Taking the chore out of housework during the holidays

Getting kids involved in daily chores during school break leads to fulfilling time for all

The comment, made during the mid-year exam period, was innocuous but annoyed me to no end.

"Mummy, you are so lucky. You get to stay home with baby all day and do nothing," said my 10-year-old son, Jason.

I indignantly started listing the things I did every day while he was in school - looking after his five-month-old sister, cooking lunch and dinner, doing housework and some freelance work.

But he did not look convinced.

Since I aim to do most of the housework while he is in school, it is little surprise he does not see much of the work involved in running a household.

When we decided to do without live-in help four years ago after our maid left, the plan was for the kids to be more independent.


ST ILLUSTRATION: MANNY FRANCISCO

We do have a part-time helper who comes in once a week to do the heavy-lifting chores. But on a daily basis, the floor has to be swept, meals have to be cooked and laundry has to be done.

They still need reminders but Jason wipes the table after dinner, sweeps the floor once a week and helps to feed the fish. His seven-year-old sister, Shannon, helps put away groceries and is my assistant when I need things to be done while I'm nursing baby.

They are both supposed to pick up after themselves, be it dirty clothes or toys, keep their study tables tidy and wash non-oily utensils after use. But during term time, Jason has heavy co-curricular activity commitments, homework and tests, so chores are kept to a minimum.

I decided there was no better time than the holidays to get them to be more involved in housework. My announcement was met with refusal and whining, by one child more than the other.

"But I already help out. Why must I do more? How will it help me in future?" were some of the questions asked. I replied that these skills would be of use when they get married and run their own households. And at the very least, they would be able to appreciate all the work that goes into making a household run smoothly. They looked on with apprehension as I drew up a list of chores I wanted them to do.

Top of the list were two daily jobs: sweeping and folding laundry. These would be shared by them. Then there were other ad-hoc chores such as wiping window grilles and doors.

To make it more palatable, I got them to draw out a list of fun things they wanted to do during the holidays. And I told them as we worked through the chore list, we would also do some of the activities.

Their enthusiasm increased visibly as they thought about what they wanted to do. Jason's wishlist included longkang fishing, buying gamecards and a staycation, while Shannon's list had a picnic, visiting a farm and taking pictures of animals.

But first, the chores.

"But I already help out. Why must I do more? How will it help me in future?" were some of the questions asked. I replied that these skills would be of use when they get married and run their own households. And at the very least, they would be able to appreciate all the work that goes into making a household run smoothly.

WEEK 1

They got off to a rocky start, asking questions like "What must I do today? Why must I fold the clothes? Can you help me with it?" They spent more time questioning and procrastinating than doing the actual job.

But when they saw I wasn't budging, they soon realised it was futile to whine and quicker to just get the job done. And the jobs did not take that long anyway - 10 to 15 minutes (including distractions like bickering) was all it took to either sweep the floor of our five-room flat, or fold the clothes for our family of five. And once they were done with their chores, as well as other tasks for the day, for example, holiday homework or piano practice, we would head out to accomplish the items on their fun list.

WEEK 2

They started to get the hang of the two daily tasks and became more efficient. It was sweet victory for me when I woke up early one morning and found Jason folding clothes. We had plans to go longkang fishing that day and he did not want anything to stand in the way of an early start. He even took the clothes down from the bamboo poles that day - and told me I needed to think about tying rubberbands on the ends of the pole so it would not be slippery when he took down the clothes.

It was also a funny sight to be greeted by my little "chambermaid" one morning, who told me: "Time to wake up. I need to sweep your room."

While the clothes are not always neatly folded, and strands of hair are still on the floor after sweeping, I told them I was proud that they were doing their part for the home.

They now have new-found appreciation for the one day a week our part-time helper comes in as they get a break from sweeping the floor. There were some "unforeseen circumstances". When Grandma came over and started folding clothes on the day Shannon was supposed to do so, Jason sulked: "It's not fair!"

My mum told him it was a lesson that life is not always fair, even as she offered to help him another time when it was his turn. 

WEEK 3

The kids decided they preferred to sweep the floor rather than fold the clothes, and argued. I insisted they alternate the tasks.

The chores also became more or less a routine for them, even though they needed a little prodding to get started. They also asked for a "day off", and got several when we went away for a short vacation.

All in, it has been a fulfilling holiday. I got some help with the housework, they hopefully learnt some life skills, and we still managed to get in some fun. We explored the nooks and crannies of the Crawford Lane neighbourhood one day, checked out a neighbourhood ice-cream cafe we had been wanting to visit for the longest time, and took walks at Sungei Buloh Wetlands Reserve and the Southern Ridges.

As they moan about approaching the end of the June holidays, I remind them that holidays meant having to help me with more chores.

Their reply? "It's okay, it's not difficult to do," said one.

"It doesn't take that long anyway!" added the other.

They are not the only ones looking forward to the next school vacation.

•Jane Ng, a former education journalist, is now a freelance writer.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 20, 2016, with the headline 'Taking the chore out of housework during the holidays'. Print Edition | Subscribe