I’ve been having a debate with several mothers lately on the age that it’s appropriate to expect children to do different chores. Some think I’m too hard on my kids, but I don’t think so.

Read Little House on the Prairie and see what Laura was expected to do when she was really young! Our kids have it easy. All over the world little children have tremendous responsibility at a very young age. I’m not saying that I advocate child labour; only this idea that kids aren’t able to do tasks young is an entirely North American phenomenon.

They’re not able because we’ve never taught them, and we haven’t raised them in an environment where they would expect to have to work. They think life is about being entertained.

I just can’t understand 13 and 14-year-olds who go off to summer camp for a few weeks, for instance, who don’t pack their own suitcases. Why is mom packing for them at that age? And what about a 10-year-old who doesn’t know where to start when it comes to cleaning their room?

So I’m going to suggest a few ages for things, and I’d love comments on what you think. This is a rough guide; I may revise it later. But here is what I think is reasonable to expect from children (which means that you have to teach it to them at that age, of course):

Age 4: Put toys away in toy bins. Dust a coffee table. Clean the outside of the stove and the bottom of the fridge. Dust baseboards. Get dressed by yourself.

Age 5: Brush teeth by yourself (especially with an egg timer there). Start putting dishes in the dishwasher. Choose your own clothes. Clean walls/cupboards/doors with water and a cloth.

Age 6: Make your own bed. Sort socks. Sort your own laundry by whites and colours (empty your hamper into the laundry room).

Age 7: Dry dishes. Put your own laundry away after Mom folds it.

Age 8: Clean room by yourself. Tidy anywhere in the house. Clean a bathroom (including the toilet). Wash dishes while standing on a stool (not necessarily pots yet). Pack for yourself if you’re going away. Pack your lunch for school.

Age 9: Wash dishes. Fold laundry. Make cookies by yourself, and cake from a mix.

Age 10: Put a load of clothes in the washing machine. Mop a floor.

Age 11: Vacuum. Make three different meals (spaghetti, chicken pie, ham, for instance). Supervise younger siblings by yourself.

Age 12: Baby-sit. Sort out the organization of your own room, or a linen closet, or a front hall.

Age 13: Be pretty much self-reliant. Need Mom more for advice about any household task, but already know how to do them all. Start to become independent by using a clothing allowance.

Age 14: Start to buy your own toiletries, with allowance if parents prefer. You’re responsible for your shampoo, deodorant, toothpaste, etc. Allowances can be given on monthly basis for this.

I think that’s it. What do you think? That’s what I’m aiming for, because I believe that what we want to do is raise children who will be capable of being independent at 18. That doesn’t mean we don’t help or give advice when needed, but we need to raise kids who are capable of looking after themselves. And they can’t learn everything starting at 16!

If we do all of these things for them, then they also grow up thinking that it is the mother’s job to look after them, and they can’t be expected to do any work. If that’s what they think, they’re likely to become lazy adults, or selfish adults, who don’t realize when they are putting other people out. We all know people like that; people who take advantage of your hospitality, or who expect you to bail them out of a jam, because they don’t realize how much work is involved. Or maybe they just think they deserve it, because someone has always done everything for them.

Being a Christian mom does not mean that we do everything for the family. It means we work hard to work ourselves out of a job. I know not every family would be able to work towards that timeline. Learning disabilities, or maturity levels, would also play a part. Some children will be ready for things before others. I just encourage you to think about what you want your children to be able to do, so that they do become teenagers who are motivated and helpful.

So please comment: is this list fair? Have I left anything out? Am I too easy on the kids? Too hard? I’d love to know!

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