Cleaning toilets

slave labour

Recently I came under fire on social media for saying that my six year old son cleans the toilets. I was responding to a post in a homeschooling group, asking what chores our children did at home. The original post was from a mother who felt her teens took her for granted and did not do any chores. She wanted to hear what worked for other families.

There were many responses and, as you would expect, the duties varied from family to family. Somehow mine was the one that gathered the heat, because, as I mentioned above, my six year old cleans the toilets. I was told that this was disgusting and called a slave-driver and a lazy parent.

It was the first time I felt personally attacked by comments on social media. I deleted my initial comment, although I think that was hasty and I should have left it there for everyone to see my complete explanation of our system. Nevertheless, the conversation rolled on. The admins even felt they had to step in and ask for the comments to be respectful, with the implication that the conversation was to be deleted if people did not stop. By this point I had changed my Facebook feed so I didn’t have to read any more comments.

I wondered why I felt so affected by comments from one or two people who don’t even know me. After all, there are many different people and approaches represented in homeschooling and it is guaranteed that whatever you say you will find someone who disagrees with you. “Your mileage may vary,” or YMMV, one person added to their comment in support of my comeback reply.

I think it hurt me because there is always a fine balance in these decisions. I am sure I am not the only homeschooling mum who spends time second guessing myself. This makes it hard for me to stick to my guns, even if I know we do what works for us. The criticisms that other people made have validity, even if the language was accusatory and inflammatory. Am I working my children too much? Is cleaning the toilet an inappropriate task for a six year old?

Also, I spend many hours on social media. I have found the internet invaluable ever since my second son had severe reflux and, shortly afterwards, went into hospital with heart failure. Had this happened to my eldest, when the internet community was not as well developed, I might not have made the same decisions as I did with this little one. I gain strength by knowing there are people who are doing the same as me, and who believe the same as me. Simply by homeschooling I am going against the grain and I have found huge support from the online homeschooling community. It’s hard when the community of people who are supposed to support you are also being critical, in a negative way.

I am probably more conventional and houseproud than my parents were, but less so than other families I know. I am more schooly than some homeschoolers and more relaxed than others. You find your own approach and it won’t be the same as others. What is more, you change depending on circumstances. Sometimes there are days when no-one does any chores. The washing remains piled up on the kitchen surface, the laundry basket overflows and the toilets are not cleaned. The irony is that in these cases it is most likely to be me who decides to do the extra work rather than getting a whip out and forcing my children to do it. And when the bathroom needs a complete clean, I’m the one who does it. I tune my iPhone into a favourite radio station, put on my rubber gloves and sing along as I am scrubbing the tiles (and the toilet).

The other irony is that my two older boys frequently complain that my six year old has the easiest chore, as it takes him less than five minutes to quickly scrub the toilets with a brush, wipe the seats and flush.

I don’t think that toilets are any more disgusting than washing up. People may have an instinctive ‘ugh’ reaction to toilets but microbiologists point out that there are more germs lurking in your kitchen than your bathroom. (It’s also worth being aware that ‘Dr Germ’ works for a bleach company, but that normal detergent does a pretty good job of removing bacteria from toilets and kitchen utensils. Also, sterility is not the aim. Children need bacteria in their environment in order to build up immunity.)

Just for completeness’ sake, I am going to try to repeat what I said in my original post. It won’t be exactly the same but it should cover the same material.

All my children have chores they have to do each day. They have to get their chores and their ‘schoolwork’ done before they get any screen time. This is the system that works for our family. Each chore is appropriate for the child’s age and skills, has been worked out over the years (much as another person commented earlier in the conversation) and are negotiated if someone is not completing their chores properly or if they want to change.

My 13 year old loads, unloads and puts away the items from the dishwasher twice a day. My husband and I do the rest of the washing up. This might be one or two extra loads and it also includes all the items that can’t go in the dishwasher. My 13 yr old tidies and vacuums his room once a week and changes his bedclothes once a fortnight.

My 10 year old does one load of laundry each day. He puts it in the washing machine, takes it out when wet, hangs it out and takes down the clothes when dry. I wash all the bedclothes. Once a week we all sort and put away our own clothes. (I put away my clothes, my daughter’s clothes and the bedclothes.) Once a week he vacuums his bedroom, which he shares with his younger brother.

My six year old cleans the toilets. I know this sounds awful but it was prompted because he was the worst person for weeing on the seat and/or forgetting to flush. All he has to do is scrub briefly with the toilet brush, wipe the seat with a piece of toilet tissue, and flush. He also tidies his room once a week before his brother vacuums, and sorts and puts away his own clothes once a week (usually with help from me or my husband).

My three year old daughter puts away her soft toys.

I expect all of the children to help to lay the table for meals and to tidy their own cutlery and crockery after meals. We also have regular science classes in the house. I do the majority of tidying before people come round for classes, but I do expect the children to help out, e.g. by picking things up off the floor so I can vacuum.

I do not pay the children for their chores. I want them to grow up to be responsible members of the household and I want them to know that if they do not pitch in, the work either does not get done or one person shoulders more responsibility. When they are living on their own, or in a shared house, they will not be paid to look after the house, just as no-one pays me.

I also do not make them cook meals because I don’t want them to think of it as a chore. I enjoy cooking; some people don’t. My 10 yr old likes to cook and does so about once a week. Sometimes his younger brother helps him. My 13 yr old cooks about once a month,  frying some chicken and stirring in sauce from a jar. My 3 year old enjoys making biscuits and other sweet items now and then, with me or her brothers.

This shouldn’t need saying, but I will say it anyway for the sake of completeness. I do every other household chore that is not mentioned above. My husband helps out now and then but he is not included in the rota. I would say I spend more time looking after the household than everyone else put together. I do not consider my main role to be a housewife, but equally I do not view myself as a slave-driver.

I’m not inviting comments as I’ve had enough already of reading what other people think. This is our system and it works for us. I simply wanted to get it out there to respond (indirectly) to the name-callers and, as always, in the hope that it helps someone else out there.

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About scimumsam

An ex scientist living in Australia, currently tutoring maths and science and homeschooling my own children. I blog about science and maths education on NurtureLearning.com, and homeschooling (infrequently) on lookingslantwise.
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3 Responses to Cleaning toilets

  1. Jodie says:

    I just found your blog. I’m so encouraged by reading what you are doing with your children. I felt I wanted to comment because it sounds like you had a lot of negative feedback regarding some chores. I think it’s great your children are doing amazing jobs in a functioning household. Thanks for writing about what you do. It gives me some hope for future homeschooling of my children.

  2. Jodie says:

    Oh goodness sorry I just read you didn’t want comments. Sorry!!!

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