Parenting Like the Obamas - Do Your Kids Do Chores?

Filed under: Celeb Parents

We all know that Barack and Michelle Obama don't spoil their girls -- Sasha and Malia only get $1 a week in allowance, for example, which is a lot less than the average weekly allowance for kids their ages ($4.10 and $7.18, respectively). The payout is small, but the Obama girls are responsible for a lot.

The President and First Lady are serious about chores. "In the Obama White House, bedtime is still at 8 p.m.," writes the New York Times. "The girls still set their own alarm clocks and get themselves up for school in the morning. They make their own beds and clean their own rooms. And when the much-anticipated pet arrives, they will walk the dog and scoop its poop."

That's a tall order for two small girls, but really, it's not unreasonable. At seven and ten, Sasha and Malia are plenty old enough to do basic chores, even if they do have a full staff at home to keep things running. But what about the rest of us? Are chores a regular part of most American households? The answer seems to be yes, sort of.

Chores get lots of lip service -- after all, who is going to say that kids don't need to help out around the house? -- but the fact is few parents hold the hard line when it comes to making kids responsible for specific jobs. There are lots of reasons for this. Families are busy, for one, and jamming chore time into overloaded schedules feels like one more thing to do every day. But that's just the tip of the iceberg.

For many parents, it's not the chores themselves but the idea that we have to have a system for the chores that overwhelms us. Elizabeth Thielke, a nurse and mom of three from Nashville, admits that she wings the chore thing with her kids. "Sometimes I wonder if we should expect more of them, but really we don't need more potential sources of conflict around here, and they are reasonably helpful when asked, so we are on more of an 'as needed' approach to chores."

Her kids do have some consistent responsibilities, though. "For example, while we expect reasonable neatness in their rooms on a daily basis (floor somewhat visible, no mold growth), they are expected to step things up a notch if guests are coming over." Her middle son, who is a pet lover, has taken it on himself to feed the dogs, without being asked or reminded.

Elizabeth's approach to chores is unstructured but it works for her family.

In theory, tying allowance to chores makes things simpler -- there's no cash until the chores are finished, period. President Obama recently confessed that during the campaign, he often forgot to give his girls their $1 a week allowance. Other parents have the same experience. Caroline Humphreys started out with an elaborate chart for her son, now eight, where they tracked everything from picking up toys to brushing his teeth. "For this he got $5 a week, but we made him save $1, donate $1 and keep the rest for cheap plastic toys in museum gift shops. I was not nearly mom of the year enough to keep up with this system."

These days, Humphreys has separated chores and money; her son gets a weekly allowance, independent of any specific chores, but he is also responsible for helping out around the house every day for fifteen minutes or so, after his homework is done. "It's a good system for us," Humphreys says, "because it's flexible -- I can let him off the hook if he's sick or unusually tired, I can pick whatever needs done that day, and I can take the opportunity to show him how to do the things he hasn't done before. And there are no charts to keep up with!"

The biggest stumbling block for parents, though, isn't the chore chart, but the whining that often accompanies chores. New York City mom Katie Workman asks her sons, who are six and nine, to do simple things like set the table. But, she admits, "in a recent mean mommy move, I said that they couldn't get their allowance unless they did their pathetic tiny chores cheerfully and without complaint. It turns they are so unable to set the table without whining that they have actually forfeited their allowances for the past seven or eight weeks. Apparently it's worth [losing] $5 to be able to complain their way through setting down four napkins and a bunch of silverware."

Workman is doing an important thing here, though. While her sons are not getting their allowance, they are still doing the chores. And that's the secret that the Obamas know: The most important part of having kids do chores is not filling in the chart or checking off the list, but teaching them responsibility. For Elizabeth, the bottom line is this: "If there are special projects around the house, we will ask for some help simply because that's what they should do as a member of the family."

Do your kids do chores? Do you have a specific structure for them, or are you flying by the seat of your pants?

How do you manage chores?
We use a chart to track chores.45 (10.9%)
My kids have a list, and when the chores are done, I pay out allowance.43 (10.4%)
My kids do whatever is needed, whenever I ask.173 (41.9%)
Oh, please! I do everything around here.152 (36.8%)

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.