The Sunday list

I’ve never been one to spend Sunday getting ready for the week ahead. I don’t do meal prep, I don’t lay out outfits. We have a cleaning service come every two weeks so deep cleaning chores aren’t required.

However, this weekend, the amount of mess in the house had reached what I consider a maddening point (if anyone has seen my desk that is saying something!) There were also a large number of things in my brain that, while I am not thrilled that I am the one remembering them, were things that needed to be remembered. My husband had plenty of logistical things he was in charge of as well, such as booking a trip for him and some of the older kids to a family memorial service in a few weeks, signing a kid up for tennis, various complications with bids on chimney work, etc.

I realized that if I didn’t make a list to get these things out of my head — did I wash the pool towels? The kids’ sheets? Did I order lunches? Did the piano and alto sax get practiced? And by the way, the kids need to sweep up the paper bits the dog chewed up and get their clothes put away and… — I would be thinking of stuff that needed to be done all day, in addition to the normal Sunday logistics (does the 6-year-old have his soccer cleats? A water bottle? Is he wearing sunscreen?)

So I made a Sunday checklist. I listed the things that needed to happen with check boxes next to them and the person responsible. My husband took the 6-year-old to rock climbing (during which he dealt with chimney matters…good times), and during this time my older kids and I traded off caring for the toddler and working through the list.

I think it worked pretty well. The house is cleaner. The upstairs hallway is no longer covered with a ridiculous amount of kid flotsam. We got clarity on some future scheduling — knowing that people are not doing something is important too. People practiced their instruments. Thank you notes got written (not addressed yet, but baby steps…) By batching all this, we were still able to do some fun activities, like spending a long time in the pool when a family friend came over mid-day.

In general, I’d like the kids to shoulder more of the task load around here. The big ones are definitely old enough. They can take on some of the housework and weekend baby-help that I’m not sure needs to be outsourced anymore with so many capable people in the house. In KJ Dell’Antonia’s book, How to be a Happier Parent, she mentions that many people get upset because they want their kids to do chores without being asked. That might be the gold standard, but if you don’t get so hung up on that desire, you can wind up with the chores done. Which has some real upsides too! So I may start making a Sunday list more often.

How do you tackle kid responsibilities?

Photo: Growing in the new yard! I took the 9-year-old and toddler over there for a short walk after dinner on Sunday. This is part of my desire to log 1000 steps after dinner, as I suggested in a recent Before Breakfast episode.

11 thoughts on “The Sunday list

  1. We have responsibilities (not chores for “branding” purposes). The 13 yo is responsible for date night babysitting and taking the recycling out to the curb. The 10 yo helps with kitchen clean up after dinner and all cat care (food, litter box etc.). The 7 yo clears the table, wipes it down and sweeps underneath it after dinner. The 5 yo sets the table (nearly always under duress). The older two do their own laundry and everyone who wants to sleep in a bad that was made better make it him or herself. We have played around with adding some cooking responsibilities, but this hasn’t always worked out. After years of adding childcare and household help, in the last year we have been able to dial back because of the kid contributions (and full-day pre-k).

    1. @Gillian – ha, yes, I like the branding of “responsibilities” rather than chores! And agreed that the duress doesn’t really matter – it can still be done (“You don’t have to like it”).

  2. I read (or listened to) something recently that talked about raising helpful kids, and one thing they mentioned was to get them involved at a young age and not turning down offers for help when they’re in those younger ages and they offer. Mine are currently 5 and 2 and while it does take 17x longer to unload the dishwasher with a 2-year-old helper, I’m trying to remind myself that it will (hopefully) pay dividends in the future. This does not always go well. Patience, especially when I could do something faster myself, is not my strong suit. But I’m really really trying! And as they get older, they do actually become helpful. This weekend, my husband did a bunch of tree trimming and both kids dutifully carried (small) branches from the backyard to his truck out front. They were both happy to do so and it DID really make the job go faster having four of us help (even the 2-year-old could handle a few small sticks at a time!). My 5-year-old generally just knows that any planned fun on the weekend (going to a park, cookout with friends) will not happen unless his bed is made and his laundry is put away and any other job we assign is completed (picking up toys, vacuuming, whatever). We also try to just frame them as ‘house responsibilities’ and talk about the fact that everyone who lives in the house has to contribute to making it a nice, clean place to live. And luckily, we’re still in the phase that ‘Let’s set a time on Alexa and see who can pick up more toys in 5 minutes’ and making it a game/competition really works!

  3. My daughter is now 26 but when she was a pre-teen and teen, our rule was that she had certain responsibilities/chores and they had to be done between Wed. after school and Saturday morning – everything had to be complete on Saturday before she could have any contact with friends or leave the house. This applied to weekly chores like changing the sheets on her bed, vacuuming her bedroom and the hallway, emptying all the wastebaskets upstairs and in the bathrooms. It became more difficult to police when she started high school and had a cell phone plus went to a school with classes on Saturday morning but it was pretty much habitual by then.

  4. My parents didn’t do much in the way of assigning chores and I kind of felt ill prepared for adulthood so I’m quite conscious of preparing my son for the world. He’s only a pre-schooler but it is amazing how helpful he is – he’ll help me in the garden for ages, I’ll pull the weeds with the weeding knife and he comes along with his bucket and tweezer things and picks them up. He’ll also move things from room to room, move the laundry from the washing machine to dryer with help. Today he helped me make the bed – helped me pull off the sheets and pillowcases, put them in the basket, brought them down for washing. And we have fun with it – he got to be the lump in the bed, and we race to see who can pick up toys quickest.
    Nursery is very focused on risky play and personal responsibility so I think that’s helped me see him as more capable of helping than I would in a more traditional environment. Like if his teacher will let him light the camp stove at 3, he can certainly manage helping with the dishwasher.

    1. @Cb – I’m certainly a big fan of encouraging kids to help when they’re interested…and they can be very helpful with certain things. That said, I’m not sure one needs to worry so much about “preparing for adulthood.” I learned to do laundry because I went to some long-term residential summer camps at age 13-15. Then I went to a residential school for the last two years of high school and had to do it there. It’s not rocket science – people will generally figure it out when they need to. Same with basic cooking – I started renting apartments while doing internships the summer after my freshman year of college and I figured out how to grocery shop and feed myself then.

      1. Yes, it is true, I think my learning curve was just stronger and honestly, sometimes I stare at our vacuum cleaner in total confusion. I think with boys, maybe my feminist instinct to train them up properly is stronger as well. Like I want my son to be a good roommate, partner etc.

  5. So many great comments. Totally agree with the Comment – start small and celebrate little wins (one of my mantras – “make it bad, make it better”) During the peak of quarantine, I stepped on one too many legos and divided the house into zones. Everyone has a zone AND their bedroom that they are responsible for – doesn’t matter who made the mess, they are responsible for either cleaning that zone or holding whoever made the mess accountable. It took some consistent reminders – but it has been a GAME CHANGER! Good luck

  6. I’ve started making a Friday chore list. The boys (9 and 7 yro) must do their chore list before they are allowed screens of any kind after school on Fridays. I’ve never seen them move so fast!

  7. The kids (now 12 and 14) alternate unloading the dishwasher with the family weekly whiteboard signaling whose turn it is. Each is responsible for cleaning a bathroom every week by Sunday before they go to bed. Otherwise, responsibilities like putting away their clothes (I leave their clothes in individual baskets in the laundry room), picking up their room or other random tasks are primarily on them. Often we’ll give them a deadline to meet if it’s something we’ve got a vested interest in. I used to write the one-off responsibilities on a chalkboard sign so I wouldn’t have to say things more than once (and so I wouldn’t forget myself), and when they were younger they liked checking things off. I do less of that now, but have experimented with putting tasks in their electronic agendas/calendars but they’re still in the process of finding what works for them and ideally I want them to be putting the items in their agendas/calendars on their own initiative.

    1. @Maureen – I am not much of a white board person, but the written list serves the same purpose. It’s there on the kitchen counter, and people check stuff off, so I either don’t have to keep reminding people or I can see what didn’t get done so I can focus on those reminders. Checking stuff off is very satisfying in general!

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