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Perspective | Carolyn Hax: Is ‘here’s your chore list’ too unwelcoming to stepchild?


The problem is, Emma has never had to do any chores, while my 14-year-old, “Kate,” is responsible for her laundry, her bathroom, and pitching in with yard work. Mark doesn’t want to overwhelm Emma with a chore list as soon as she moves in since Emma has never even washed a dish. But I’m reluctant to have Emma doing nothing but schoolwork and playing on her phone while Kate does everything. I don’t want to set my daughter up for some kind of Cinderella dynamic.

Can you see a compromise here? The girls get along very well.

Anonymous: Cinderella, perfect.

So I’m with you, no chore-free grace period for Emma.

But it’s not as if washing a dish is a steep learning curve for a 16-year-old. Address this mode of thinking with Mark, of catastrophizing even the easier parts of blending a family when there are legitimately hard parts in play. A gentle counter-argument might be all you need.

Another option is to bring Emma herself into writing the chore list. You’re so happy she’s here, make that clear, you understand it’s an adjustment. Let her settle in for a day, then explain together how you do things — Kate has been responsible for X, Y, Z, so now Kate and Emma will be splitting these. Say they can figure out how? Or you’ll help them by delegating, their choice.

The more normal you make it that everyone does a part, the better. Tiptoeing around it as if it’s a huge imposition invites a sense of aggrievement.

· Yes, making it normal is the perfect way to adjust. Kids have been hearing their whole lives at friends’ houses that “the rules at our house are …”

· Think of chores as an important part of her education in caring for herself. My mother the martyr stopped expecting her kids to do chores when I, the oldest, made mistakes, rather than showing me the correct way to do things. I felt inept and socially backward when I first lived with roommates who knew how to adult.

· Give Emma the real choice she has and not an unintentional bait-and-switch. She has not had to do chores when “visiting” your home, so she thinks she is choosing a chore-free, baby-free house. Explain to her that living at your house means chores. She can then choose between baby chaos and no chores versus no baby chaos and chores. And definitely it should be your partner having the conversation.

· Can I make a plug for chore splitting on a micro level? My sister and I shared a bathroom. My parentals’ tactic was to assign parts of each task to both of us, i.e., I cleaned the sink, mirror, toilet and took out the trash, while my sister cleaned the tub, floor and put out new towels. Next week we swapped. Did this for kitchen chores, too. This prevented hard feelings because we were in it together, and if you got the worse/harder/grosser part of the chore that week, you knew next week was your reprieve. And you couldn’t dog your part either because Mom or Dad did a final inspection.


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