I Love You, So Please Do the Dishes

Our kids grow up quickly and I recently discovered that my expectations of them have not been keeping pace.

My eyes were opened during dinner at a friend’s house.  Who knew that a 12 year old could masterfully handle all the dinner dishes?  For a family of 11?  Every night?  I didn’t.

My friend floored me after dinner when she declined my offer to help her put the plates into the dishwasher.

She told me, “That’s okay.  My son does the dishes.”

Every night?  I wanted to know.  Yes.  And he does it well.

At our house, I had recently started a “kid cook” night for each of my kids and that had gone surprisingly well.  I let them choose, within reason, what they want to cook and make sure the ingredients are on hand.  I think they actually have been encouraged by what they have accomplished and it makes me happy to see them learning such an important skill.

But until that night at our friends’ house,  it had not even occurred to me that my children could possibly clean up the entire kitchen by themselves.  They were required to “help” every night, but that still required my husband and/or me to be present for dish duty.  Every. Night.

This revelation at my friend’s house made me really think.  I’d like a night off from dish cleanup once in a while.  Could they do a good job?

Would they actually do it without melting down or inciting a riot? I decided to find out.

So, soon after I announced at dinner that, beginning the following week, they would each have sole dish duty twice a week.  I let them pick nights of the week that best fit their schedules and waited, hoping for the best.

My daughter did the thorough job I knew she would; she’s as comfortable in the kitchen as I am.  I just wondered what would happen if she were in a sour mood.  But so far, she’s been very compliant and we’ve had no issues.

I wasn’t sure how my son would do.  Would he feel overwhelmed and be in the kitchen for hours?  It didn’t take long to find out.  On his first night I realized that I had put the wrong time in my phone for a meeting at my daughter’s school.  We went from leisurely finishing dinner to running to the car in about 5 minutes time.  I hugged him and wished him luck.  He grumbled that he thought he’d be cleaning the kitchen for the next two hours.

But guess what?  Everything was cleaned up and the counters were even wiped in 30 minutes!  He said it wasn’t that bad.  He can totally do this.  And I think he was just a little bit proud of himself.

Their success with the dishes makes me wonder at the other skills and opportunities to serve I am denying my kids because of my low expectations.

Our kids grow so quickly that it’s challenging to keep pace with the way we parent.  We also fight the cultural norms today that say that our teens should keep busy in a flurry of organized activities and not have such “adult” responsibilities until they must.  But we forget that this is not normal; this kind of mentality is a very recent phenomena.  Less than 100 years ago, there was no such thing as a teenager.  The word didn’t even exist.  Children transitioned directly to adulthood.

If we don’t continue to transition adult responsibilities to them while they’re at home, they won’t be ready for the responsibilities that will be suddenly theirs when they do move out.

I’m thinking that’s what the teenage years should be about; they should be preparing to be adults.  If they are able to handle the basics of food, clothing, and shelter at that point, perhaps they will be better equipped to do the work that God has planned for them.  And perhaps they won’t be playing video games in my living room at 3PM on a Wednesday when they’re 23 years old.  Lord, please.

Work is not a curse.  Responsibility is a privilege.  Cleaning your room and making your bed means that you HAVE a room and a bed.  Washing dishes means that you have food to eat and clean water in which to wash them.  Adam and Eve had work in the garden BEFORE the fall.  Granted, there were no weeds or thorns to deal with – that’s my kind of gardening – but it was still work.  Sometimes I forget that.

This experience made me think about my expectations in a way that I wish I had considered earlier.

Here are some benefits that I see from steadily increasing our children’s household responsibilities as they get older:

  1. It prepares them for adulthood.
  2. It encourages more of a team mentality where everyone contributes to the family as a whole.
  3. It takes some of the pressure off of the parents.  Mom and Dad don’t have to do it all.
  4. It encourages our kids as they see what they can accomplish and take pride in their contribution.
  5. At some point if we continue to keep pace with their abilities and require them to do their share – of the cooking, the housework, the lawn care, and home maintenance – by the time they’re done with their schooling they will be more likely to decide that it would be best to do all of these things IN THEIR OWN ABODE.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not in a rush for my children to move out.  I want to enjoy my kids at home as much as possible and I will miss them terribly when they leave my home.  But I do see now that my job is to work myself out of a job.  Here pretty soon they shouldn’t need me to do for them.  Not that we won’t love and serve one another within our family, but they are fully capable of pitching in around here.  I pray that God would use their training to instill in them ownership and responsibility for directing and managing their own lives.

In the meantime, there are 4 nights a week that I don’t have to do the dishes.  Sweet!

If this topic interests you and you would like to explore the idea further, I highly recommend the book Cleaning House: A Mom’s Twelve-Month Experiment to Rid Her Home of Youth Entitlement by Kay Wyma.  It’s a well-written, entertaining, and hilarious account of one mom’s attempt to teach her kids important life skills.

What responsibilities have your kids taken that surprised you?  How do they contribute to your family’s work?  Please leave a comment below.  I want to know!





  1. Great post. I think kids do enjoy knowing that they are capable. They also enjoy knowing they are contributors rather than simply consumers. It fuels real pride, because being a contributor is a REAL accomplishment. We’ve tried to teach the kids that work brings reward. Sometimes that’s cash, sometimes ice cream, and sometimes it’s simply being proud of a job well done. Motivation is a key component to living a joyful life. I still have a lot to learn about that. Maybe you could blog about it…

    1. Yes, I think our kids definitely know that work brings reward. That’s why our girls love to bake cupcakes 🙂 Talk about motivation…

  2. Really enjoyed this post. Great reminder! I think I will go update someone’s chore chart.

    1. Hehe. Don’t tell Payton that I encouraged you to do that 🙂 Thanks for reading!

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