Betsy Hart

When my family and I visited a friend at her home last summer, I marveled at the "job chart" she posted each morning for her five children. Even the youngest, at age 7, had a number of chores assigned. For the most part, it seemed they did them diligently and without too much complaining. Maybe they just knew they would lose any argument with their parents anyway.

Hmm, would a job chart work in my house, I wondered? Sure, my kids were asked to empty the dishwasher, take out the garbage, pick-up after themselves (sort-of), that kind of thing.

But real jobs? Didn't I have to do all that, or hire someone to do it? How could I ask my four little darlings to do the kinds of chores I did as a child: scrub floors and bathrooms, shovel a long driveway, cut the grass with a manual mower. Clearly these things had profoundly burdened me as a human being and I couldn't dare ask my own precious little ones to do such work. The fact that I have rather fond memories of feeling _ well, useful _ as a child and took some pleasure in a job well done, and through it all, still liked my parents ... that must have been brainwashing later imposed.

Then I thought, "Wait a minute. I wrote a book on parenting. My kids are already burdened. I may as well add the chores!"

So a few months ago I had a "family meeting" with the kids, age 12, 10, 7 and 5, and introduced the job chart, which now shows up about twice a week. (Notice I didn't write about this at its inauguration. It's kind of like a diet; if it bombs, you don't want anyone to know about your failure.)

But so far, so good. There were arguments at first. "Mom! This isn't fair. I have to do more than the little girls!" Well, yeah. (Socialism can only work in a family.) There were shoddily done jobs that had to be done over and over. For a while, it took me more time to supervise than it would have to do the work myself.

Flash forward a few months, and I marvel as the kids gather around the job chart _ which they now brag about to their friends _ sometimes even horse trading their jobs. What do you know? Rather than waste time fighting with me, they've for the most part figured out it's easier to just get to work.

Emptying the dishwasher and garbage is till there. But now there's more responsibility for cleaning the basement and bathrooms, vacuuming, laundry, dusting, some yard work and more. It turns out that even a 5-year-old can put a fitted sheet on a bed and straighten up the coatroom "cubbies."

Who knew?

Betsy Hart

Betsy Hart is a nationally syndicated columnist for the Scripps Howard News Service. Her column on cultural and family issues, “From the Hart,” is distributed each week to hundreds of newspapers cross the country. Betsy’s first book, "It Takes a Parent: How the Culture of Pushover Parenting is Hurting out Kids – and What to do About It," was released in September, 2005, and was a top seller for its publisher, Putnam Books.