Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006

Asking for Help


I grew up with the twisted notion that being a grown-up meant not asking for help. To me, being an adult signalled independence and the ability to cope with whatever life threw at you. I don’t know where this came from, because my mother always seemed to have loads of friends who fluttered around her helpfully when crises arose, and nobody ever said me, “You’re going to have to go it alone”. But somehow I acquired the idea that you’re on your own and that’s the way it is.

After my recent dose of the blues, a few people said a few things to me that made me think. One friend said, “When you get depressed, you disappear into your house and you don’t tell anyone. We think you don’t want to see us.” Another friend said, “It makes people feel loved when you ask them for help.” My husband said, “How can I tell you’re feeling depressed if you don’t tell me?”

I’m starting to realise that asking for help is part of being a grown-up. Admitting that things are hideous and you feel terrible and you want some comfort is actually quite a mature thing to do. On that note, dear bloggers, here is me asking for help. The problem is: housework. I don’t want you to come round and do my housework for me, but I need some advice.

Apparently, French women enjoy doing housework. Are they mad? I am crap at housework, and have mixed feelings about that. Why I am not a deliciously bustling French woman, keeping my home spotless and my man firmly under control? Part of me takes a stupid pride in the fact that I don’t have the housework gene and thus far have not tried to acquire it, while part of me is faintly ashamed that we don’t have a perfect home. My lovely husband appears to suffer from none of these kinds of self-doubt, so maybe I should take a leaf from his book.

When we made the decision years ago that I would stay home and look after our kids when they were little, I had no idea how many hours of housework that would entail. I’ve always had a cleaner once a week, so am lucky that I don’t have to do the really hideous tasks, but three children do make a lot of cooking/laundry/dish-washing/planning/preparation/tidying. My motto has always been “people before objects” and that is the haphazard way my kids are being brought up. I’d rather spend time with them than polish the silver, or organise the toys into logical groups, or swab the floor (it was done two days ago – that’s enough, surely?). But I do try to aim for order of a sort.

In South Africa, having a housekeeper who turns up for work on a daily basis, or even lives in, is the norm. This means that the horrible tasks are delegated to someone else, which is fine in terms of job creation in a land with 40% unemployment, but has meant three things for me:

1) I have no idea how to do housework well. Anything I have learnt I have done so by trial and error. I am unlike the French women in that I have no idea what is the “right way”, if such a thing exists. And the same goes for my husband.

2) I don’t know how to teach my children to participate in housework, because no-one ever taught me. And unless I go back to South Africa, or somewhere else where low-paid houseworkers/nannies relieve parents of their duties, I am going to have to teach them how to help. I don’t want to turn them into little household slaves but I also don’t want them to become brats, so I need them to learn some skills in order to become useful adults one day. I would also like my son to grow up as housework-savvy as his sisters so that he can be a good partner in the future, and not a man-child in his home. (See Rachel Johnson’s article on the very same topic.)

3) I am used to a clean house, that is kept so by someone else, so my standards and my ability don’t match. That gap is the place where I beat myself up, usually in my mother-in-law’s voice or in that of one of my exceedingly clean neighbours. An hour or so of that kind of internal criticism is enough to bring on a bout of depression.

So for those of you who grew up in countries where people looked after their own homes, and where children were expected to help, here are my questions:

1) At what age were you expected to start doing household chores? What were considered age-appropriate chores?

2) Were you ever paid for doing chores? Did you receive rewards in any way, or was it expected?

3) How did your parents regulate your chores? For example, if you didn’t do them, was your pocket-money docked?

4) Were the chores in your home sexist? Or did boys and girls do the same work?

Any ideas or comments are welome.

(Feeling very grown-up now. May have to go and put on some lipstick.)

Author: charlotteotter

Novelist, feminist, crime writer

33 thoughts on “Asking for Help

  1. Didn’t I just post a comment?

    *scratches head*

    I’ll check back later.


  2. Dear dear Charlotte,

    First of all: people get good at what they like to do. Nobody may have taught you how to cook but you love touching, smelling, eating food, and you have become a great cook. You do not like doing housework, obviously. And there is noooothing wrong with that! So write a few columns more, do some more copy-editing, work on the “Charl’s finest blog selection” idea of yours (shall I deliver the belgian chocolate to you for the title winner?), in short, just earn that extra money to pay someone for the work you are no good at while you are busy doing things that lift your soul.

    But to answer your questions:
    My mother, who was a fulltime teacher all her life, made me help clean the house, as of the age of 12 probably. I did not get paid to do it. My brothers got some chores too, but cleaning was not one of them. My mother was in a horrid mood when she was cleaning, ironing, doing dishes. Only cooking would cheer her up. For years during my adult life I kept it a secret from her we paid a cleaning lady. One Christmas eve I told her, half drunk. And she said: “well good for you. I should have done the same in my time when you were all small. Enjoy quality time with your children and make sure you have some time to yourself too”.

    I find my children love taking part in the household activities such as folding clothes, setting the table, washing dishes, brushing the floors. And I would like them to take an increasing part in the household activities, just like they brush their teeth, without being paid for it. It’s part of learning to look after yourself and the people close to you, to take responsibility and have a role within a team.

    I hope this was helpful…



  3. I remember that from the age of five I was expected to dry dishes and to make my bed. I also used to help my mum do the dusting from that age and maybe even younger. As I grew older I did more kinds of housework – by at least age eleven I could do most jobs around the house but mainly did ironing, dusting, peeling vegetables and other food preparation, as well as keeping my own bedroom tidy. I never got paid for anything. My mum’s motto was: “You’re not going to get paid for it when you leave home!” *Groan*! How right she was… But she also used to refuse to let us have “home-making” toys such as toy vacuum cleaners, irons and ovens because: “You’ll get enough of that when you’re older!” Gah! How true!

    I can’t remember it ever being a consideration that I wouldn’t do the jobs my mum set me. It was expected that every day, we would make our beds before school and I even remember being sent to remake mine if I’d done it sloppily. My mum’s not the type of person you’d want to muck about with! I always felt I got more jobs than my brother did, especially the potato peeling – grrrrr! – but my mum insists she was fair. In retrospect I think she definitely tried to be.

    So I was brought up to do lots of housework but I still absolutely hate it and go through phases of being furious that I’m the only person who does anything. Fly Lady is a website that has helped me so much with getting the housework into proportion – and to dispel notions of “right” and “wrong” ways of doing tasks. I’ll send you the link by e-mail because otherwise this comment might get flagged as spam!

    But arrgggh! I feel your pain! It’s such a waste of time, and I’m bringing Kiko up to be useful around the house.

  4. I’m not really sorted on any of the above: asking for help; doing housework myself (not very keen on it either); teaching my kids to do it. I do think it’s very grown-up of you to ask for help, am going to try to emulate you!

    My mother had help once a week and we were expected to help: making our own beds and keeping our rooms tidy (not that we always did), laying the table for meals and helping with the washing up after, from about the age of 7. There was also a general expectation as we got older, that we would help with things like hanging out washing, hoovering etc though no formal rota and we weren’t paid to help. We could earn money by some extra jobs like washing the car and gardening. Oh and we both had to help though I probably did more voluntarily than my brother.

    I’m now struggling with the opposite of your dilemma – how to teach my children to help out at home, when we do have help cleaning 4 days a week (for the South African reasons of providing employment and keeping the house far tidier than I ever could, though with three children it is still pretty messy..clean underneath the mess but messy all the same). Mine are supposed to make their own beds and tidy their room, lay the table for meals and clear their own plates, so far. They don’t always make the beds and then they stay unmade unless I nag them or don’t let them go outside until it’s done.

    Perfectly clean neighbours would also intimidate me – I still subscribe to the ‘messy house being a sign of a creative mind’ philosophy – it’s my only defence!

  5. i have a huuuuge problem asking for help, even though i’m usually one of the first to jump in when someone needs a hand. i guess it’s the same thing – i got the impression that you have to be able to do it alone.

    i can’t really answer your questions seperately or in the right order, but i’ll try to get everything answered: i was not really told to help around the house, nobody regulated my chores. i only noticed when i was about thirteen that i was obviously expected to do chores because my mother praised my best friend’s helpfulness around her house, at the same time she made it clear that she was offended that i never volunteered to help her (not that my friend did that household work out of her free will, she was pretty much bossed around the house by her mom, and in the most sexist way – her two brothers never had to do a single thing). until then it had never even crossed my mind that my mom wanted help. so i started laying and clearing off the table, doing the dishes, shopping and cooking now and then. i cleaned my own room and did part of my washing (no sexist thing about it – i’m an only child. my father never did a single thing in our household, but he earned the money and was excused). i’m still not sure if it made my mom any happier. i think she had this idea that i should have offered this by myself – as if i didn’t have a thousand more important things on my mind as a teenager. i was neither rewarded for doing chores nor was i punished for not doing them. just by my mother acting hurt if i didn’t do my share.
    not a very nice way to learn, i think. i would appreciate it today if she had taken me aside at the age she found appropriate and done a little talk, like “you’re old enough now to take some responsibilities, so what do you think about …”. i would have felt grown up and important. this way i just felt i had let my mother down.

  6. Dear Charl, I am so sorry housework is getting you down. It is a tricky one I know. And I think Lena is right, it is better to get help, and earn money doing something you are better at to pay for it.. I sometimes have the opposite problem of being paranoid about dirt (not something to be proud of) and thus beat myself up about madly sweeping a clean enough kitchen when I should be reading a book or phoning a friend. You are an example to me there 🙂 However, I think you are on to something about training children to help, and this is normal in Euroland, as you know. I think the advantage of doing these chores yourself and getting the kidlets involved (tidying up the shoe pile, clearing ones plate from the table into the dishwasher, etc) is that it encourages responsibility for their environment, e.g if the child is the one that has to tidy the shoe pile, she might be encouraged put her shoes tidily away in the first place. This can then be an upward spiral, because the work is done in mini steps (i.e when shoes are taken off), and a shoe mess never even arises to become an ugly chore.
    But for the childhood thing, my brother and I were given chores from an early-ish age, and had pocket money separately. As of about 10/12 pocket money was cancelled and we had non-gender specific chores that were linked to specific monetary amounts. I am not sure that this is such a great technique, because it turned us into mini capitalists at an early age. And shouldn’t chores really be done out of a desire to assist a hardworking mama or papa? Motivation is the thing, and maybe admiration and gratitude is better than cash.

  7. I want to answer your questions about chores, but first let me say that I have so much respect for stay-at-home moms. I live alone, with a dog and two cats. Keeping my house in some form of order is a daily trial. It is amazing to me that people do it with kids, significant others, in-laws, multiple pets, or even uncles who are still trying to “find themselves.” Just by reading your blog I can tell that you are a committed wife and mother, and your concern means that you care a great deal about your family’s well being.


    1. about five or six, with small tasks like picking up clothes and putting them in hampers.

    2. We received a small weekly allowance loosely based on assigned chores. My primary job for a while was emptying wastebaskets. I kept the job of trash collector, along with other chores, through high school. I still do it for my parents when I visit.

    3. I was probably penalized for misbehaving which may have meant arguing about having to do chores, but I don’t remember any long lapses in allowance allocation, until I wrecked the car. Then my allowance was revoked and I was required to get a part time job to pay for the damages. This made me familiar with the concept of dept.

    4. Hmmm, maybe a little sexist. My sister used to do the grocery shopping for a while. When I was older I was expected to do the heavy lifting and clean the garage and things like that. I mowed the lawn. I learned to do laundry fairly early on. I remember really learning what doing chores meant when I would sleep over at our German friends’ house. Washing dishes by hand in scalding hot water and folding laundry with scientific precision, things like that. Some of this stuff has stayed with me.

    It sounds like you have a great family, and you definitely have a great blog. You’re right, it is important to ask for help.

  8. I am afraid I go with the work for it to pay for it approach. As a full time working mother in South Africa with a live in housekeeper/nanny my advice is kind of second hand but premised on good intentions. My wonderful nanny makes my kids take plates to kitchen after mealtimes, and help tidy up playroom and bedrooms. I try to support her in this but neither I nor my husband are very good housekeepers ourselves. We don’t make our bed on the weekend, so it’s kind of hard to make my kids do it.

    However, I do not want my kids to grow up to be at useless at housekeeping or lazily just expect people to pick up after them. When I went to USA as an exchange student student at 17 my host parents were shocked as I did not know how to use a washing machine, having never done my own washing in my life. I was so embaressed, and and so am determined to make sure that by the time both my son and daughter leave home they can do their own washing, basic housekeeping and make a good curry.

    We start tomorrow….

  9. Oh, and I LOVE your new blog design

  10. Back again after the disheartening experience of losing a post in cyberspace.

    First of all, get yourself a copy of “Is there life after housework” by Don Aslett.

    In the good old bad old days we had to make our own MacJobs, and he spent a lot of his pre-teen and teen years cleaning. Eventually he set up a business, and this migrated to a full on cleaning company. My Ma bought it for me as a witty and ironic little gift, but in fact it is fabulously useful and full of deep down practical advice. Aslett is an advocate of chemicals, but not just any chemicals, he believes in the right chemicals for the job. He’s also full of practical advice like use two buckets of water when mopping floors, one for clean water and one for dirty. I’ve followed his cleaning advice for years and it’s all incredibly good advice.

    Now, the questions:

    1) At what age were you expected to start doing household chores? What were considered age-appropriate chores?

    I was certainly washing up and making salads before I was 10. I think I was older than 10 when I was allowed near the ironing. In my teens I graduated from making gravy to making pudding to cooking whole meals.

    2) Were you ever paid for doing chores? Did you receive rewards in any way, or was it expected?

    Absolutely not. Ma wasn’t paid do to chores, so why should I be?

    3) How did your parents regulate your chores? For example, if you didn’t do them, was your pocket-money docked?

    Interesting question. I think it was a matter of expectation and peer pressure. “We’d better start cooking supper now, Darling” or just straight-forward assumption: “do you want to wash or dry” with no option of doing neither.

    My Ma and my Grandma who lived with us instilled a sense of communal responsibility – if we wanted to eat we had to cook and wash up. But because it was communal the skills, such as they were, were transmitted by osmosis. Neither was very keen on cleaning though, which is why I found Mr Aslett’s book such a goddess-send.

    4) Were the chores in your home sexist? Or did boys and girls do the same work?

    Sexist-ish. Boys were more likely to do Outside work. Girls more likely to do Inside work.

    I think my Ma and Grandma just loathed the whole thing so much that they spread the pain out as early as they could.


  11. Charlotte darling, have you got your blog switched to assume that any link at all is spam? I’ve posted twice now and it’s eaten them. If they aren’t clogging up your spam filters but really are lost, I’ll post again.


  12. 1) At what age were you expected to start doing household chores? What were considered age-appropriate chores?
    I had a chore list by age nine but had been cleaning my room, helping clean up after dinner, for some time before that. I was always expected to make my bed and pick up after myself. At nine, I could dust, clean bathrooms, smash aluminum cans for recycling (I hated that one!), vacuum, wash dishes, and help fix dinner. By the time I was in high school, there wasn’t a chart but I was still expected to help with pretty much all of the housework.

    2) Were you ever paid for doing chores? Did you receive rewards in any way, or was it expected? For a few years there was a chart, and I got a specific amount per chore. Once I was in junior high, it was just expected. My parents both worked full-time and there was no question of having a cleaning lady. It just wasn’t something that was done at that time in a small town, nor could they afford it!

    3) How did your parents regulate your chores? For example, if you didn’t do them, was your pocket-money docked? I wasn’t allowed to go play with friends until my chores were done.

    4) Were the chores in your home sexist? Or did boys and girls do the same work? I was an only child but I expect a boy would’ve had the same chores.

    What I’ve done with my children recently is a flexible chore chart — there is a list of chores such as cleaning their rooms, making beds, sorting laundry, carry in groceries, helping with dishes, etc. and each time they do a chore, they get a sticker. 20 stickers = $5. It doesn’t matter to me how quickly or slowly they earn their $5 but in practice it works out to about $5/week. I’ve never been one to enforce certain chores on certain days (for myself or others!) so this chart has worked very well for us. My kids are 8 and 11, by the way, and they still love getting stickers!

  13. Despite growing up in Africa with lots of domestic helpers, from about 5-6 yrs old my sister and I were expected to: set and clear the table for family meals; make our own beds and make sure our dirty laundry was in laundry basket and not on floor or under beds; Brownies taught us to polish our school shoes – for one of those much coveted badges your mum sewed on your sleeve ( the rest of the time we were barefoot or in flipflops or tackies). I remember being taught how to scramble eggs and make toast, and wash up the pan afterwards. Actual cleaning of floors etc was done by our housekeeper, but she had a method of polishing the floor that we begged to do, put your feet through the hand-strap of two floor brushes and ‘skate’ around.
    Don’t sweat over the housework Charlotte, after all there are more important things in life, time is limited and fleeting. Who wants their obituary to read “She was great at housework”…..? There’s a happy medium between sanitised perfection and a pig-sty, bump along the centre line and all will be well.

  14. I helped my mother fold clothes from an early age, and I always enjoyed this time spent with her. She also would ask us kids to set the table. But we only did things when asked, and had no set jobs. I think it would have been better if we had; then we could have had the pride of doing our own chores every week and learning to do them well.

  15. My sister and I were expected to help around the house, although I don’t remember from what ages.

    Our parents chose not to associate allowance with chores, explaining that the whole family was responsible for keeping the household running, and that none of us should expect a financial reward for simply doing what was necessary.

    Our family often worked together to get the major chores done all at once on Saturday mornings, and our parents (probably mostly Mom) tried several different ways of organizing it over the years.

    Sometimes they would make a list of what needed to be done and we would all divide it up and work till it was done. Other times they would assign points to each chore and we would each have to complete a certain number of points. We had no brothers, but Dad was often involved in the family chores with the rest of us.

    My own girls are 6 and 8 years old, and currently are responsible for making their own beds (they’re quite good at that), clearing their plates after meals (they usually remember to do that without being reminded) and cleaning up their toys (that is a Daily Struggle and does not at all come naturally, even though they don’t seem to have any problem putting their materials away at school).

    They are also at an age where they *want* to be given chores as it makes them feel grown up. Sometimes I fill the sink with warm soapy water and let the 6 year old wash the non-breakable dishes. It’s a great treat for her. She also likes “helping” with the laundry, although at the moment that consists of me passing her wet clothes for her to put in the dryer, then her pushing the button.

    My husband has the 8 year old help him water plants outside, and sometimes lets them both have a sponge to help wash the car.

    Having help around the house was never even considered when we were growing up, nor do any of my family, who still live in the US, have anything of the sort. It is an option for us here in Costa Rica though, and we try to have one of my husband’s cousins come in once or twice a week, but that doesn’t always work out because her schedule is quite chaotic. We do our own dishes, cooking & laundry and, when she can come, she does the floors, bathrooms and windows.

  16. Hmm, I can’t really add much to this. I was brought up in Africa with all the help my mother could want. My sister and I didn’t have to do chores and by the time we returned to England it was too late….

    So I was hopeless at bringing up my sons to help and I felt horribly guilty. They are both now in the position of being able to have their own help around the house, and do, so perhaps as a family we are doomed never to be able to break out of the cycle.

  17. Dear Aphra, Lena, Helen, Kit, Bine, Emma, Ian, Pillowblogger, YogaMum, Herschelian, Tai, Jennifer and A,

    Thank you all for your responses and ideas – I appreciate them all. You’ve given me a lot to think about, and I realise that in a small way I am already house-training my lot. It is perhaps just time to formalise that and be a little less haphazard. I will also beat myself up less about the state of my home.


  18. I think children are interested in learning how to cook, iron, clean, etc. and can even enjoy it if it is part of something that they do with you as a group project. Singing, playing loud music, contests, etc. all help. I was taught to do all these things by my mother and grandmother, and taught my children. My son took great pride in showing his friends how to do laundry, since none of they knew how. If you don’t have these skills, I would suggest paying your cleaner for a little extra time to show you how to do these tasks properly and quickly. Now, having said all this, I should tell you that while I can do all these things, I don’t like to do them and would much rather work more and pay someone else to do them. And, of course, if you made keeping house your full time job, and did nothing else, well, then, I’m sure your house would look great. My mother cleaned the whole house every day, and mopped the floors every night, and ironed all the sheets and pillowcases and all the underwear. Her house was immaculate and we all preferred spending our time at the neighbor’s house.

  19. Dear Charlotte,
    Do not think of laundry,
    you are making everything very nicely.
    The less time in hosework the better.
    I suppose you don’t like other people helping you about the house,
    so try to keep you from housework.
    It helps me to do housework when I do a lot of shopping.


    P.S. Good writers are not usually housewives, so it’s normal for you to dislike to wash dishes.

  20. Here’s what you do, my dear Charlotte: you come visit me. My house is the house meant to make anyone who thinks he or she is a horrible housekeeper immediately feel better about his or her housekeeping skills. I promise you, your house will sparkle when you get home, and you won’t have had to lift a finger.

  21. My father was a principal and my mother a doctor and I had a nanny when I was very young, but I do remember that my father did the housework and cooking during the weeks and mother layed a small, very small, hand on indoor things on the weekends.
    My husband and I share all work, both indoors and outdoors. Of course!

  22. My mom always had chores’ lists for my brother and I on the fridge. It was divided into things we had to do before school, after school and before we went to bed. It was nothing brutal but it kept things organized and we had consequences and a withheld allowance if we failed to do them. The heavier ones we did that we were not fan of was vacuuming on the days the cleaners didn’t come, emptying the dishwasher and cleaning the kitty litter.

  23. Hi,
    I’m a guy who likes doing housework. Like you in SA, when my wife and I lived in Hong Kong we had a maid who did all our household chores. Our lives were extremely busy and we couldn’t have lived without the extra help.
    Now that we’re living in Germany, we do all the work ourselves. Not only do we now have the time, I think it helps send the right message to our 10-year-old daughter – who pitches in with light stuff herself – that you have to take care of yourself and that money doesn’t solve all problems.
    ian in hamburg

  24. Your post and the comments gave me a lot to think about. But what about this study about French women loving housework? I’m a French woman and obviously nobody asked me! Who really claims he/she loves to take the trash out or scrub the toilets? I think it’s more about how much you and your spouse are comfortable with untidy rooms, dirt or creases in a shirt. The one for whom it is more important has to deal with it just as s/he likes. My husband loves perfect crisp shirts and I don’t really care, so he has taken up the ironing.
    From about age 6, I was expected to make my bed, set the table, tidy up my room. I don’t really like the idea of paying kids to do that, as grown-ups aren’t paid for it. But some kind of non-monetary reward can definitely help at the beginning.

  25. Hi Sue B! Making chores fun is what it’s all about. Yesterday I got my daughters to make each other’s beds as part of doing each other a “good turn”. They loved it. Silly songs rule! We do that a lot anyway, but it sounds like a good way to make housework more fun.

    Welcome Anokhina, thanks for your kind words!

    Thanks, Emily. The mere idea that you do not care a jot for housework made me feel immediately better. As for your very kind invitation, would October suit?
    (I am joking … but it would be fun. I would have to insist on meeting all your lovely siblings too. I’m starting to have a bit of a Michie family crush.)

    Welcome Katie and thanks for your great ideas.

    Hi there Ian in Hamburg! I like the idea that kids should learn to be independent and know that money doesn’t solve everything. I also realise that it’s a slow process, and with three of the little darlings in my home, I’m not going to achieve it overnight.

    Smithereens, sorry to hear you were left out of the study sample! I agree that children shouldn’t be paid for chores, but some kind of motivation at the beginning is essential. The good turn I mentioned above did wonders yesterday, but I think it’s time to return to the star-chart.

  26. Pah to housework. Some of it is unavoidable – I don’t like mess or disorder because I can’t work or think in a cluttered environment. But I also don’t believe dusting or vacuuming has to be done other than when you can’t bear it any longer. Fortunately we are very tidy and don’t have children, so there is rarely real mess to contend with. But when there is, I admit to a certain satisfaction in producing order out of chaos. My mother is a slave to the housework (what will the neighbours say if there are crumbs on the carpet?) but she resents her self-imposed tasks, and I am sure that in part my attitude is constructed to be the opposite to that.

    As for learning the ropes, my sister and I helped out from when we were quite young. I used to like ironing while listening to the top 40 singles countdown on Sunday evenings! We dusted, vacuumed, changed the sheets on our beds, and I grocery shopped from when I was about 10. Pocket money was separate from chores. We were encouraged to bake and I never learned to think of cooking as a chore. I am grateful for that.

  27. Oh I hate housework. But I was taught to do chores as a child from an early age. On the other hand, we’re pretty untidy and dudelet gets away with an awful lot that he probably shouldn’t do. Though he is only three.
    I can’t really remember if the allocation of housework was particularly sexist or not – probably some of it was but I didn’t acquire a systematic tendency to do at least basic regular tidying until about two years ago. Supermum would probably not describe herself as ferociously tidy but it would be fair to say that she has a lower tolerance for domestic disorder. Though neither of of have been known to pick up an iron more than once every six months or so.

    OK – the questions:
    1) At what age were you expected to start doing household chores? What were considered age-appropriate chores?
    3? 4? Washing up, helping bring in the laundry, tidying our rooms.

    2) Were you ever paid for doing chores? Did you receive rewards in any way, or was it expected?
    No – I think it was kept separate. Though I have suspicion pocket money was docked if we didn’t perform adequately.

    3) How did your parents regulate your chores? For example, if you didn’t do them, was your pocket-money docked?
    See above! Irregularly? I don’t remember a lot about my childhood.

    4) Were the chores in your home sexist? Or did boys and girls do the same work?
    On reflection, I think we did the same work.

  28. I admit I did not read all the comments so I hope I am not being redundant!
    My house was pretty chaotic and unkept growing up so I will share what I do with my own children.

    1) My 3 year old puts away her own laundry (with help), folds washclothes, sorts out the socks and underwear, and wipes up her own spills. She also helps clean her room and makes her bed (with much help!). My 6yo folds her own clothes, puts them away, feeds the cat, takes the compost out, makes her bed, cleans her room (shared with 3yo), waters plants, empties the silverware tray from the dishwasher, and sets the table. She clears her own dishes after every meal. On occasion, she uses the feather duster or wipes down things like handprints on walls or doorknobs. She thinks she is very cool when given a bucket of soapy water and a rag. I never use chemical cleaners so it’s perfectly safe for my children to clean with me. They literally could drink the water and be fine.

    2. My children are never paid to do basic chores. Doing chores is part of being a family. They eat the food, they help clean up afterwards and so on. In addition, they will someday be adults who will need to keep their own house. They should have a mastery of every chore. If they do want to earn some money I will contract them to do some of MY chores. In that case, it is $.25 per chore (of course that will increase when they get older and chores become more difficult and time-consuming). I might throw a hula hoop into the garden and have them pull all the weeds inside of it, or wipe down the kitchen cupboards. (Also, if they really stress me out, they need to “replace” my energy by doing one of my chores.)

    3. I have a printed chore sheet for my 6yo with both words and pictures. They are separated in morning, afternoon, and evening chores. She is not allowed to go outside and play until the chores for that time of day are completed. She has stickers to mark the completed chores. Even though they don’t get paid to do chores, I should mention that if they go a whole week with all chores done ON TIME, they get to pick out a movie from the library, go for ice cream, or some other special activity. Fringe benefits! I think it’s important to recognize a job well done.

    4. Well, I only have girls and I grew up with one sister, and my mom had all sisters, soooo… can’t really answer that one! I will say that if #4 is a boy, you bet he’ll be doing equal chores. My husband will also be making my girls learn how to change tires and check oil. All people should be able to do the basic everyday things needed to take care of themselves and their belongings.

    Wow, I sound terribly mean. It’s a rare day when my kids spend more than 30 minutes doing chores all together. That’s a fraction of what I do so I can’t say I feel particularly guilty. And they don’t seem to think it’s a big, as they never complain about it. It’s just a part of their day, like brushing their teeth.

    If you are looking for organizing, I would be happy to send you my excel calendar that has all my chores on it and it’s a 5-week rotation.

    I am such an effing dork. I cannot believe I am about to publish this on teh internets.

  29. When I was growing up, the house was my mother’s kingdom and we didn’t interfere. If we tried, she just did it again to her own exacting standards afterwards, unable even to wait until we had left the room. However, I did help with the drying up from quite an early age (this because I wanted to, I think). My son is as allergic to housework as I am, but he has an odd fondness for doing the ironing. Since the age of 9 or so he’s been allowed to do simple things, but as he requires constant supervision, it’s not exactly a labour-saving arrangement! Anyway, all this is to say, I know exactly what you mean, and it’s really difficult!

  30. Good work asking for help Charlotte!

    I had a Mom similar to litlove’s, in that she did mostly everything to her own standards. I think that was a shame, because I had to learn everything about housework and cooking as an adult. I do remember once looking on in shock and a bit of disgust as she knelt down and cleaned out the sliding glass door track with a toothbrush.

    The thing that is sad for me is that I never learned how to enjoy housework, because I think it’s possible, at least on some level and with some of the tasks. There is a wonderful article on the spiritually uplifting side of cleaning called “Chaos in Everyday Life: About Cleaning and Caring” here:
    (just search for the title)

    1) At what age were you expected to start doing household chores? What were considered age-appropriate chores?

    I’m like (un)relaxeddad, I don’t remember much from my childhood. But I certainly helped with dishes, vacuuming, taking out trash, and keeping my room more or less tidy. That was during grade school and later…I don’t think I had to do many chores as a small child. I think even small children can help put away toys, sweep (with limited expectations of true cleanliness!), help take out trash, etc. Plus small children love to help and imitate adults anyway.

    2) Were you ever paid for doing chores? Did you receive rewards in any way, or was it expected?

    I did get an allowance, but I don’t remember it being tied directly to chores. Personally I think tying chores to money is a bad idea…as Helen’s mom said, we don’t get paid for it as adults! I think children should be included in the overall responsibility of the family for keeping the communal space tidy and clean.

    3) How did your parents regulate your chores? For example, if you didn’t do them, was your pocket-money docked?

    I don’t recall being docked. I do recall being nagged and harangued! Also my mom once threatened to throw away everything that was on my floor if I didn’t clean it up, but that was during my teen years so I probably deserved it.

    4) Were the chores in your home sexist? Or did boys and girls do the same work?

    I don’t have brothers or sisters, so this is hard to answer. But my dad and mom definitely had different tasks. Mom did most of the cleaning work. Dad did some cooking, vacuuming, putting out trash cans, mowing the lawn, fixing things…pretty much gendered work. Right now my kids are both so young that this isn’t an issue, other than giving my son heavier things to take out to the trash because he’s bigger than my daughter. I don’t think we’ll overtly segregate their chores.

    For me, it all comes down to this: what do I want my home to be like? Is it important for me to have a clean and tidy home? If so, how will I achieve it?

    I don’t have the financial option to hire a cleaner, so it’s up to me and my family to do the work. I have a much higher tolerance for dirt and mess than my mother, but a big part of me wants everything to be nice. However I have to face the reality of having small children and two cats, working from home part-time, and generally being an unorganized person that yearns to be organized.

    So I do my best and prioritize (Must have a relatively clean kitchen in order to cook, but the vacuuming can wait. Must clean the litter box, but the kids’ beds don’t need to be made today.). I’ve also appreciated the advice of FlyLady, because she emphasizes that you don’t have to beat yourself up, and that it’s easy to get overwhelmed but just as easy to conquer that feeling.

  31. What a great post and great comments!

    My son is 5 and just informed me that his daycare provider taught him to fold clothes. I didn’t think he was capable of it, but lo! the boy can fold. If I am REALLY PATIENT then he can fold all of his clothes from a single load of laundry.

    My mother is particular about her house and she never let us help. She always said it took longer to teach us than to do it herself. So while growing up the only chores we did were set by my dad. Mowing the lawn, mostly. I started mowing about age 11 and I never got paid for it. I had an allowance but I don’t remember it being dependent on chores.

  32. Oh Charlotte, you’re telling the story of my life! If I could identify one thing that would make the biggest difference in my life it would be a cleaning lady – otherwise you end up fluctuating between a) feeling guilty because you live in a permanent mess and everybody else’s house seems perfect; b) feeling despair because one day you are going to have to be rescued from your collapsed mountain of domestic paperwork that you cannot seem to get on top of because you are too busy cleaning the toilet; and c) feeling murderous as you hang the laundry while your husband lies on the sofa watching rugby, beer in hand!!

    Although I grew up in SA too and we had a daily cleaning lady until I was in matric, we still had chores (for which we were never paid). The rule was that the cleaning lady was there to CLEAN, not tidy, so we had to make our own beds and tidy our own rooms from a young age – 6? 7? I had the responsibility of laying the table and my brother had to clear; and we took turns with washing and drying most nights. My mom taught me how to use the washing machine and dishwasher when I was about 12, and we used to joke that my true calling (OCD??) was unpacking the clean dishwasher Long after I’d left home, I would still walk into the kitchen, see that the cycle was finished and “fulfil my calling”! My mom always cooked, although I often helped her with the preparation, chopping etc. As I got older I also used to do the grocery shopping. My mom did teach us how to iron but never made us do any, with the result that I swore off ironing for life. Either I wear my clothes unironed or I bribe my husband to iron. But mostly I don’t buy clothes that need ironing!! Somehow (by watching? osmosis?) I know a basic method for doing pretty much all household chores, including bath cleaning, toilet cleaning and vacuuming, although I never had to do these as a kid.

    I remember a lot of resentful muttering from one cleaning lady because my mom took her to task about the quality of her dusting – she had not cleaned on top of paintings or in tricky corners. There seemed to be a perception that the reason why anybody got a cleaning lady in was because they were incapable of doing the cleaning themselves, and any advice from the “madam” was received with great scepticism and ill-grace. Later, when I had a weekly cleaner at my own apartment, I had the same thing – I would say “use the vacuum like this” and Carol would go off and do what she wanted because CLEARLY I did not know what I was doing, otherwise I’d be cleaning myself, right?! Aaaarrrgh.

    My take on the whole situation is summed up by the lovely little concept of opportunity cost. Calculate how much time you spend cleaning & tidying and figure out what you could earn in that time doing your job. If the amount you’d pay a cleaner is less than what you’d earn, then get a cleaner! And there’s also the non-financial cost of cleaning – the more time you spend on housework, the less time that leaves for picnics with the kids. And let’s face it, nobody is going to stop being your friend because your carpet wasn’t properly vacuumed 😉

  33. Hi Charlotte,

    Once you get back from Berlin, please ring me up and come for coffee and bring your kids. They can jump on the trampoline while we reminisce and catch up…and of course, talk about doling out age-appropriate chores. It’s been too long. Love your blog! 🙂

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