Every family has to find a chore system that works for them. And for us, it's taken years to really figure it out. After trying every routine, chart, reward system, and program you can think of here's what I RE-learned about myself: Charts and sytems don't work for me because they end up just being more work. Sometimes they were even the source of contention in our home, which was completely contrary to my ultimate goal.
While I realize that charts don't work for me personally, I do realize that they can be effective for kids trying to build healthy and helpful habits. But seriously, if the chart is a "chore" for me, it's just not going to help anyone at all because I won't enforce it. This situation has given me quite a bit of pause. I've had to really think about this because sometimes a whole day will go by before I realize that my kids have done pretty much anything they wanted all day (mostly) without being helpful.
There's a hymn we sing at church that starts like this:
Have I done any good in the world today?
Have I helped anyone in need?
Have I cheered up the sad,
and made someone feel glad?
If not I have failed indeed.
Doing good is a pleasure,
a joy beyond measure,
a blessing of duty and love.
One day that hymn was running through my head and then it hit me! We don't need to be checking off boxes or filling out charts to know we're helping and useful. Sometimes our "chore" for the day is comforting someone in need. Maybe that someone is a sister or a brother. Maybe that someone is an over-tired mom that could use a hand reading bed time stories to the younger kids. Maybe that someone is a neighbor child that is lonely and could really use some happy company.
So I changed my tune. Instead of asking, "Is your room clean? Did you pick up your towel? Is the table wiped off? Did you sweep the floor?" I'm trying to ask these questions, "What have you done to be helpful today? What could you do right now to help out? Do you see something that needs to be done?"
I think this has really helped, especially my tween. I see her pause and really think about our current situation. I see her scanning, evaluating and considering. Sometimes she has a whole list of things she can think of that she's done to be helpful. And to be fair, many of these things go unseen by me, but definitely have a positive influence on our home. Other times, she has to fess up and say, "Um, nothing." And that's when I can direct her attention to a need she could fill, whether it be fetching an item, taking over a baking project, dressing a sibling, saying a kind word, or an actual "chore" for the day. And I've learned to just say out loud to the kids, "I need help! It's too busy and I can't do it all. Help me please!" And they seem to rise to the call with willing hearts. I much prefer this kind of helpfulness, than the kind that is motivated by stickers and M&Ms.
I've also noticed that sometimes asking two children to work on a task together makes it seem more manageable for them and less overwhelming. I can't tell you the satisfaction I get when I see my 5yo and 7yo spontaneously sorting laundry together, or cleaning up the Lincoln Logs, or making the 2yos bed as a special surprise for her. For weeks my 5yo would wait for me to leave my room in the morning so he could secretly make up my bed. His small arms and legs struggled with this task, and the end result was far from perfect. But his desire to serve is so plain, and the joy we both feel at admiring his efforts is so much more rewarding than checking off a box.
Don't let me lead you into believing that my kids are angels all of a sudden and that our house is always clean. Ha! We have miles to travel yet down this road. But we're on the right path, I think. Finally.
This whole concept goes along very well with the Frontier Girls motto: See a Need, Take the Lead. Our church leaders also teach us to "first observe, then serve". These are skills and attributes that I really want my kids to have as they develop into caring, productive beings. I believe that great leaders are servants to all, just as Christ was. Learning to serve at home is crucial to developing leadership outside the home. And there's no chart in the world that can teach it. But with the right attitude, I can!