How to Live With Kids: Chores and Responsibilities

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Sometimes really late at night or early in the morning, when your subconscious is creeping into the periphery, you find yourself thinking, “Who the hell are these people I’m living with? They could be anyone. They’ll be old one day, with pants they paid for themselves. Jesus what is happening. How did I get here.” And you’ll think those things because honestly, living with kids is weird.

There are workarounds to these potential frustrations and jarring moments of clarity. We’ll go over a few of them and hopefully you’ll share some of your own and everyone will feel much better about the smears all over the glass doors.

How to Live With Kids: Toys & Entertainment
How to Live with Kids: Food & Cooking

Chores & Responsibilities

Living with kids means setting an example. You have to be the you that you want them to think you are and remember you as. You have to think ahead to how your current actions will bubble to the surface in their future. Because years from now, when you’re busy listening to Das Racist’s Greatest Hits, this kid will be subconsciously reinacting something from their past existence with you, and they’ll either put the plate in the dishwasher or leave it on the countertop, depending on what you drilled into their skulls when they were young.

This is the source of much anxiety.

Their eventual partners / friends / children will either curse or praise you, depending on this future adult’s ability to fold and put away their own shirts, among other things. This won’t always be fair to you, but that’s the price of receiving such large tax deductions.

Chores are one way to come out of this on top! All at once — practically without lifting a finger — you’re setting a good example, cultivating their work ethic, teaching responsibility and money management, and AND! enjoying a clean house. You’re the best parent ever. You are the winner.

Don’t Underestimate:


Starting Young

As soon as these beasts can walk across the room without falling over, you have to make them do chores. You should even call them “chores” so there’s no ambiguity later. Start them out with small things — picking up toys, putting away groceries — but don’t stop there. There are some lovely stepstools at Ikea and the sooner these children know how to properly wash a plate, the better.

Having a Plan

You’re gonna need a chore chart. Kids have selective hearing and memory loss, so the chore chart is essential. (More on chore charts below!)

The Barter System

These short people are probably going to want money from you, and that’s valid, but maybe it’s not always an option. If we’ve learned anything from the esteemed Chuck E. Cheese, it’s that a non-monetary payout can be more rewarding than dollars. This is especially true for the smallest of smalls, who have yet to grasp the concept of money.

Kids earn something — stickers, rocks in a jar (Riese got poker chips) — for each completed chore. Have a variety of activities, small to large, that they can trade their tokens for.

This system is a good way to squeeze in the activities your kids really love but you don’t always have the time or energy for, like Nerf wars or backyard picnics. You’ll definitely need to include a couple of grand prizes — something they can save up for — like an actual food fight or letting them drive your car around the parking lot. That’s legal, I think.


Those poor overworked children would really appreciate a break. I recommend not giving them scheduled days off and surprising them instead. Have you ever seen a very young person be excited because you dusted the bookshelves? Now you will.

Advanced Chore Charting for Teenagers
with Special Guest Fit For A Femme


It’s important to teach your kids the importance of earning their own rewards. I think it’s equally important to teach them gratitude, because there’s nothing worse than a spoiled, ungrateful brat, no matter what age you are. Also? Kids are messy, but thankfully – as discussed in the Food & Cooking edition of How to Live with Kids – they’re also inclined to help.

My focus is on Advanced Chore Charting for Teenagers. Fair trade. Good old slave labor, like they used to have in The Baby-sitter’s Club. We’re lucky, she approached us for additional chores to earn more money for the stuff she wants (music for her iPod, sparkly oxfords, mint lip balm), so it was technically her idea. Maybe that’s a strategy. Let’s pretend it is.

The key here is balance. There are a few really crappy jobs here. Nobody in this household wants to do them. Vacuuming, picking up after the dogs in the backyard, cleaning the guest bath. Those things SUCK, so they’re worth a bit more. There are a few easier ones thrown in – the laundry room, sweeping the front porch, loading/unloading the dishwasher – and they garner a little less cash. For clarity, these aren’t a la carte chores – payment’s made when they’re all done.

actual negotiation document. we're impressed.

What does this mean for us? We supervise, execute on clutter reduction, and congratulate ourselves because it’s way cheaper than weekly maid service. KIDDING! Sort of.

We do not police her bedroom or bathroom. It’s her space and we generally let her do as she pleases until we can no longer contain our disgust or are entertaining guests. This is probably more of a private parenting decision rather than basic chore assignment and completion, but it’s worth mentioning that if she wants to have a friend over or go see a movie, that room had better be reasonably presentable and her chores done.

Fun stuff: Let’s say your kid wants a ukulele for fun (mine does). They’re expensive! A nice one can run you close to $200. That could take 10 weeks! Let’s say Christmas is months and months and damn months away. As a parent, you want to encourage your child’s creativity and possible hidden ukulele talent, so we’d offer to match her savings. That’s how she got her first iPod (until she lost it, then she was on her own and saved up for half a year to replace it)!

Tip: Nobody likes a nag. The $1 charge per chore reminder is like built-in nagging and it totally works. It saves time and keeps me sane and nag-free. Probably too harsh for the wee ones, but fair game for teens. (We can be extra fancy and call it Priority & Time Management if you want to.)

What kind of chore system has worked for you? Can you think of one thing that you wouldn’t have your kids do? Because I can’t. Have you ever had a food fight?

Next week we’ll talk about how kids have to ride in your car sometimes and what to do about that.

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lnj has written 310 articles for us.


  1. My mother says she only had me so I could do ALL the chores…and cook for her.

    Now, I have OCD. She wins.

  2. Re: “Have you ever seen a very young person be excited because you dusted the bookshelves? Now you will.”

    This is so true. Imagine hearing “You bought me a pony?!” except “You loaded the dishwasher for me?!”

  3. Barter! I always hated taking out the garbage, so I’d make deals with my parents, like “I’ll do the dishes and the laundry for the next three days if you’ll please just take out the garbage for me.” Needless to say,they got the better end of that deal. But what’s great is that I would then do the laundry and dishes with a good attitude because I had CHOSEN to do them and somehow that made it feel a lot less sucky. So if your kid hates a particular chore, make them a bargain that works to your own advantage. Whatever they choose, they’ll do it with a better attitude because it will be their choice.

  4. Ah the chore chart. My mother had a chore chart, similar to that one that fit for a femme had up. Except in order to get paid I also had to read her mind on which chores she hadn’t listed that she wanted me to do, and if I didn’t I got yelled at. And then half the time she didn’t pay me anyway, because she “didn’t have any cash”. Also if I wanted to use the car I had to pay her $20 gas money, regardless if the car was full or not, regardless of how far I wanted to go. Even to go to the grocery store AT HER REQUEST. In an area with zero bus service or side walks. Bitter? I’m not bitter.

  5. My mother spoiled the hell out of me and never made me do any chores, ever. We were super poor when I was little, so I guess it was her idea of making for not being able to shower me with toys and what-not. The day it came time for me to do my own laundry, I stood mouth agape, eyes wide in terror, staring at all the buttons and dials on the washing machine…I’ve never felt such resentment. I may have actually cried a little, though I’m not sure, I think I repressed it.

    My point is, if you don’t teach your children how to be self-sufficient, THEY WILL HATE YOU FOREVER AND EVER AND NEVER CALL YOU EXCEPT FOR WHEN THEY NEED MONEY.

    (jk i call on christmas too cuz i still haven’t figured out how to work the oven)

    • i did have chores but i never had to do dishes. so now i just sort of stare at the sink and wonder who will wash these pots and pans for me.

      • I have no recollection of ever doing the dishes as a child. Unless camping counts.

        Anyway, when the tomboy first met me I would speed-clean my apartment before she’d come over, and I swear to God I’d throw all the dirty dishes INTO THE OVEN to hide them. Which is obviously disgusting, but HELLO that’s what the “busy single mom” card is for.

      • I had chores but never dishes as well. We would leave our dishes next to the sink and they would magically be gone a few hours later. I was perturbed when I moved into my first apartment to find dishes still there the next morning.

    • My mom taught me how to do laundry and I still get baffled by all the buttons and dials on washing machines. There are so many options and I never know which one I should pick.

  6. I don’t have kids but these htlwk columns are hilarious!

    My parents started off with monetary allowances for chores when we(me n 3 brothers) were really young..which was all fine and good until my idiot brother swallowed his damn quarter and was rushed to the ER (hey it was the 80’s and we were naive….and he thought his stomach was a good place for his treasure, safe from the thieving hands of his siblings). Allowances then turned into things bigger than my brother’s mouth……awesome things like School supplies!!!!! Being a lil baby-nerd at the time, I got a cool hello kitty pencil case and more stickers than I could shake a stick at. Much better than a measly quarter!

  7. I don’t remember having a chore chart, somehow we just knew what chores we were supposed to do. Also, me and my siblings all keep cleaner apts/houses than my parents because their clutter so annoyed us.

  8. Growing up we didn’t have a chore chart but my brother and I definitely each had chores, to be decided at family meetings every once and a while. We did get allowance but it was made clear that our allowance was not for doing chores–chores were required because we were part of the family, allowance was something we got because we were part of the family, so we still had to do chores even if we decided we didn’t want allowance but allowance could be taken away if we didn’t do chores. Also picking up our toys, cleaning our rooms, putting away our laundry (and when we got older doing our laundry) and packing our lunches weren’t chores, they were just our responsibilities as humans, basically.

    One thing that I am eternally grateful for is that starting sometime in middle school it was my job to get dinner on the table twice a week. In high school I made dinner more often than not and would have it ready when my parents got home–they got home late, I was hungry, I needed something to do, and that way the meal was vegan like I was, so everyone won. And now I can feed myself while a startling number of my peers cannot.

      • When it started we would pick some recipes from cookbooks together over the weekend, buy the ingredients together, go over the recipe together if anything in it confused me (since my parents got home pretty late so they usually wouldn’t be home while I was cooking), and then I would try to have it ready by 7 on the night we planned. I do remember a few times that something came out inedible or I meant to have it ready by 7 but then it ended up being ready by 9, but that’s a part of learning and my parents were patient with me, and most of the time I had something pretty good ready for them and I never set the kitchen on fire. Well the only time I set the kitchen on fire I was trying to make a bracelet out of a toothbrush, not cooking dinner.

  9. This is great, but how do I create a chore chart for my roommate wherein the principal reward will be me not seething passive aggressively at her? I would also be open to rewarding her with some sort of milk sharing scheme.

  10. We had a vague chart of chores that rotated. I’m the youngest of five kids. This included cooking and dishes especially.

    I always packed my own lunch and if we wanted cookies in our lunches, we had to bake them (also rotated). I used to bake cookies on Sundays and carefully apportion them so we had equal amounts of cookies for the rest of the week. But then my brothers would eat them and my careful planning would be ruined and there would only be a couple days of cookies. But it was a good system, even if it didn’t work all that well for 8 year old me.

    Note that I could bake cookies from scratch before the age of 8. This is an important skill, though it has not translated perfectly to my gluten free needs…also, by this time I could make dinner (spaghetti, stir fry, stuff like that) and pancakes (from scratch, fuck pancake mixes, they’re all salty) and stuff like that.

    And this is why I can feed myself. Also why tomorrow I’m going to try to make butternut squash risotto and roasted asparagus tips with artichoke hearts.

    My parents may have fucked me over in some ways, but damned if they didn’t make me self sufficient.

    • Yay for parents who force you to learn to cook! When I got to college and I made food for my friends from stuff we stole from the dining hall, I had so many friends who were shocked that I knew how to make things like soup and enchiladas. I was shocked that they were 18 years old and didn’t know how to make themselves dinner. Isn’t that a basic skill?

      • this surprised me, too, on arriving to college. I had to teach a friend how to MAKE PASTA. As in, here’s how to boil water and dump pasta in it.

        I’d learned to cook from helping my mom as a little kid, making my own lunches from the age of 8, and cooking dinner for my family a few times a week once I got to be 13 or so. That’s when i went vegetarian and my mom started working a crazy-overtime job to help pay for my sister’s college tuition, and I basically had to learn to cook or eat nothing but veggie hot dogs.

      • IKNORITE

        also my risotto was bitchin, and we had almond milk ice cream with sliced fresh peaches and pureed blueberry sauce for dessert.

        Definitely grateful that I am capable of doing that.

        My parents have essentially condemned us all to hell, but as my brother’s girlfriend said, “You know, you and your siblings are going to hell and shit, but at least you’re all excellent cooks.”


  11. My sister and I had our chore chart ripped off the wall by my furious mother about 2 weeks after it was implemented. After that, my mom would always tell us what we had to get done that day/night. We weren’t allowed to do anything else until chores were done.

    Unfortunately, this backfired in my case. I learned how to half-ass it to make things appear clean. Also, I hate cleaning to this day and have become a genius at rationalizing my way out of it.

  12. my parents never made me do chores as a child and i was a very messy teenager who resented being asked to do my fair share as a resident of the household as a result. LISTEN TO LANEIA.

  13. I’m a teenager, and I don’t have set chores, but I don’t get an allowance either. I have two siblings, and we are all expected to help out. On Saturday and Sunday, which are “chore days,” our parents will list the things that need done (clean bathroom, take out trash around the house, clean living room, pick up after the dog, rake the yard, etc.) and my brother and sister and I will split them up.

    On a regular basis, my sister and I do dishes, and my brother does the trash. We all do a percentage of our laundry and cooking/table setting.

    We don’t get allowances, but our parents pay for special outings, like movies with friends, or trips to Six Flags. If I need money, I babysit, or we barter things. (I once got a new computer game after cleaning the entire house, vacuuming, dusting, mopping, trash, etc.)

    I personally like this system much better than having a chore list. It’s built on mutual trust and respect for our home and family, and there’s no nagging involved on my parents part, which is annoying both for them, and for us.

  14. Hmm… We have a chore chart magnetted ontothe fridge, but most of the time my mother doesn’t bother filling it out and just expects us to read her mind. :P

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