Chores: Mom’s biggest chore?

Age 2 and 4, my kids are old enough for chores and allowance. I’m a personal finance writer, for crying out loud. I’ve written stories about how to teach your kids about money. So I really have no excuse for the fact that my kids are not on a chore/allowance program.

A couple of weeks ago I started priming them: “When we get back from our week at Grandma’s we’re going to start doing chores. And you will also get money to spend each week.” They both started at me blankly. Lucas, 2, wandered off to find his red Thomas the Train. A few days later I said it again. And again. Somehow the potential of a pet cat came into the equation. I don’t really want to get a cat, but in some twisted way that seemed fair. Then we got back from Grandma’s, and I posted the chore list (above) on the fridge.

There are a couple of reasons I’d been dragging my feet on the chore program. For one, chores were a major source of friction and fights in my house growing up. No doubt there’s some Freudian tie-in to my procrastination.

But the other (main?) reason is that making your kids help with housework is work. I’d often willy-nilly ask the kids to help out: “Please put the watermelon rind in the garbage.” “Please pick up your Barbie stuff before bed.” “Since you refuse to use the potty even though you totally can then your job is to put your dirty diapers in the garbage.” About half the time, they enthusiastically complied. The rest of the time? Flashbacks to childhood family fights. And the Rodney King riots.

This issue chapter reminded me of a friend who was raised by a violent, alcoholic mother. He often said, “When I have kids, they will have rules. They will know exactly what is expected of them.” An environment in which you never know what you are supposed to do breeds anxiety. My kids are not abused – aside from me forcing them to listen to NPR every morning, and to try one bite of my cumin-roasted cauliflower. But without chore expectations, there were a lot of unknowns. And some fights.

So after dinner and before bath, we read through the list, and I put their allowance on the counter: 4 $1 bills for Helena, two for Lucas. I was pretty sure they’d forgotten about the cat, so I didn’t bring it up. Now, I said, per the list, it was time to cleanup. At their Montessori daycare, they’ve been singing that lame “Barney” cleanup song and picking up after themselves since they were 18 months old. On pins and needles, I watched.

Helena, cool as a cucumber, gathered the puzzle pieces strewn around the living room. Without my asking she collected the Polly Pockets and their many, microscopic accessories, and put them in their bin. Her sandals were placed by the front door.

Lucas, meanwhile, ignored my charges he return the dozen throw pillows to the couch. Now, to be fair, he is 2. And it was bedtime. Despite his naturally sweet, complaint and eager-to-please personality, has been a pain in the ass lately. So while he tooled around and definitely frowned and said “no” to my many requests, all I could do was scream inside my head: “It would take me four seconds to throw those pillows on the couch and we’ve been at this nonsense for 15 minutes!” Because, as any parent knows, getting kids to do work is often work.

I may or may not have put the pillows on the couch myself.

Later, as I was tucking Helena in, she surprised me. “Mommy, thank you for making that list of chores.”

“Why did you like that?” I wanted to know.

“Because now we know what to do,” she said. “Can we get a cat now?”

  Recipe for roasted cumin cauliflower:

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees

  2. Cut up one head of cauliflower

  3. Place on baking sheet

  4. Drizzle with olive oil

  5. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and cumin

  6. Toss

  7. Spread in an even layer

  8. Roast until tender and a little brown, about 30 minutes, stirring once

Emma Johnson

Emma Johnson is a veteran money journalist, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour,, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post’s ‘Must Read” list.

Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer.

A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Read more about Emma here.

5 thoughts on “Chores: Mom’s biggest chore?

  1. Yes. I started giving my 3 kids $1 per week ( this was 35 years ago). The rules were that they had to save 50% each for two months (so they had $4 to spend) and, they could not buy any food, beverage, candy, gum, etc.. Today, they are all financially responsible adults. In lindergarten they got $1.50, 1st grade $1.75, thereafter $1 per grade. Through H.S. Remember this was 35 years ago.

  2. I forgot to add to my previous comment:
    With careful forethought, I did not connect allowances to chores. The kids got allowances because they were part of the family. The kids had chores because they were part of the family. I’m sorry the chores caused “Flashbacks to childhood family fights”. Too bad. No chore took more than 15 minutes (even though H.S.)
    How are you going to keep trak of who does chores each day and what is the consequence? Do their allowances get docked?

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