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The Importance of Chores

May 31, 2015 | by Emuna Braverman

Studies show that giving kids chores is key to their personal growth.

Great news for parents! According to research by Marty Rossmann, professor emeritus at the University of Minnesota, giving children household chores at an early age helps to build a lasting sense of mastery, responsibility and self-reliance. (It seems the boy scouts were on to something.) “Chores also teach children how to be empathetic and responsive to others’ needs,” notes psychologist Richard Weissbourd of the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

There’s going to be a lot of housekeepers out of work!

Without getting carried away, this is an important finding – that of course seems obvious. Contributing to the family, giving to others is better for our character than an extra language and other resume-padding activities. It’s time to pull back from the brink.

We want our children to be givers. They won’t learn that at school or in the workplace; we need to teach them. We need to take the focus off of their accomplishments and put it back where it belongs – on the type of person they are. This isn’t easy because it is out of step with society. All their teachers and peers, all of our friends (Facebook and otherwise!) are promoting achievement, grades, Ivy League acceptances, promotions…We can caught up in the illusion. We can think it’s the best thing for our kids.

That’s why this Wall Street Journal (03/14/15) article “The Chore-Filled Path to Success” is essential reading. It takes us back to basics – not reading and mathematics but character development, who we are as human beings. It forces us to reflect on our real goals for our children – what we genuinely want versus what we’ve been co-opted to feel.

If the focus is all on grades and resumes and upwardly mobile careers, it is all too easy to become a taker, to live a life that’s all about me. No parent interviewed would honestly want that for our children yet that is the direction in which we push them. They may be happier, kinder, more fulfilled at a community college – but what will we tell our friends? We live in a world where ambition is all and material success is the mark of the man.

Yet the author of the piece, Jennifer Breheny Wallace, clearly has another definition of success in mind, a definition that aligns itself with Jewish understanding and focuses on being a mensch as opposed to being a Harvard graduate.

“Being slack about chores when they compete with school sends your child the message that grades and achievement are more important than caring about others.” No sane parent conveys this intentionally – but without reflecting on what we really want for our children and how to achieve it, we adopt this as our default position.

Like all lessons for our children, it begins with us. It begins with the choices we make and the actions they see. If we model giving, they are more likely to be givers. If we model taking…you can finish the sentence. If we are clearly more concerned about their skill with a clarinet than their caring for others, they will get the message. We have to internalize it first. We have to believe it first. We have to be committed to creating a mensch – a kind and thoughtful human being who is always there for others and puts them before himself. Even if he graduates at the bottom of his class…


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