Elretha Bartlett – Counselling Psychologist

Written by Elretha Bartlett on August 13, 2020.

Few people (adults and children alike) enjoy household chores. But, despite feelings of reluctance, for a home to run smoothly, most of us need to perform them on a daily basis. Many people believe that chores are just tasks that need to be completed and struggle to see a purpose in these so-called ‘tedious activities’. But from a psychological point of view, it can be very beneficial for children to have chores assigned to them at home.

What isn’t beneficial is assigning them based on a child’s gender. You may have grown up with siblings and experienced your chores being different. Typically, boys would be charged with sporadic chores like taking out the bins and fetching wood for the braai (barbeque) while girls were typically bound to time-intensive kitchen or laundry-based duties. Growing up, you may have felt it unfair, or may not have really noticed. But sooner or later, the inequality of chores leak into our adult lives in very real ways.

How to break this pattern of gender inequality? It starts in the childhood home.

Elretha Bartlett – Counselling Psychologist

Some parents may shy away from giving their children chores, wanting them to play and ‘be kids’ for as long as possible. Others simply feel that it’s easier to complete the tasks themselves, rather than having to explain and then supervise what needs to be done. However, the fact is that helping out with everyday chores is important for a child’s development and offers many benefits.

Here are three to consider:

  1. It helps to structure their day and teaches them to take responsibility in the home. It can be especially important for children to engage in chores that affect them personally, such as cleaning their rooms and cleaning up after themselves. Doing these chores teaches them to be self-reliant and not to expect that there will always be an adult to clean up after them.

  2. Chores can teach children respect and teamwork. They learn that everyone in the family is accountable for household responsibilities. This communicates the message that household chores can’t all fall on one person’s shoulders, but rather that we all need to take responsibility to ensure the effective functioning of a home.

  3. Chores teach children important life skills that they will need to be self-sufficient as grown-ups. When children grow older and move out of the house, they will need basic cooking, cleaning and budgeting skills, whether they live alone, with digs mates, or a spouse. This pertains to men and women, so letting boys off the hook when it comes to household chores is doing them a disservice.

Elretha Bartlett – Counselling Psychologist

Traditionally, many household chores have been the responsibility of women. Women were expected to take care of domestic responsibilities, such as cooking, cleaning and ironing. Likewise, men were expected to take care of technical, financial and mechanical tasks.

Many parents still believe that children should be taught to engage in gender-based chores and that the division of labour in a household should be determined by someone’s biological sex.

However, I believe that gender-based chores can restrict many children, and prevent them from learning skills they might be better at than the ones assigned to them based on gender alone.

  1. Confidence. When children are encouraged and taught to perform a variety of chores, it helps them to build confidence in those areas, and equips them to become more self-sufficient and well-rounded people. Children who are allowed to engage in a variety of chores tend to have more confidence in their abilities when compared to children whose chores are restricted on the basis of gender.

  2. Self-sufficiency. We also know that society is changing. Statistics show that there is a growing trend in the younger generations towards staying single, deciding on marriage much later in life or deciding to engage in alternative relationship dynamics. This means that children will require a variety of skills in order to be self-sufficient and cannot afford to believe that they can rely on members of the opposite sex to do certain tasks for them.

  3. Good foundations for future relationships. If you want to spare your son’s spouse the frustration that you feel at doing more than your fair share, or not pass on the lesson to your daughter –that it’s normal for girls to do more work than boys– then you can start now by teaching them that all housework should be done by everyone. Likewise, if you want your children to be considerate roommates, they will all need to learn when and how to tidy up.

Elretha Bartlett – Counselling Psychologist

I believe parents are the people who have the biggest influence on their children’s behaviour and their future attitudes towards the division of labour in a household.

It is well known that the strongest learning in children takes place through what we call ‘observational learning’, in other words, what children can observe from their parents’ behaviour.

For example, if children see that their parents act as a solid team, where both of them take ownership of household responsibilities and communicate clearly to each other in terms of who will do what in a given situation, this becomes their new norm. This becomes the new standard that could have a very positive impact on their future relationships, and in closing the gender inequality gap in the workplace.

Conversely, if a son sees that his father never cleans the house or never does any cooking in the house, he will probably believe that these types of tasks are not expected of men or perhaps that these tasks aren’t ‘manly’ enough. Likewise, if a daughter never sees her mom taking care of the finances, she might believe that this is a man’s job and that she doesn’t need to empower herself to become financially savvy.

Parents who are both involved in the household in non-gendered ways, set an example of equality to their children.

The current crisis presents a great opportunity to rally together as a family, and to ensure that domestic responsibilities are equally divided up.

If you are struggling with family dynamics during this time, you are welcome to book a session with me to work through underlying issues and concerns. I’d be glad to help.

Elretha Bartlett – Counselling Psychologist

Elretha Bartlett


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