Why My 14 Year-Old Doesn't Do the Dishes

From age 12 on, for about two years, Maria did the dishes each evening after dinner. This seemed logical to us. We'd been encouraged by the social workers when adopting an older child that it'd be wise to set up chores and basic rules from the start so that the child would know what to expect and start adjusting to normal life in a family. And that was very good advice. Our younger boys had chores already. Gregory cleared and washed the table each night, while Isaiah sorted the recycling. 

In general, preteens do the dishes. I did the dishes after dinner in my house. My husband took his turn, then his sister after him for a while in their house growing up. Once when Maria was feeling very put-upon that she had to do the dishes I casually told her to ask her friends if they did after-dinner chores. Every.single.one of her friends, ages 10-14, did the dishes each night as their chore. And some didn't have a dishwasher. She didn't complain so much after discovering that. 

But, as time went on I became increasingly frustrated. Even though I'd shown her *how* to do the dishes, and she was more than physically capable of doing them, it just never got done the way I wanted it to. There was a sigh and a humph every night when I'd remind her to wash them, and if I didn't remind her it would be left totally undone. Then, oftentimes, I'd have to point out dirty dishes left on the counter or dishes that had come out of the dishwasher slightly dirty and had been put in the cabinet anyway.

Then there was the always-dirty counter. See, she didn't see that wiping down the stovetop, microwave, and counters were a natural extension of the dishwashing-thing. That's what I did when I was 12-16 years old and the dishes were my chore. 

Yes, I am a firstborn, why do you ask? ;)

Anyway, and then there were the boys' chores. After dinner while the kids did their chores I would nurse the baby and put her to bed. I'd come back downstairs and find chores undone, kids watching tv, and then I'd yell, they'd argue, and eventually stuff got done but none of us was particularly happy in the process.

Oh, and, because it was my 8 year old's job to clear the table, nobody was in the habit of clearing their own plates. Not a problem, until we went to other people's houses for dinner and my kids popped up and ran off without a thought to clearing their plates or cups. Eek, it looked awfully rude and careless but they just all thought their brother would do it and he didn't do it because it wasn't our house. 

So, with the recent move I decided to change things up. Isaiah, being 5 now, was ready to take over a new chore, while Judith, 3, was ready to learn how to sort the recycling like her brothers had at her age. And this dishes thing had me at my wit's end and I needed a change. 

Here's what we do now:

  • Everyone 3 and up clears their plates and cups. 
  • I do the dishes. Yup, all of them. I also do all those things I wished my daughter would do. I tidy the counters, wipe them down, clean the stovetop, and wipe down the microwave when necessary. 
  • My husband takes out the trash.
  • My 8 year old dries and puts away the dishes. He stands right beside me and I give advice and encouragement and we just chat as we work. I'm laying the groundwork here for two things. First, obviously by keeping him beside me as I wash the dishes I'm training him to take my place in a few years and I will switch to dish dryer-and-put-awayer so I can still be beside him to guide him. Second, he's 8. I know the preteen years are not that far away. Boys talk best in casual, regular situations where they are working and don't have to look at you. I'm hoping this chore keeps those lines of communication open. 
  • My 5 year old washes the table. 
  • My 3 year old sorts the recycling in the basement
  • And finally, my 14 year old, who is no longer on dishes duty, sweeps the kitchen floors. That's it. But, being the tallest she does a great job at it! I showed her how to set all the chairs and such in the other room, sweep to the middle, and put everything back where it was. This takes her 15 minutes in the evenings, freeing her up for more schoolwork during the week. She is also learning how to do her own laundry, which she can do on the weekends when it doesn't interfere with schoolwork and vice versa. 

I've found this new approach to be a vast improvement! Before, even though I was doing many chores (ALL the laundry, ALL the bathrooms, deep cleaning, cooking, meal-planning, schooling, baby-care, etc.) after dinner I was sitting nursing the baby so the kids felt like they were doing all the work. Untrue, but I could see how they got that perception. 

Now, we all work together in the kitchen after dinner until all chores are complete. 

Now, I am present so I can poke and prod everyone to do their chores gently, as they lose focus and not way afterwards when it's bedtime and I lose my temper because nothing is done. 

Now, I am there to answer questions immediately. When Isaiah notices we're out of washcloths I can direct him to the paper towels as a back-up. When Judith needs someone to help her with the door I can help her or ask someone else to immediately because I hear her request. 

Now, all the chores are manageable and get done in a timely manner. What used to take 1-2 hours now takes 20-45 minutes. 

And the baby? Well, she's one now and doesn't mind waiting until bedtime to nurse and snuggle. She has fun with Daddy, maybe gets a bath, he puts her in pajamas, reads her a story, etc. 

P.S. -- don't you love that print?! You can find it at Hatch Prints

It reads: "God walks among the pots and pans" ~ Saint Teresa of Avila

No comments:

Post a Comment