Argument or agreement? Teens and household chores

Your Life
Dr. Cathleen McGreal
September, 2013

I am returning to the work force. I have two teens – ages 15 and 13. What is reasonable to expect them to do around the house in order to help me?

As I read your question, I noticed an interesting perspective – you wanted your teens to help you. By rephrasing the question, we get a stronger sense of the team work involved in any family. What if you were to consider: What is reasonable to expect teens to do around the house to keep it running smoothly? It reminds me of the interaction between Moses and his father-in-law, Jethro. Moses was trying to do everything by himself. When Jethro saw that Moses was trying to help others from morning until night, he told him, “What you are doing is not good. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone.” (Exodus 18:17, 19) Jethro suggested that Moses keep difficult cases for himself and give responsibility for the simpler ones to others: “That will make your load lighter, because they will share it with you.” (Exodus 18:22) Moses followed this advice. Sharing responsibility is a wise idea in a family system, too.

Make a list of household tasks. What are the key chores that need to be done each week? What activities need to be done now and then, such as cleaning out the refrigerator? Once you have the list, sit down as a family and have each family member choose an hour’s worth of chores. Decide on a time each week to complete household chores together. For our family, “Whole-House-Cleanup” worked best on Saturday morning due to sports during the week. Remember that the family won’t be cleaning your way. Be supportive and not critical of their efforts.

Plan meals and cooking schedules. A significant area of change will be in meal preparation, since you will be arriving home as hungry as everyone else. As a family, plan a dinner menu for the week and post it on the refrigerator. One or two slow-cooker meals prepared in the morning will make a big difference at the end of a long day. Perhaps each teen could prepare a meal once a week; in that case, let the cook choose the menu for that night.

Work-family balance can be challenging. But remember what John Heywood wrote in the 1500s: “Many hands make light work.”


Dr. Cathleen McGreal is a psychology professor and certified spiritual director.