Child helping to do the dishes


Hey Kids, You’re Not Doing Me a ‘Favour’ — You Should Be Doing These Things Anyway

Jan 14, 2020

“Can you do me a favour and set the table, please?”

“Hey, can you help me bring the laundry downstairs?”

“Do me a favour and grab milk on your way home.”

It’s no wonder my children (and to a certain extent, my husband) expect me to do everything around the house. I’ve taught them to expect it. And I didn’t even realize I was doing it.

I have somehow made my family believe that every time they do something at home, they aren’t helping out — they’re helping me. And that distinction means everything. 

It’s true that since our family embarked on a big cross-province move and lifestyle change eight years ago, I have become the primary manager of domestic responsibilities. I don’t mind — I’m good at it and with a few exceptions, I enjoy the role. 

Sometimes it's grandma who does the chores. Read about a woman whose mother cleans her house here.

However, now I see that I have not only become manager of the household, but by asking my kids to do me a favour and empty the dishwasher, I have allowed them to believe that I am the sole beneficiary of their efforts, and that in doing the tasks they absolutely should be doing anyway, they are lending me a hand rather than leaning in to ensure the household does not devolve into utter chaos. 

I try not to take credit for the things my kids have learned, but this one is all on me. 

"Because these days they think that washing the dishes means they’ve patted my back, and eventually, they can collect with a 'now you pat mine.'"

There’s lots of great advice out there for getting your children to do chores. A chart, an allowance, a set time, an expectation. I suppose I could add a solution of my own, but it would be called, “I owe you one,” and really, the only thing it has been good for in the long run is some low-level parental rage and a desire to go back to when my kids were three and thought washing dishes in the sink was fun. 

Because these days they think that washing the dishes means they’ve patted my back, and eventually, they can collect with a “now you pat mine.” 

I already pat enough backs. Women do more of the domestic work. That’s not a secret, it’s a fact. It's been documented heavily in recent years, including in a 2015 Statistics Canada report that says women do nearly three hours more unpaid labour at home than men (or kids, I will infer).

And don’t even get me started on the invisible load we take up, which may even be contributing to mental health issues. I won’t ask my kids to plan the carpooling arrangements or keep track of holiday to-do lists, but it’s time that my family realizes that when taking on some of the housework and doing their part to rebalance the scales, they are adding to the functionality of the home and the well-being of the people in it — not bestowing a personal favour upon me. 

In this single mother's home, kids' free time means an opportunity to contribute to housework. Read about how she does it here.

So I’m working very consciously on changing the language I use around domestic responsibilities. I’m not even sure how I got into the habit of asking for favours in the first place; I’m fairly bossy and otherwise have high expectations of my family members. And I’m a writer; I know that language is important. Yet, I’ve demurred in this communication for much too long. Has being told to “ask for what I need” backfired here? No longer. Here are the some of the things I’m going to say instead of “hey kids, can you do me a favour”:

  • Child A, it’s your turn to take out the recycling.
  • Child B, what do you think you could do to make sure the house is neat before company arrives?
  • Hey kids, if nobody sets the table, nobody eats.
  • You are all ungrateful and I quit.  

Hopefully the first two options will work well enough that I won’t have to employ either of the last two. And hopefully I am giving my children the opportunity to recognize the ways they can be a productive and helpful member of the family without feeling entitled to more payback than living in a comfortable, calm home. 

Do me a favour and let me know what you think of my ideas.

Article Author Karen Green
Karen Green

Karen Green is a corporate and creative freelance writer specializing in parenting, culture and books. Her work has appeared in numerous digital and print publications, including Canadian Family, Today’s Parent, Bustle, Canadian Living and The Globe and Mail. She has written two very early readers books for Fisher-Price, and is the author of the popular parenting blog, The Kids Are Alright (on hiatus). A Toronto ex-pat, Karen now lives with her husband and two daughters in Chatham, Ontario, where she spends her free time doing quaint things like making jam.

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