Chores…that simple word can strike fear into the heart of most step-family members, parents and children alike. Chores are a struggle in first families, but step-family dynamics add a whole other level of challenges.
As I allude to in the title, there is no fair in chores in a step-family and recognising and accepting that is key to making chores manageable. There are so many variables that there is also no one size fits all approach. Blending families is something that takes time. Blending beliefs around chores may be mission impossible for some families, they may need to start from scratch and create a whole new set of values and beliefs.
Take a good look at where your family is at.
This can be a little painful. We all like to think we are like the Brady Bunch (and who wouldn’t love an Alice!), but the reality is often quite different. You may have two or more sets of children who are used to very different parenting styles and requirements around their contribution to the household. One parent will be seen as overly strict and unreasonable, and the other parent labelled permissive and slack. How on earth do you get on the same page when the values around chores are so different?
Creating a family culture based on shared values in a good start. Each parent might need to look at the ‘why’ of their expectations. Often we hold values around chores that stem from our own upbringing, rather than as a conscious construction of family values. Looking into the why can be quite revealing and make us question how important and relevant our expectations really are.
Be realistic about capacity.
The demands on kids who are dealing with transitioning between homes are far greater than kids who only have to deal with one set of house rules and parenting styles. We all know transition can be a nightmare time for families; for both the kids and the parents. Knowing this, we need to be smart about our expectations of family members during this time.
Expecting kids to land in your home and jump straight into chores can be setting our family up for conflict and failure. Take a moment to think how you feel when you are juggling conflicting emotions and expectations. Are you emotionally available to handle the demands of others? Are you filled with the joy of giving and being a team member? Or are you at the edge of your coping just getting through the day?
Kids who are in your home more will be more comfortable and familiar with your family expectations and values than kids whose dominant experience is with another family structure and set of values. It’s not just unreasonable to expect the same level of engagement from both sets of kids, it’s setting everyone up for failure. Kids who are there for a weekend are going to be dealing with a lot of feelings around transition. Their bandwidth for extra is not going to be the same as kids for whom your home is their main home. Figuring out how to adjust expectations is key for engagement and success around managing chores.
If we, as adults, struggle with this just imagine how much harder it is for kids. We have some semblance of control over our time and the demands on our time and resource. Kids very often do not. Imagine how it feels when you are already over peak capacity and someone demands you do some laundry or dishes. Is it any wonder that sometimes our kids are not compliant when it comes to chores? One article can’t answer all of the questions around how to manage chores in a step-family dynamic. This article is the first in a series around chores, so keep an eye out for the next instalments! Hopefully this has helped remove some of the expectations around being able to make things fair and an encouragement to look at the whys around chores in your home.