How do I make my teenager do chores?

Your Life
Dr. Cathleen McGreal
April, 2018

Psychoanalyst Erik Erikson noted that grade school children demonstrate a sense of industry, wanting to help out with tasks. They are eager to grab a snow shovel or mow the lawn! It takes a lot of patience when we have little helpers joining in, but their sense of pride makes the effort well worth the extra time. Once kids hit the teen years and are competent in completing chores, much to our dismay, that enthusiasm is gone. To be fair, as adults we don’t always look forward to chores either; we just know they need to be done.

Set up a regular chore time. Parents can acknowledge that chores aren’t high on their list of fun activities. Living in a clean home, however, is important in regard to physical and psychological health. Given that necessity, find a time that everyone in the family can work together. Our family found that early Saturday morning before sports or other activities worked for us. All six of us worked for an hour doing, “Whole House Cleanup.” Each of us had our own labeled set of cleaning supplies so we could move through our chores without waiting for products from others.

Make a chore list to be checked off. Each Saturday, I ran off a list of weekly chores adding in those needed to be done less frequently. The kids looked over the list and started with chores that were least disgusting in their eyes. As chores were finished, they were checked off. Sometimes we just had grudging cooperation, but we let them know we would be glad when the chores were done, too! If the progress seemed too slow, then afterward as parents we considered whether we actually needed to have a 90-minute cleanup in the future. Somehow, we accomplished our goal in the hour!

A theological perspective on common tasks is provided by Brother Lawrence, a Carmelite brother in Paris in the 1600s. In the Practice of the Presence of God he states, “That we ought not to be weary of doing little things for the love of God, who regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which it is performed.” Brother Lawrence spent his days doing chores that many of us would find undesirable, and he pointed out that we often fail in performing them in love. Adopting his attitude is a challenge for parents and teens, but chores can become a time of prayer. “The time of business,” he said, “does not with me differ from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clutter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the Blessed Sacrament.”