I think two of my least favorite phrases to hear my children utter are: "it's not my job!" or some version of "I didn't leave it there." There are variations of both, of course. There is the every popular, "that is Buttercup's chore" or "I took mine, he obviously didn't put his away" or "well, it is mine, but I didn't leave it there/use it/take it out". All of these phrases are thrown at me as I question how my very intelligent, very capable children can step over something on the floor without picking it up, ignore messes in common spaces, and walk away while a task is only half done. Seriously.
You'd think they'd not been taught. Yet, these are the same children that will (rightly) mentally denigrate those who walk away from a fast food table filled with trash ("Look, Mom, why didn't they just clear their table? That is so rude."); children who always, always put the shopping cart in the shopping cart area ("Mom, we used it, we should make it available for others.") and run to get the door when entering public places ("After you. Oh, no, after you.") Proof positive that they have been taught and, even better, have absorbed the lesson of sharing this world with others: When you're done with something, leave it ready for the next person.
At home it is a different story altogether: Bathrooms, kitchen, dining room, family room, floors, stairs, trash cans, garden tools, DVDs...really anything that might be shared in the home. These things have been a problem. "Valiant, would you please pick up the book from the floor rather than stepping over it? " would always be met with "Buttercup left it there." Um, okay, she shouldn't have left it there, but you shouldn't have just ignored the fact that it was there and stepped over it! "Buttercup, did you remember to hang the bathroom rug on the shower door?" is met with "Valiant left it there after his shower, so even though I took the last shower, since he took it down, he should be responsible for putting it back".
I could spend three days coming up with examples and still not scratch the surface, but you get the point. It all translates to one simple idea: It is not MY job, so I'm going to pretend it doesn't need to be done.
Look, my kids do a terrific job at taking care of their personal spaces. They've learned that I won't do it for them (or maybe they've learned they really don't want me to do it form them), and they keep their stuff presentable. It is the common spaces that no one wants to take ownership of and it makes me crazy.
First I picked 10 relatively balanced tasks so that no one got overloaded and no one got underloaded: vacuum main stairs is balanced by vacuum basement stairs; clean upstairs bathroom is balance by clean guest bathroom, and so on. Then, to begin with, I put out 5 piles of two sticks each , each with pairs of chores, but face down, so the kids couldn't see the chores they were choosing. Then the kids took turns picking from the pile. If Buttercup picked first from pile one, then Valiant would get the stick she didn't choose and then he'd get to pick first from pile two, leaving her with the unchosen stick. Whatever 5 sticks you got, you did...no complaining and no whining. After awhile, I stopped putting them in five piles and just had them take turns pulling sticks until all the sticks were chosen.
And, it is working! Seriously. The kids are starting to understand that leaving something undone is the same as saying, "I'm expecting someone else to clean this up." They're also understanding that all the chores have to get done, not just the ones that are their personal chores. They're learning that if everyone does a little, no one person is done doing the bulk of the work. Finally, the kids are learning to look around and see things that need to be done and actually do them, before they're asked to. That, my friends, means Mom isn't doing everything and the help she is receiving is actually help. How cool is that?
In fact, I'm getting ready to add a few more things to the stick chore pile. Things like "change litter box", "brush dogs", "brush cat", and "add water to turtle tank". Hey, more pets means more work for everyone, including the kids.
Stick chores! Doesn't your house have a few?