in a while!" (Tell me about it, son.) But when push comes to shove, they pitch in. They do what they're asked. The younger ones have never known differently. To them, chipping in around the house is just what members of a family do, so they do it mostly without complaint and always without defiance.

My kids aren't perfect little workers. They sometimes cut corners and slack off, as I sometimes do. They don't resemble the uber-industrious children of the Matsingenka tribe described in a recent New Yorker story entitled "Why Are American Kids So Spoiled?" They've been known to try to wheedle their way into extra allowance or a piece of candy in exchange for a chore. Sometimes they put me off "until the commercial" or "for just a few minutes."

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In other words, they're American children, and I am mostly OK with that, because ultimately they do what needs to be done. Maybe not because they respect me any more than the average kid respects his mom, or because they're less lazy than any other kid, but just because they've each been needed - in a real, concrete and obvious way - from a young age.

I think every human being wants to feel necessary. Even small children need a purpose, to feel as though their actions help people and make a difference. Helping out around the house - not in some made-up pretend "job" to stroke a small ego, but because Mom's gonna lose it if those shoes don't get lined up in the entryway - fills that need. Going by that logic, by requiring my kids to be useful I'm doing them a favor.

So if you want less stress, a cleaner house, and maybe even happier kids? Have a whole bunch of them Or if the large-family route isn't for you, take a tip from what I wish I'd figured out earlier, and expect your family to help you: Whether you've got a single toddler or a couple of teens. Some gritty, exhausted, laundry-filled evening, you'll be glad you did.

- By Meagan Francis

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Meagan FrancisMeagan FrancisMotherhood's a hard job, but it comes with benefits. Author, blogger, and mom of five Meagan Francis has been honing the fine art of parental satisfaction since her oldest child was born thirteen years ago, and shares her missteps, success stories, and what she's learned along the way via her blog, The Happiest Mom, and book The Happiest Mom: 10 Secrets To Enjoying Motherhood.