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The Things Families Do

A friend told me that her daughter had asked to deep clean the bathrooms on Saturday morning for a bit of “initiative pay.” Apparently my daughter had told her this was a thing we do in our family on Saturday - both the chores and getting paid for going above and beyond.

Only, it’s not really A Thing We Do. It’s a thing we struggle to do, that my husband and I disagree about how to do, that we miss regularly because of social obligations, travel, or poor planning.

So my adult perspective is that we’re kind of failing at Saturday chores. I make a list on Friday afternoon; they can do them “early.” They are basic things like vacuuming, bathrooms, picking up the yard. It doesn’t all get done, and the results are just ok. And yet my 12-year-old talked about it like we have a good system.

Part of the disagreement with my husband is about how regular something needs to be to count as a routine. He favors every day or not at all. I’ve maintained that anything happening a few times a week, or once a week for a while, feels like a routine to kids who have little perception or memory of time. If you play card games regularly the kids will think it was “most nights”. If you visit someplace two summers running they call it “every summer.”

Any parents who listen to Health class recordings would see the same happy overstatement of their efforts and routines. You can rest reassured just as I was that your efforts at family life are worth it. Most of these kids give a favorable impression of their families; there are likely many parents struggling like me to make or maintain routines, who don’t realize what their kids take away.

It’s a relief that it really does work. The effort behind the scenes may be beyond their imagination, but it will become some level of pattern. You might even hear them tell their friends, “This (chore, habit, bedtime routine, question at dinner, birthday tradition) is A Thing We Do.”

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