An honest account of “chore time” in the shitshow of my domicile

by renegademama

Somebody on Facebook recently asked me what chores are like in my house, so I thought I’d tell you about it in entirely honest, unequivocal terms.

In short, it fucking sucks.

Perhaps it’s a result of bad parenting, and surely in response to this post, all sorts of helpful humans will suggest infallible tactics to WHIP MY ASSHOLE KIDS INTO SHAPE, or, better yet, get my sorry ass functioning on the level of the enlightened, but I don’t fucking care. The truth is what it is, for whatever reason, and chores around my house go like this:

The second the teenager starts working, her mood becomes that of downtrodden elderly person sick of the way life has mistreated her all these years.

She generally walks around doing her work while shouting at her siblings for failing to do theirs and asking my husband and me if we would please “start parenting our children.”

I usually look at her and wonder if perhaps a better option would be to burn the fucking house down.

I TOO AM ATTEMPTING TO PARENT HERE, TEENAGER, BUT HAVE YOU SEEN WHAT I AM WORKING WITH?

Incidentally, she’s my favorite kid whilst doing chores because although she is annoying as fuck, she is, in fact, DOING SOMETHING, which is generally more than I can say for my son, who’s twelve, and has to be asked 5 to 27 times to complete a single task.

Every time it’s chore time, he suddenly has to go to the bathroom, for a long time, or he begins doing a task, such as the dishes, only to get distracted almost immediately by a funnel, which he will fill with water and bubbles until Mac or I walk by and remind him of the importance of progress in such situations.

He gets back on task but then sees a jar with a lid, which is apparently fucking fascinating, or hears Phineas & Ferb echoing out of the iPad held on the lap of his seven-year-old sister, who has been asked three times to turn the iPad off and clean her room.

Twelve year old somehow forgets all reality and saunters over to observe the sound, which now has my husband almost roaring because we’re on reminder number 6 to DO THE DISHES.

I take seven-year-old by the hand and escort her into the room, where I glance at the one-foot piles of clothes everywhere and ask, again, why all the clothes have to be removed from the drawers in order to find a single outfit.

“I was looking for my dinosaur shirt” is somehow her categorical answer.

Well, also there’s, “I don’t know.”

So infinitely helpful, these kids.

I scan the room with 12,000 stuffed animals never played with but somehow of great sentimental importance and the overturned magnetic tiles bin, the dress up clothes, the Legos—and I’m overwhelmed with such a sense of existential malaise I usually just stand there with mouth open wondering if this is really my life.

After staring into the ontological void, I often walk out of the room hoping for the best, knowing there’s a good chance the kid will shove all the shit under the bed. I’m conflicted about the whole bed-shoving thing. On the one hand, it’s a useless, lazy activity simply moving the mess from one location to another.

On the other hand, it moves the mess from one location to a less visible one, which in my state of deep malaise, kinda feels like a win.

To understand my standards in moments like that, please take regular standards and remove them entirely.

If I don’t leave, I usually start working, somehow always donating 20% of what I see to the goodwill pile – BUT HOW DOES THE SHIT JUST KEEP MATERIALIZING OUT OF NOWHERE? – while shouting to Mac how “we need to make the kids pick up their room every day after school!” and he adamantly agrees despite the fact that we have never once accomplished this task with any regularity.

Alternatively, I will call him into the bedroom to say things like, “Do you see this shit?”

And “SOMETHING IS WRONG WITH OUR FUCKING KIDS.” Or I blame their habits on him.

I find that goes well.

We will then usually say something about garbage bags and how all items on the floor will end up in them unless shit starts changing today.

Vague threats and empty rhetoric are my most essential parenting tools.

Meanwhile, the three-year-old is running around with a large sword from the dude in Moana, whacking his siblings until they engage with him and Mac and I shout “Get back to work!”

The dog sits farting in the living room.

To contain him (the toddler, not the dog) sometimes we’ll turn on the TV, but then the sweet siren sound of the electronic babysitter radiates throughout the house, attracting the semi-addicted 7-year-old and 12-year-old until all three are huddled in living room and the teenager is once again accusing me of “not parenting.”

This generally continues for two to four hours until each kid (sans toddler because he’s useless) has managed through some miracle of baby Jesus, Mary, and Buddha, to complete the fucking chores on their chore list.

As miserable as chore time is, the idea of not having them do chores is about eighty times worse because who the fuck wants to raise entitled assholes who won’t do chores? I DO NOT.

And yes, I know, Super Capable Mother who will comment on this very post letting me know how I need to be consistent, firm, and reasonable and my kids will follow in line perfectly, I REALIZE MY DEFICIENCIES ARE THE PROBLEM HERE AND NO I HAVE NO POINT OTHER THAN TO SAY CHORE TIME SUCKS ASS.

The most infuriating part of chore time is that at the end of it, each and every kid minus the toddler because all he cares about is removing toys from shelves we just organized starts saying things like, “Wow, our house sure is nice when it’s clean like this!”

And I’m like “Yeah, it really is isn’t it? Maybe we could do this WITHOUT THE WRATH OF SATAN.”

But they look at me like I’m speaking some other language.

Sometimes, when feeling entrepreneurial, I will print out some chore charts and through a hundred forms of self-delusion, convince myself that my devotion to them will last more than three days.

Oh, and how long does the nice clean hopeful beauty house last?

One to one and a half hours.

So yes. There you go. That is how it goes down in my house. Every damn time, even though we’ve had kids for nearly 16 years and there are four of them.

Bring on the internet helpers! I’m all ears!

That is a lie. I am not listening.

If I listened, wouldn’t I be in better parental shape by now? 

In other news, here’s my toddler’s contribution to chore time:

thanks, Arlo.

***

I may suck at chores, but I don’t suck at teaching writing. 

COME WRITE WITH ME GODDAMNIT

in the 

January 2018 “Write Anyway” Session

 

I found this a year after I named my workshop “write anyway,” which basically means I am Junot Diaz.

 

more stuff I shouldn't have said out loud:

37 Comments | Posted in bitching about the kids I chose to have. | September 20, 2017
  • Angela

    My husband and kids so regularly use going to the bathroom as an excuse to put off chores I’ve taken to calling it poop-poning

    • Amy Philipsen

      🙂 We call it “The Poop of Freedom”.

  • Jessica

    I have the EXACT SAME SITUATION in my house. Except I have three kids, and a dog who generally takes this fine opportunity to piss in my hallway.

  • Peggy

    I love your honesty. I often think you must be my child,cause that’s how we do things!

  • Kelly

    I just wanted to say how much I seriously connect with you. It is as if you are speaking everything that I go through as a parent. I fucking love you and we should be best friends.

  • Barbara

    I’ve been parenting for 29 years. At one point, there were SEVEN children in my home, but I was a “Super Capable Mother” and chores were done and the house was clean.

    Fast forward to now with boys, 19, 15, and 10. This week, I found baby spinach leaves in a bedroom, a mountain of unwashed laundry hidden in a closet, and a non-identifiable stick spot in a hall.

    Turns out that I’m NOT a “Super Capable Mom”. I just had older kids that were naturally tidy. The clean ones left home and now I’m stuck with those who are content in chaos or aka too distracted to care.

    I’ll just continue my teach, assist, yell, give up, and repeat routine until they leave home

  • Debbie Stothert

    My 2 kids are grown up but I never gave them chores. I just couldn’t be arsed with the yelling and the moaning and the stress. They are both now married and somehow not entitled assholes ! Ha x

  • Kristal

    Never had kids, but as a dicker teenager my parents tried all sorts of stuff. I mean I would read instead of dishes (reading is important right?) I knew if I left for 1/2 hour or so my Mom would do it. My bedroom was the worst. My Mom would put clean clothes on the bed then howl because I would crawl in under them and sleep like that for weeks. They posted photos of my room on the fridge as a shaming technique, the mess looks so different in a photo (still didn’t work). What finally worked was the day they let my boyfriend and my sister’s boyfriend into our bedroom. I came home from work (I was 16) to find all my clothes, including the underwear suspended from the ceiling. It was mortifying to see my underwear hanging from the ceiling but it was also hilarious. I got better after that! Good luck! I’m still messy, difference is I clean it up on a regular basis (or my husband gets tired of the mess and does it. I love him) Guess why we didn’t have kids? lol. I love your writing and recommend you to my nieces as they have started having families of their own!

  • Jennifer

    You get an A+ for honesty. If your kids aren’t learning about chores, I’m sure they are learning about honesty. I tried to teach all of my kids about chores. It worked with the first two … the third one not so much. She’s in college now and complains about her roommates being pigs and how she is the only one doing anything. Music to my ears!

  • Annette

    I love you. I keep saying it, but I do. This is hilarious and reminds me of when my 2 children were living at home and I was constantly feeling like a failure when it came to chores. I failed at chores. I also failed at potty training because I begged, pleased, bribed and got angry, which are all things you’re NOT supposed to do.
    Thankfully, my kids grew up and use the toilet independently and now clean their own homes. There is hope. Even if they’re little a$$holes when they’re living in your house, they eventually clean their own homes. Thank God.

  • Annette

    *pleaded, not pleased. Whoops.

  • Angie

    My brother and I grew up in a house where chores did not exist for us. This was due to several factors. One, my dad was a hoarder, like the kind you see on the TV show where there are pathways through rooms while the rest of the room looks like the hump on the old lady from the Labyrinth. This made it extremely easy to have a “clean” bedroom when the rest of the house was a sideshow. Bar set very low. I actually got really tired of looking at the same stack of empty boxes in our living room one time and thought I’d be a super helpful teen and break them down and throw them in the recycling. My dad didn’t speak to me for a week, smh. I also completely cleared out and sanitized an unused bathroom when I got sick of sharing a bathroom with my brother and dad. Maybe the hoarding was some kind of reverse psychology?

    Another part of the lack of chores was a total lack of discipline and desire to fight with children on my parents’ part. My dad didn’t care since most of the mess could be blamed on him anyway and my mom had medical problems that just couldn’t even handle looking at the mess anymore. And to be honest, because of the hoarding, they didn’t really do the chores either.

    And lastly, my brother and I learned to be master manipulators of the chore situation on the rare occurrence that we were asked to do laundry or clean our rooms. My trick was to leave all my dirty laundry piled on the floor in my room close enough to the door that it would be just slightly in the way. I would gladly step over or through it but it would drive my mom nuts. And I was spoiled enough to have enough to wear that I could keep this up until she had reached her limit and would just do it for me.

    I’m sure most parents are reeling in horror at the lack of parenting I’ve just described, or maybe they are secretly thinking that taking up hoarding sounds like a mighty fine excuse to get out of chores altogether, but I will assure you that I did not grow up to be entitled or lacking in the ability to complete chores in my own home, and I’m not a hoarder either. I do actually keep a fairly clean house, it would be better than fairly clean if I didn’t have 2 dogs and 3 cats, and I would say there is hope for every child regardless of the parenting they received in that department. Good luck!

  • Erin D

    I too have stared into the “ontological void” and shuddered. So glad there’s actually a word for that. Thanks!

  • Melanie

    I’ve just read this to my 4 children, they are convinced I wrote this, you have described our house and my responses exactly!

  • MaryEl

    Hahahaha! I tried chore charts, too. Never worked!

  • Sophia

    This is my house to a tea…exchanging one dog for 4 cats…

  • Patty

    Just had the older child decide to join the younger in the bath, leaving the ferrets out. Both ferrets went investigating in the bathroom, subsquently getting doused in water and they came tearing out of the bathroom rubbing their stinky wet boddies on anything ankle high that would absorb water. Poor little bastards, we dried them off, they forgot about the bathroom incident and ventured in, requiring an additional drying session. My mother prevented these types of things with guilt. My children don’t seem to respond to guilt. I ate a cupcake and glowered.

    • Marian

      This is poetic as f***!

  • Michelle

    My ten year old son told me a couple of weeks ago “I don’t like the laundry system in this house. You and dad always just leave the clothes in baskets and it’s hard to find socks and stuff.”

    Kid just earned himself a lecture on how I don’t bother putting my laundry away necessarily (ever) because I’m usually busy cleaning the bathroom, the kitchen, the yard, the living room, doing all the dishes, making all the food, buying all the food, dealing with the compost and recycling, arranging all the appointments, getting people to places and home again, working full time AND trying to relax now and then. Reminded him that, of the three people who live in this house, HE is the one with the most free time, so BY ALL MEANS, feel free to manage your own goddamn laundry however you like.

  • Sara

    Are you stalking me? No seriously, were you looking though my windows last weekend? Did you see my ‘chore chart’ aka ugly piece of useless wall art??? So much yelling and threatening and throwing away. And you know What, not one single person stopped by unexpectedly to witness the awe inspiring clean house that lasted all of 3 whole seconds. Life isn’t fair.

  • Joodzy

    My youngest is the one who shames me for not doing a better job raising her siblings. Other than that, you just wrote a day in my life 😒

  • Miranda

    I love the advice that you should sing and be super happy when you are doing chores so it will seem so magical the kids will want to join. Makes me want to throw up in my mouth.

  • Kerry

    OMG, you mean the distraction thing doesn’t get better by 12?? God help me. Right now I’ve got the 7 year old and the 12 year old all rolled into one.

    • Kerry

      ETA: I can’t even get the 7 year old to tie his shoes in less than 5 minutes.

      • Sarah

        Wait, you can get your 7 year old to tie shoes?

  • Michelle

    I was just saying that I would actually rather clean up myself (bad parenting choice, I know) than micromanage three six-year-olds who get distracted every .4 seconds. Gah.

    Also, since your posts often echo what it’s like inside my head and house, please write about how awesome it is that kids train themselves to consider mom voices as white noise. They talk over me like I’m not even here. It’s kind of an existential question.

  • Stefanie (soapwench)

    So, I have to say, it sounds like you’re doing an amazing job. I will have to post pictures of my kitchen to your facebook some time so that you will feel better. I’ve stopped eating in my kitchen because I cannot get my NINETEEN and TWENTY-ONE year old sons to do their own fucking dishes.

    Thank you for being you and for writing what you write.

  • Lydia

    My mother-in-law (SUCH A LOVELY WOMAN) gave my four-year-old a GIANT BOX of Playdough. But not the regular Playdough, oh no. It’s that SUPER FUCKING STICKY SHIT that turns to runny goo whenever it gets even slightly warm and oozes EVERYWHERE. The ontological void is real. I went into his room unaware that she’d given him that stuff and almost cried. Now the question is do I clean it up, get him to help me clean it up, ask HER to help me clean it up, or just douse the room in gasoline and toss a match in there?

  • Spenser

    Hey! At least your hallway is clean. AND very chic, festooned as it is by the TP.

  • Erica Dolsen

    oh hi. my best story about being an amazing slob is when i was in college and our basement suite got broken into and my roommates bike and computer were stolen, and from the looks of things they opened the door into my room and literally every surface was covered in…everything. so I couldn’t have known if they stole anything, and, there was no way some skeezy dudes were going to take the time to go through all the everything to find anything of value. ergo: slobbery is occasionally a protective factor in life well-being.
    in my parenting life i have to fake it so much to maintain even a modicum of not-total chaos. bless the partners who can’t stand it anymore and just do it their own damn self.

  • Norita

    Fuck, uncanny timing. You just described my family’s last explosion of kvetching three days ago.

    And…. I just spewed nature valley granola bars onto my computer screen from laughing so hard. My bad. Don’t multitask while reading Janelle. So I got THAT to clean up now too. dammit.

    No advice, other than please keep teaching & writing. January – YESSSS!!

    Thank you for this fully belly laugh, I Sofa King needed this today. Great to know there are other people grappling with this annoying & hellacious existential nonsense!!!

  • Amy

    Janelle, your life is my life–four messy kids, including the oldest who is critical of my parenting skills!

  • Kathleen Hamilton

    Have you tried a chores chart with star stickers? It’s great at moving the whole family dynamic from actually doing chores to an ongoing brawl about unfairness, lack of the ‘right’ stickers, older siblings cheating, etc. Highly recommend!

  • Colleen

    Love this! This is so my family too but I only have 2 kids. Does the husband “child” count? Haha. I would love to hear your thoughts on allowance. I keep going back and forth thinking yeah it’ll teach them about money and then no, then they expect money for things I think they should do just for being a part of the family…no idea just winging it over here.

  • Margaret Sky

    This is such a familiar scenario for me, only my daughter is 2 and I am the one getting distracted from completing anything by random things like a funnel in the dishwater. But seriously. I am the most distractable. Which is why I too only last about 3 days with new chore charts I create. I love getting all organized with a completely new plan for my life…every week. Thanks for this awesome post, even though you nearly caused me to laugh out loud during a meeting.

  • Trishia Fischer

    Just wanted to drop a line and say that you articles help put a big “damn” smile on my face. You are a total bad ass. Thank you for being the real you infront of so many.

    One of your biggest fans,
    Trish