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Challenge: Perfectly Imperfect Parenting

Pandemic Parenting Survival Hack: Chores

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One goal of parenting is to avoid burnout. Did you know that “parental burnout” is now a scientifically researched syndrome? The term came to be pre-pandemic, and the pandemic hasn’t helped things!

The pace of modern life has continued at a clip. Sure, extracurricular activities might have been canceled or thinned out this past year. But parents have still been left juggling virtual learning schedules, working from home, and a world that expects constant contact.

Parental burnout has three legs. The first is utter exhaustion, which is totally relatable! The second is inefficacy, or the frustration of feeling like your efforts are not producing the desired results in your children. The third is feeling emotional distance from your children.

One adolescent psychotherapist offers a solution. There is a tension that we hold as parents between three things: our sanity, our children’s happiness, and a clean house. He argues that you must let go of one of the three to preserve the other two. Somehow, I didn’t find that very encouraging!

Another solution is to ask for help as we juggle. Having a clean house is possible if everyone who lives there contributes to its cleanliness. Did you know that Braun Research found that while 82% of adults say that they had chores as a child, only 28% of children do them today?

My parenting hack that I relied upon during the pandemic was having my children help around the house. Sure, they already had some responsibilities. But as our world contracted and COVID expanded, we had to rely upon each other to an even greater extent to make our daily life work. Everyone had to step up.

Interestingly, I have interviewed two New York Times bestselling authors for my parenting show, Chaos to Calm, who have noted the importance of chores. The first guest was Jessica Lahey, who wrote The Gift of Failure. If you’re uncomfortable with the term chores, her research indicates using the alternative term “family contributions.” That’s because even if children whine when they are asked to help, they’re hardwired with a need to feel significant and like they can contribute meaningfully.

The second guest was Dr. Leonard Sax, who argues in his book The Collapse of Parenting that chores teach children the valuable lesson of humility in our self-aggrandizing world. Chores develop a sense of character by allowing children to discover their own sense of competency and hone their awareness of others.

Here are a few tips that I’ve found helpful for chores:

  1. Find a job that your child likes to do. Yes, not every chore is a favorite, but people often like some more than others. Take the time to divide up the necessary chores by preference if possible. One of my sons loves to shovel snow, which is hard work! Another is a patient laundry folder.
  2. Praise them for a job well-done. Jessica Lahey encourages parents to resist critiquing a child’s chore attempt. If they are trying their best, allow them to learn by doing, which takes time. The goal isn’t perfection, but family contribution and personal growth.
  3. Establish a routine. Children most often thrive on schedules, which allows them to know what’s expected of them. Find a few things that they can regularly help with, and give them a heads-up if there is a larger task for the family to do.

When household chores are mixed with fresh air, exercise, and reading, that’s ideal. Let’s face it, somedays are better than others! But it’s reassuring to know that our children’s contributions—which help us as parents—also serve to help our children. I hope that’s a silver lining of COVID that stays.

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