Child Labour….

If there’s a phrase that is guaranteed to make my motherly heart sink, it’s “Grandma doesn’t make me do that…” 

Turns out that Grandma zips up Flea’s coat when they’re out. Grandma opens the car door for Flea, so Flea doesn’t risk getting her poor little hands dirty. If it's raining, Grandma has been known to carry Flea from the car to the house, so Flea doesn't stand in any puddles. Crikey, Grandma makes breakfast, serves it at the table, and clears the dirty dishes away afterwards. Grandma goes to the bathroom with Flea.

In a way, it’s great – grandparents should spoil kids a bit. But it makes it harder for me to get Flea to be independent, and I admit it does make me feel a bit guilty about how much I expect her to do for herself at home.

At four and a half, Flea can get herself up and dressed. She brushes her own teeth and hair. Depending on what we’re having for breakfast, she usually gets her own food, and clears her own dishes away. If she’s thirsty, she’s long been allowed to go and get a cup and fill it with milk or water, without any supervision.

If I’m cooking, Flea always helps with some of the preparation, even if it’s just getting the plates and cutlery, or chopping vegetables. She likes spreading her own Marmite on her toast, and cutting up her own slices of cheese, or adding herbs to a sauce.

Flea has chores, too. She’s responsible for folding and putting away her own laundry (though my need for order means I have to go and re-do it while she’s at school, obviously). She tidies away her own toys each day, and she helps to put groceries away when we’ve been shopping. She polishes her school shoes on a Sunday, just as I did when I was a kid.

Being a single parent means she also gets roped in to DIY chores, and has done a lot of “hold that steady while I get the screwdriver” type activities – I’m pleased to say she can identify and pass me most of the tools in my toolbox if I’m on top of a ladder pointlessly trying to repair something in our tumbledown house.

Still, sometimes I think wonder if it is all too much for a four-year-old, and that perhaps as a single parent I expect her to do things most parents wouldn’t expect of their kids. So, I’m curious – what chores do you give your children, and when did you start expecting them to help out? 


Sally is a full-time blogger and founder of the Tots100, Trips100, Foodies100 and HIBS100 communities, along with the MAD Blog Awards. She spends a bit too much time on the Internet. She’s also a very happy Mum to Flea, the world’s coolest ten year old.

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  1. 16th February 2010 / 9:27 am

    That doesn’t sound like too much. I wasn’t allowed to handle a sharp chopping knife at that age, but I did get potato peeling duty with one of those ez-peel things with the guard wires, and I sorted the laundry into different colours, etc.
    Better to start the good habits when they’re young 🙂

  2. 16th February 2010 / 9:35 am

    I try hard to get my daughter to tidy up her toys, but invariably I end up doing it. She’s only two!
    I think it’s important to strike a balance. It’s good to teach them good habits. However, when I was growing up I lived with my mother and grandmother. I always remember being nagged. Polish the floor, dust the piano, water the plants etc. Nag Nag Nag Nag Nag! It was horrible.
    I was talking to a friend the other day. She had asked her children to tidy up their toys that morning. Their response was “that’s okay, the cleaner will do it”!!!

  3. 16th February 2010 / 9:39 am

    My little one is only 18 months old so it’s a little tricky. However she helps put the shopping away, chooses her own clothes, brushes her own teeth and helps to tidy her playroom at the end of the day. I think it’s important, as you say, for them to be independent and learn to do stuff for themselves. I think the time it crosses the line is when they are running around doing stuff for you.

  4. 16th February 2010 / 9:45 am

    I find it very, very hard to be honest. Having a nine year old with cerebral palsy makes it easier to just do things rather than enlist the children’s help because of the support that she needs. So I think that Littlest (six months older than flea, by the sounds) is probably a good deal less independent than she could be – though she does help with putting shopping away, and tidying her toys.

  5. Sally
    16th February 2010 / 9:52 am

    @Etali – Yes, good point – I don’t want her to get into the habit of not doing things!
    @Dawn – doing stuff for me? Heavens no. Well, apart from when I send her upstairs to get me a sweater if I’m cold. Is that bad?
    @Coffee Lady – it is hard anyway, I think. I’m a bit of a control freak sometimes and it’s so hard not to do things myself because I know I could do it quicker/better and it’s just less hassle. It’s hard to find the right balance, I think.

  6. Sally
    16th February 2010 / 9:53 am

    @21st Century Mummy – “the cleaner will do it” LOVE IT!

  7. 16th February 2010 / 11:14 am

    Oh boy! My 7 year old (today!) is responsible for tidying up her own bedroom, setting the table and clearing up. She does the dishes now and again, she helps with the cooking etc.. too many to count. I have to say though I used to be like Grandma until Mr Foodie told me to stop and we started giving her more responsibilities. X

  8. 16th February 2010 / 11:31 am

    I’m glad it’s not just me. Mine tidy up toys, make beds, clear the table and occasionallly sort washing when I can be bothered with all the moaning. All the nagging I have to do to get it done does get me down but I have been appalled when I have seen mums running round after teens at home or when you meet a man who can’t boil an egg – I don’t want that.

  9. 16th February 2010 / 3:39 pm

    I think you are completely right – You are bringing her up to be independent and self-reliant – and importantly not grow up thinking you are her own personal slave. I’m sure it’s down to individual jobs – there are ones she enjoys jore than others. My girls love baking, and cleaning (they clean EVERYTHING!) but not great and putting clothes away so that is my bugbear. They help dad with the gardening, and putting the shopping away. My ploy is to get them as independent as possible (although I ofetn just do things myself because it’s faster and easier).

  10. 16th February 2010 / 4:07 pm

    The boys both have chores to do and they are made to do them, I too am a control freak mummy. Maxi who is nearly 5 still struggles with completly dressing himself, espeically with the little shirt buttons.
    They brush teeach, pour drinks and earn points for extra chores that they do.
    I am determined that they make good husbands one day!

  11. Sally
    16th February 2010 / 4:07 pm

    @Brit – I love the story about them dismantling the bookshelves – so resourcesful, your boys! Yes, I think it’s important to pick your battles, too – Flea doesn’t like anything that gets her hands sticky or involves a lot of noise, so I choose her chores accordingly.
    @Foodie Mummy – it is easy to keep stepping in, isn’t it, though? Especially when they do that cute helpess thing…
    @Catherine – I think I’ve got that teenager thing in my head. I just can’t bear the idea of having to battle with a teenager, so I sort of hope this will teach her that you’re just expected to pitch in and get things done. Don’t know if it’ll work, mind you.
    @Mummy Mania – Yes, I think in the long run you’re doing your girls a favour by helping them to be independent. Life’s a lot cheaper when you know how to clean stains off the carpet, wire a plug and change a fuse!

  12. 16th February 2010 / 5:27 pm

    When mine were small I expected them to do loads. I was a bit surprised when I married again to find that my husband did far more for his kids than I did for mine so we gradually found a balance where his children probably did a bit more than they were used to and mine did a bit less.
    I look after my nearly four year old grandson one day a week and have since he was 6 months old. I would do all of the things for him that Flea’s Grandma does for her, except carrying him because he weighs a ton. I do expect him to help and to be responsible and sensible too and I probably beat him up rather more than his parents do about manners because I am an old fart. I also occasionally let him have just cake for lunch and tell him stories for hours and let him pretend to be a small dog long after his parents would have lost patience. I think that is part of what I am for!
    You are with her day in, day out and I don’t think there is the slightest doubt that you are teaching her to be self reliant and resourceful and caring and funny. A little bit of being wrapped from time to time in the extra blanket of grandmotherly love is just a happy bonus, I think. God, I hope my son and daughter in law don’t read about the cake.

  13. Liz (LivingwithKids)
    16th February 2010 / 5:28 pm

    I have always tried to ‘encourage’ helping out… with mixed results. I don’t believe kids should be useless – it should start when they’re small with putting toys away etc. And continue with putting their clothes away, their empty packets, their chocolate wrappers, doing their laundry, emptying the dishwasher, making the dinner, using the hoover, taking the dog out, etc etc. *sigh*.
    Unless Flea is due to become a member of the Royal Family, I think Grandma needs to stop carrying her over puddles.
    Put ’em up a chimney or tie ’em to a loom, I say.

  14. 16th February 2010 / 6:25 pm

    I am not sure I made it clear here that I think my grandson’s parents are doing a fantastic job – he is a lovely child and that is all them!

  15. 16th February 2010 / 8:38 pm

    I think mine would very much like to be pretend dogs with elizabethms grabdson but they usually get harangued for what must seem to them no apparent reason – I am far too disorganised to get them to do anything other than get themselves up and dressed really!

  16. 16th February 2010 / 9:16 pm

    Sounds like you are doing a fab job.
    Snaffles has only just turned 3 but helps put things away, has to tidy his toys up, can lay the table, clear the table, take his cups and snack plates and put them on the countertop. I usually leave him for 5 minutes to try and sort his clothes out, he can just about manage socks and trousers but not great with tops yet.
    He helps cook and other little bits.
    I think its great for their independance and makes me feel less guilty for having to do chores if I can get him involved too.

  17. 17th February 2010 / 1:26 pm

    Erin pretty much does all the stuff you’ve mentioned – although we do tend to leave repairs to Dad, naughty us!
    I find she enjoys being helpful and it increases her self worth.

  18. Sally
    17th February 2010 / 9:30 pm

    @Elizabethm – I think the point about manners is interesting, and it’s about balance in families. Flea is actually far cheekier with my parents than she is with me, and I have to resist stepping in, because I think it’s good for her to have relatives that do let her test the boundaries a bit – I’m really pretty strict, I suppose. I think it’s actually probably quite nice for your grandchildren to be pampered, too – and have a space where they can really relax and be taken care of.
    @Tattie – yes, I think it’s a lot easier to do this stuff with one, and I suspect a lot of my rules would collapse in the face of more than one child!
    @Liz – I see Flea as more of a ‘leader of the revolution’ than future royal, so I’m with you on the puddles!
    @Snafflesmummy – yes, I think it’s nice to be able to get them involved in chores rather than leaving them doing something different while you’re slaving away, isn’t it?
    @Erica – Tragically, I had to explain to The Father what a spanner was soon after we met. I suspect any DIY expertise Flea gets isn’t coming from his direction 😉

  19. Nikki
    18th February 2010 / 7:05 pm

    Gosh, I must admit I don’t ask my two to do that much. I do find the a number of my freidns with only children do a lot more chores as it keeps them occupied whereas my two are happy to play together for hours at a time. That said, they do clear up their toys, love a tidy house – nagging me if I leave something out of place, help with cooking prep, love washing the car, hoovering and going around with a duster occasionally. I also got them to help clean the windows the other day lol.
    Gardening is another favorite.
    I don’t tend to ask them to do these things regularly because I think it makes it a bit boring, routine, so I like to change it round a bit.
    In terms of dressing etc yes, both my 4.5 yr old girl and 3 yr old boy dress themselves and do their own teeth (which I check) but as for my daughters hair, well – yikes, it looks like a bush on a good morning so I always do that 🙂
    It’s all about striking a balance – the hardest challenge of parenting I find!

  20. Lucy
    21st February 2010 / 3:12 pm

    I think it’s good for children to do all of these things. It’s really good for their self esteem.
    I often find myself doing stuff for Laurie (4) just because it’s quicker and I’m always cross with myself for it!
    Good on you for taking the time to help Flea be so independent!

  21. 22nd February 2010 / 7:52 am

    OMG-I must be a dictator or something. My kids from a young age were expected to do everything. And I am happy to say they are very independent. Am also very happy to say that I think my future daughter in laws will like me. 🙂
    I remember my eldest when he was 2 or 3 begging to let him windex something. (His mother back then was cleaning obsessed! Her standards since then have dropped dramatically!)
    My kids fold laundry, sometimes do laundry, do dishes, make beds, older ones wash floors(from age 10 or so up), driving ones-do the shopping, they help me cook, unpack groceries, dust….The list goes on.
    As far as the grandparents spoiling-depends how often they look after your child. If it is every day, then you need to come to an agreement between the two of you as what is acceptable to you both. If it is here or there-big deal-kids know the difference between their parents and grandparents. You just have to be consistent with them about what you yourself expect from them.

  22. Sally
    22nd February 2010 / 11:02 am

    @Nikki – I guess with 2 kids it’s different, as they will play together – with Flea, it’s also easier to have her helping out as there’s no sibling competing for my attention. I’m with you on the hair brushing, too!
    @Lucy – I hadn’t really thought about the self-esteem angle, but I think you’re right, it is good for them to value the jobs they do, and do well.
    @Susie – I think it’s about teaching kids they’re part of the family, not the centre of the family. We all work together to run the household and it’s not a mother’s job (or any parent, for that matter). I’m sure your daughters in law will LOVE you!