“Enslaving our children by forcing them to do household chores is highly likely to impair their happiness rather than promote it, and it does nothing to inspire them to work hard at things that matter to them.”
– Sarah Fitz-Claridge
“What about work, chores? Will a child not made to do chores at home ever develop a work ethic? And if not, how will they ever have a good life?”
If you think that a good life requires self-coercive self-discipline, as people sometimes mean when they use the phrase ‘work ethic’, that is false. We can be driven to work super hard with zero coercion, and if anything, self-coercion interferes with everything we are trying to do! I am at a loss to think how being forced to do chores as a child could possibly help develop the desire and creativity and drive to work hard.
Doing household chores is trivial compared to most forms of work. Keeping your living space the way you want it (which will be different for different individuals) is something we all do naturally when we are engaged in work that makes us happy. Happiness, on the other hand, cannot be achieved by an act of will. It takes a lot of thought and practice, and it is vital for us parents to give our children as much practice in it as possible (that is, happiness by our children’s lights, created according to their own standards, by doing what they themselves want to do, and not doing what they do not want to do). Enslaving our children by forcing them to do household chores is highly likely to impair their happiness rather than promote it.
If you were brought up being forced to do housework for your parents, you may be surprised to learn that by no means all parents get their children to help with the housework. My own parents were by no means non-coercive but I and my sisters were not roped in to help with the household chores, whether paid or unpaid. (Well, there was one occasion on which my mother tried to insist that we do chores, but she gave up on that idea pretty much immediately. Possibly the same day she proposed the idea.)
Someone I used to know, on the other hand, was forced to do chores throughout his childhood. I was shocked, when visiting his place for the first time, by the extreme—EXTREME—lack of care of his place. It was not just untidy, it was skin-crawlingly disgusting. As we were picking our way through the mess, and climbing over the stuff to get to the kitchen, I must have looked really shocked, because he said, “Twenty-six and still rebelling against my parents. They’re obsessed with keeping their house magazine-ready clean. Forced me to contribute my labour cleaning that house every f-ing day of my life. But now I’m free.”
It did not look like freedom to me, it looked to me as though he was stuck in a prison created by the coercion of his childhood.
If you want help with the housework, hire a cleaner, do not enslave your children. They did not ask to be born. They did not ask to live with you. They are with you because of your own freely-chosen actions, not theirs. If you hate housework, surely you do not want to put that on your precious children? What if the next generation were free of the angst so many feel around housework? What if it were never an issue for anyone ever again? Coercion twists people. It has so many horrible unintended consequences.
Having said that, I do understand your concern. You love your children and do not want to cause them not to be able to function in the adult world. You want to give them the best possible start in life. Conventional wisdom has it that children not forced to do chores in the family home will end up living under a bridge or in prison.
Conventional wisdom is mistaken. If anything it is the opposite. It is perfectly possible to be completely relaxed about, and even enjoy, household chores that keep our home how we like it. And now that we have all the marvellous technology and millions of possible fascinating things to listen to (and at 2 or 3 times the speed, too!), even those who might otherwise be bored when doing household chores need not feel bored.
Try to relax about this. I promise you, it is rubbish. The more opportunities our children have to discover what they want in life, including what work they want to do, what problems they want to address, what values matter to them, the better. Mindless housework that is not their own choice in no way helps anything. Every piece of coercion throws a spanner in the works of their ability to solve problems going forward.
So if we drop the idea of forcing our unwilling children to do house work to teach them to love work(!), how might our children grow up able to work to support themselves? If you yourself love your work and sometimes talk about it, that would be far more likely to save them from the living under a bridge scenario, don’t you think? If you regard work as an unpleasant, onerous thing requiring self-sacrifice and grim ‘self-discipline’, as do some who talk about the importance of having a good ‘work ethic’, how do you think your children are going to grow up wanting to work hard? They are more likely to grow up having the same hangup as you have about work.
The question is: how do people learn? Do they learn through coercion, like being forced to do housework, or do they learn through their own creative critical process of conjectures and refutations? And if the latter, what are the unintended consequences of the former?
Our children’s lives are their own, not ours. They are sovereign persons just like we are. And they have as much right to control their lives and the work they do in their lives as we ourselves do.
- Thoughts on the housework problem
- What Taking Children Seriously means to me—the freedom to make mistakes
- Will a child not made to do chores ever develop a work ethic? And if not, how will they ever have a good life?
Sarah Fitz-Claridge, 2022, Taking Children Seriously FAQ: ‘Will a child not made to do chores ever develop a work ethic? And if not, how will they ever have a good life?’, https://takingchildrenseriously.com/will-a-child-not-made-to-do-chores-ever-develop-a-work-ethic-and-if-not-how-will-they-ever-have-a-good-life/