05/30/2012 11:27 am ET

Getting Kids To Do Their Chores -- And 'Owning' The Role Of Parent

Dear Susan,

When I was growing up, my brothers and I always had chores on the weekends. We didn't like it, but we just did them. My own kids -- 9 and 11 -- complain like crazy when I ask them to help out around the house. It's even hard to get them to set the table, and I hear the same thing from my friends about their kids resisting chores. What's so different today from when we were kids?

Taskmaster Mom

Dear Taskmaster Mom,

Your question speaks to an issue bigger than chores: it's actually about the challenge of owning the role of “parent,” come what may.

Again and again I hear from moms and dads who want their kids to like them, but also feel they should stick by demands that are bound to make them unpopular -- at least for a while. My guess is that, like many parents in prior generations, your folks were less concerned when you and your brothers griped about chores. Their clarity meant that you quickly learned to grin and bear it, rather than engage in long negotiations about helping out.

Of course we want our children to be happy with us. Who wants dirty looks or slammed doors when we announce to our kids that it's time to turn off the video game and tidy up the bathroom? But if we're going to do the real work of parenting, we're going to have to live through those moments when our kids wish they could trade us in for a "cool" mom or dad who'd let them do whatever they want.

Which leads me back to your question. I'm sure that somewhere on the planet there is a child who embraces chore-time, but most kids are fully committed to having as much fun as possible. Allow your children to be annoyed or upset when it's time to help around the house. Let them grumble, and acknowledge with kindness that you understand that they'd rather be doing something else.

It doesn't seem fair that you have to spend an hour a week on housework when none of your friends have chores to do...

You're mad -- I get it.

There are a million things you'd rather be doing...

But don't engage in passionate negotiations about why they have to do chores, or try to convince them that they're “building character.” While that may be true, a long lecture in the heat of the moment isn't going to help your children feel better about having to stop playing so they can unload the dishwasher.

If you want your kids to become self-reliant, it's important to teach them how to handle the mundane, day-to-day tasks of life. Thirty minutes to an hour or so on weekends when the whole family pitches in to tidy up the yard, bathe the dog, wash the car, or make repairs is enormously valuable for children.

Just don't expect them to be enthusiastic. Let them grumble, allow them to be mad, be reasonable (don't ask them to do things beyond their means, or use chores as a punishment) -- and stay the course. Someday, they may thank you, but in the meantime, make sure you have your own friends for those days when your children “un-friend” you.

Yours in parenting support,

Parent Coach, Susan Stiffelman, is a licensed marriage and family therapist and credentialed teacher. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in developmental psychology and a Master of Arts in clinical psychology. Her book, Parenting Without Power Struggles, is available on Amazon. Sign up to get Susan's free parenting newsletter.