Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Chore Jar

As kids get older, parents have many mounting problems to deal with.  The two rearing their ugly heads in my home are:

1. How to keep the house clean around these filthy urchins who have the nerve to snap at you as you block the latest Phineas and Ferb episode while carrying fifty pounds of their laundry.

2. How to effectively punish the smart mouth who dared to say, "Move!" 

As they say, “Necessity is the mother of invention."  Years ago, I came up with a great punishment system to help with cleaning and quieting the back talk: The Chore Jar.  One quiet afternoon, while the kids were away, I calmly wrote a list of common household chores: dust baseboards, clean mirrors, scrub bathrooms, vacuum, etc.  I cut the list into chore strips, folded them up, and placed them all in a Mason jar labeled with white duct tape- THE CHORE JAR.  Placing the jar in the center of the kitchen counter, I explained to the kids the new rules.  If they got in trouble at home, at school or anywhere in-between, they would pull one or more chores from the chore jar.  

When Wyatt bonked his sister testing his new bat in the car on the way to baseball, the living room furniture got dusted.  Anabel rolled her eyes at me one too many times, and suddenly, I no longer resembled Krusty the Clown after applying my makeup, thanks to my new, clean mirror.  Emma ripped up my new flowerbed when she decided to go off-road with her Barbie Jeep, and I got a fully mopped kitchen floor.  I began watching them like a hawk hoping that one slip-up would get me clean toilets.   
Me before a clean mirror (and coffee.)

My favorite thing about our chore jar is it takes the anger out of  punishment.  I hate the confrontational feeling of yelling and lecturing the kids about every infraction.  Though we have never spanked our children, my anger would lash out and bring down the punishment hammer with an unrealistic sentence that meant nothing because the kids knew we had no follow-through.  Who can see “no television for a year” through? What parent can seriously carry out “a five-year grounding”?  What Mom would “never cook for ungrateful kids again”?  With the chore jar, the consequences of their crimes had been dispassionately thought out and written down.  It became the luck of the draw to the severity of the penalty unless someone stacked the deck.  

One day, I noticed I had the cleanest living room windows, but disgusting bathrooms and impenetrable closets.  The kids' behavior had been just as wretched as before, so why weren't these areas getting cleaned?  I realized the kids had been placing the easy chores on top. Well, two could play that game.  

When Wyatt went down the street to his friend’s house without telling anyone, I grabbed the chore jar before I got him and stacked the deck.  Floating on top was the closet cleaning assignment. When he drew out “Clean out your closet,” he went completely boneless- collapsing to the ground in a nine-year-old puddle consisting of hair, t-shirt and shorts.  I smiled.  He had been “cleaning” his room for months by shoving everything into his closet.   I had to stay in his room for three hours supervising the chore, but it was worth it. Cleaning his own mistake taught him three important life lessons: hiding a mess doesn’t make it go away, never leave the house without telling someone, and never try to pull one over on Mommy. 

The downside to the chore jar method for household cleaning is its lack of reliability.  Wouldn't you know my little devils caught on fast. They started cleaning up after themselves, stopped fighting and finished their homework on time.  It would seem a mother’s trials and tribulations never ended. 

If anyone out there would like help setting up their own family chore jar, please let me know... it's the least I can do to help keep America beautiful (homes and attitudes, that is.)

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