Cooperation in the Family

Things ran rather smoothly in the Jones household considering the kids were in their teens. Rose and Tim thought they were doing a pretty good job of parenting. They were rather surprised one day when four somber looking kids greeted them at the front door and ushered them into the living room and demanded a family meeting.

After their parents were seated, Bill, the oldest, was the first to raise the issue. "You don't treat us fair." He shouted at his father. Betsy, her face red with anger, chimed in. "We don't like how you make us do chores."

Tim stood up and pointed his finger at them. "This is not open for discussion. Everybody in this house is expected to pull their weight. There is no negotiating." He headed for the door.

Barbara took him by the hand and held on tightly. "You don't understand, Dad. We're not complaining about having to do chores. We know we have to do them."

"What then?" Tim allowed Barbara to guide him back to his chair.

Betsy explained. "We know stuff has to get done, but we'd like to have more say about who does what when."

Tim was about to respond when Rose shot him a look that said, "Be quiet and listen." Then she turned to Bob. "Apparently you kids have some sort of plan. Let's hear it then."

"I don't know about a plan." Bob looked at Bill as if to ask for help and Bill carried the ball. "Bob and I have to work outside in the cold and the snow while Barb and Betsy get the easy indoor jobs."

"Yeah, well," Betsy was quick to chime in, "You guys get to be outside when it's nice out too you know. Me and Barb have to stay in the stuffy old house. Besides I'm sick of doing dishes. I'd rather cut the grass."

"Yeah, me too." Barb glared at her brothers. "You do dishes for a change. See how you like it."

"Whoa." Tim raised his voice and put his hands in the air. "This sounds like a solvable problem." A smile crossed his face: "that is, if you are willing to do any chore that needs doing. Your mother and I could arrange to have you change off for a little variety."

"That's not the only thing, Dad." Bob gave Barb a sideways glance. "Barb and I would like to do more on the week end and less during the week. We've got a lot of homework."

"Well, there are things that do need to be done on a daily basis." Rose's voice was firm. "We can't just let the dishes pile up until the week end."

Betsy jumped on that one. "I'd rather do more cooking and fewer dishes."

Barb snapped back at her sister. "I don't care what chore I have to do, I just want to have some say over when I do it."

After everyone's complaints had been heard, the family came up with a creative solution. They wrote down each task on a separate piece of paper and divided the tasks according how much time they estimated for completion. The ones that would take three hours or more to complete and could be done on the weekend were put into one bowl. The ones that took only an hour or so, some of which needed to be done on a daily basis and some that could wait until the weekend, they put into another bowl. Indoor and outdoor tasks were not differentiated.

Each child agreed to do the equivalent of six hours worth of tasks in a week. They picked their tasks from the bowls at the beginning of the week. They could take two three-hour tasks for the weekend, six one- hour tasks from the one-hour task bowl or a combination from both bowls; so long as the tasks added up to six hours of work. They rotated who got to pick their tasks from the bowls first. After the picking had been done, they were free to negotiate trades with each other.

Mom and Dad continued to be in charge of evaluating the quality of the work, and they retained their right to require tasks to be re-done, on the spot, if the kid in charge didn't meet standard.

    —M. LaCourt