Getting Your Kids to Clean

September 30, 2020 by

Early Monday morning I was kneeling in front of the toilet, feeling awful. When I had finished, I remained there for a couple of minutes, feeling too bad to stand up. I knew I had only myself to blame for overdoing it again; I never seem to learn. But to be honest, I think I will probably do it again. Let me explain: Monday is my turn to clean the toilet before breakfast, and I was feeling the effects of a pulled muscle in my back after biking twenty miles to the sea the previous day.

Cleaning. Something about it. As a matter of fact, Sunday evening is the time our family does most of the serious cleaning of our house – Olivia, my two older sons, and me. I usually sweep and mop the living/dining room and the boys scrub the kitchen. It’s one of those chores we all “love to hate” – there’s moaning about it, but it’s actually quite fun. I love seeing the furniture up and the floor clear of Legos, block castles, paper, glue, and bits of arty rubbish; the boys splashing water about the kitchen, the radio turned up, the sense that the week is complete. We’ve been doing it so long, in fact, that even the boys’ moaning is perfunctory: more a matter of form than proper bitching.

kids cleaningThe author's sons at work on a Sunday evening

The decision to teach our sons how to clean (and yes, they clean the toilet too) along with how to make breakfast and how to keep their rooms tidy was motivated by more than just laziness on our part – although it’s true that by now it is hard to see how we would manage without them. Over the years we’ve come across very many young people who seem incapable of seeing a job that needs to be done and taking the initiative to do it, who are happy to sit on our sofa and read a magazine while we go nuts trying to contain the pandemonium of a busy household. I’m well aware that this is the kind of young person I was myself – in spite of my parent’s efforts – and I have no idea how our kids will perform once they leave home, but we are trying.

People have asked us how we go about getting our kids to clean; it’s a question I find disconcerting. Our boys are wonderful, and a lot of fun, but I would not say they are particularly focused, hardworking, or docile. Nor do I think we’ve done a particularly good job of parenting. We do, of course, have the support of the community around us: teachers, grandparents, and neighbors that care and give input (input that occasionally brings out the defensive Mother Bear in us). I will just say that little kids love to help – our four-year-old loves his morning cleaning job – and we’ve tried to keep the momentum going, even though getting small children to help always makes the job take longer.


Because after all, it’s easy to see stuff you don’t like in the world, easy to get excited about a cause, to spout slogans, to denounce systems. It’s easy to love humanity. It’s easy to apologize for your ancestors (mine were German, and I do feel guilty). It’s much harder to give up your seat to an older person, to wash your neighbor’s dishes, to clean up a mess you did not make. For that matter, it’s hard enough to clean up your own mess. As I get older I find I care less about the wacky things someone believes, and a lot more about what they actually do – whether once they get down to real human interaction they actually give a damn. For myself, I would like to go down as someone who did good things for others. A cleaner with a heart of gold. Something like that.

In any case, to paraphrase something the British Prime Minister said recently about his current commitment to running – if you start your Monday morning hunched over in agony while cleaning a toilet, it’s difficult to imagine anything the week could hold that would be worse.


About the author


Ian Barth

Ian lives at the Darvell community in East Sussex, UK with his wife Olivia and their four boys.

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