Note: Don’t miss the sample chore list and schedule linked at the bottom of this article.
“Where no oxen are, the trough is clean; But much increase comes by the strength of an ox.” – Proverbs 14:4
One of the best gifts you can give your children is a biblical work ethic.
My wife Elise is currently pregnant with our fifth child. Our first four kids are ages 10, 7, 5, and 3. Pregnancies have been hard on Elise, which has caused her to take a big step back from her regular responsibilities. We knew this would be the case going into the pregnancy but still wanted another child.
During Elise’s first trimester, we discussed strategies for surviving the coming months. We had the idea to hire some additional cleaning help. However, one thing we had never done as a family was to create an exhaustive chore chart including all of the tasks that need to get done divided out into a regular routine.
Now there are two kinds of people in the world: the kind that reads the italicized sentence above and gets strangely excited and the kind that reads the same sentence and wants to be sick. I am the former, and my wife is the latter. 😊
Elise was not thrilled at the prospect of spending multiple romantic evenings asking each other questions like, “How often should we mop the laundry room floor?” (I don’t see the problem!), but she went along with it anyway. (I am so thankful for my wife!)
The result is that now, a couple of months after finishing that wonderful chore schedule project, 1) our home is consistently cleaner than it was before, 2) our children (especially the oldest two) have grown a lot in responsibility, 3) there is less pressure on me than there would otherwise have been, 4) our lives are less stressful, and 5) it is easier to do ministry.
Sounds like a miracle drug, right? But in reality, it’s just the application of sound biblical principles regarding hard work, child training, and organization.
Take these for example.
Biblical Principles for Chore Chart-making
“The way of the lazy man is like a hedge of thorns, But the way of the upright is a highway.” – Proverbs 15:19
Interpretation: God values hard work! And contrary to popular opinion, life is easier in the long run when you work hard.
“Let all things be done decently and in order.” – 1 Corinthians 14:40
Interpretation: Although this verse is specifically about order in the church, it applies to the order God wants us to bring to all areas of our lives. God values organization! As it relates to work, this means there is often truth to the adage, “Work smarter, not harder.”
“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother,’ which is the first commandment with promise: ‘that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth.’ And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.” – Ephesians 6:1-4
Interpretation: God values authority, and parents are to train their children. Christian dad, your authority must always be exercised lovingly, but don’t be afraid to tell your kids what to do. They have a lot to learn, and you are to teach them! As it relates to chores, this means teaching your kids to work diligently and perform various tasks.
Back to Our Story
Before we hired more cleaning help, I wanted to get a better handle on a) how much there was to be done and b) how much we could handle by ourselves, even with less help from Elise. So we followed three basic steps.
Step 1: Create a master chore list.
Think through your house room-by-room and compile a list of all of the chores that need to be done, sorted by how frequently you want to do them. (For example, some chores should be done every day. Others, once a week or every other week. Then there are the “spring cleaning” type chores that you do once a year or every six months.) View our sample chore list below.
Step 2: Divide your master chore list into a chore schedule.
The important questions to answer at this point are “who” and “when”? For instance, in our home, we decided that Elise would make the bed and I would touch up the master bathroom every morning. (Please don’t ask how consistently we have done these chores. We’re far from perfect.)
We created a “morning” and “evening” list for each member of the family and threw all the weekly chores into a catch-all list that Elise assigns chores from throughout the week, checking them off until (theoretically) they all get accomplished.
Step 3: Teach your kids the new system.
Make sure not to steamroll your kids or become the slave driver. Explain, “We are instituting a new system to help keep the house cleaner and help you learn responsibility.” If necessary, start with fewer, easier chores and work up. And here’s the hard part: you have to follow up. As the old saying goes, “Always inspect what you expect.”
If you never check your children’s chores after they are done, here’s what will happen: they will probably do them wrong every time, the house won’t be cleaner, and your kids won’t be learning. So do the hard work and stick with it! Remember, this is training! It takes disciplined parents to train disciplined children.
Having said all of that, don’t be a perfectionist. Not every chore will get done every week. That’s okay! Is it better than it was before? Are the kids learning? We call that “progress.”
Finally, consider adding incentives to motivate your children. My wife is good at this. In January, we dusted off my old Super Nintendo and introduced our children to “video games.” They think it’s awesome. Their favorite is Donkey Kong. Elise will allow our kids to do extra chores off the list to “earn time” on the Nintendo. Sometimes she also pays them for more difficult chores (usually in $0.25 increments).
Your children should not expect payment for normal household responsibilities. But sometimes dangling that carrot can help give them the push that they need to learn a new job, work hard to prepare for guests coming over, or do a particularly unpleasant chore that is not on their normal list.
I know I said it earlier, but this process really has been revolutionary for our home. What we learned is that even with Elise on partial bedrest, we didn’t need cleaning help! In fact, we found ourselves embarking on more hospitality ventures than we had previously! I couldn’t believe it. Not only that, but I was less stressed, which flowed over into a happier home. All this was good for our children.
My wife warned me that there may be backlash against this post because there is a popular parenting philosophy these days that says children need to be free from responsibility and basically have unlimited time to play. I don’t follow the mom blogs, so I was unaware of this movement, but I have a problem with that philosophy.
Lamentations 3:27 says, “It is good for a man to bear the yoke in his youth.” The book of Lamentations records Jeremiah’s sorrow over the destruction of Jerusalem. However, the principle stated in this verse applies to other areas. It is not bad for children to work hard. In fact, it is healthy. How else will they learn responsibility?
Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that children should never get time to play. Please don’t picture our home as a Charles Dickens-style factory. We have lots of fun in our family! Our children have time for imaginative play, reading, artistic creativity, riding their bikes, making forts, taking trips to the zoo, and more. However, we still require them to do chores. And so should you.
Little House on the Prairie
I’d like to close with some historical perspective.
One of the fun activities I have done with our oldest two daughters this year is to listen to the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder together. We are currently one hour and sixteen minutes into The Long Winter.
One of the things that stands out to me from these stories is how hard those children worked! In one passage from By the Shores of Silver Lake, Laura says after a full day of riding horses with her cousin that she couldn’t remember the last time she got a whole day to herself, and she knew she wouldn’t have another day like that again for a long, long time.
And yet, despite all that work, Laura was happy! She had a loving, caring family, and she could appreciate how she was growing in responsibility. Apparently, the work ethic Laura learned as a child paid off because she grew up to write one of the most treasured children’s books series in American history. Can we give our children some of those same gifts?