Chores and Defiance

After three months, the chore chart that Katherine was so excited about has lost its appeal. Although she does her daily chores with little to no prodding (me) or whining (her), the other, bigger chores have become a bit of a battle. Even her favorite one – waking up early on Sunday morning to make pancakes – no longer interests her.

In some ways, I’m not surprised. She wanted an allowance so she could buy things, but the act of saving up money over a period of several weeks is still a bit abstract to her. Plus, at $.25 a week, saving up $2.00 for the little package of Rainbow rubber bands she wanted was a long haul. I think she decided it wasn’t worth all the work, and once she purchased them, there wasn’t really anything else she wanted.

Also, we never set aside a consistent time for her to do her chores. We tried to make late afternoon "chore time" hoping the balance of independent, somewhat monotonous, physical-but-not-difficult work (i.e., sweeping, changing sheets, filling the woodbox) would meet the witching hour energy. But because there were just enough afternoons when all three girls would fall into the kind of harmonious, "golden play" that should not be interrupted for something like sweeping the floor, I didn’t hold the routine firmly enough.

And finally, there is the defiance factor. Most of the time, I would describe Katherine as a very compliant child, but every once in a while, defiance kicks in. I would even venture to call it a mood rather than a personality trait (although if it is a personality trait, she surely got it from me). When Katherine is in a defiant mood, as soon as she is told to do something, she doesn’t want to do it, as though being told or reminded instantly deprives her of the autonomy she is craving. For example, if I ask her to fold the basket of socks (which is one of the chores she is expected to do three or so times a week), she’ll sit next to the basket not doing it until enough time has passed that when she does do it, it is because she decided to, not because I asked her to. Often setting a time limit (“Katherine, the socks need to be folded by dinnertime”) to indicate she needs to do the chore while still giving her some space and independence to get it done works well, but if she still doesn’t do it, then it becomes a battle. We’ve been having a lot of battles lately.

I'm pretty sure the daily chores work so well because we do them the same time every day - packing a lunch before school and wiping off the table after dinner are just part of the routine. But it's much harder when the chore varies from day to day. The woodbox needs to be filled when it is empty and socks need to be folded when laundry is done. These things usually happen 3-4 times a week, but there is too much variability (mainly due to weather) to set a day and time to do them. 

I think the solution is to set a specific chore time each day - even if the chore itself varies. It’s been hard to accomplish this during the school year when we are juggling school schedules, time at home is limited (and sometimes filled with that "golden play"), and kids are tired, but school ends next week and long, open summer days will be the perfect time make chores a part of the daily routine. Maybe I can even use chore time to anchor our day, just as Ma did out on the prairie with her three girls (oh, to be a fly on the wall in Ma's cabin).  

Hopefully we can work our way out of this unpleasant battle dynamic, and come September, I will have a cheerfully helpful, independent but not defiant, seven-year-old. And maybe, just maybe, in a few years, I will have kids who walk past the woodbox, see that it is empty, and take the initiative to fill it without my even asking...