A Household Word
Reinventing Labor Day
My  kids hate Labor Day. For them, the long weekend means the end of carefree, summer days spent hanging around the house and the beginning of days spent at school. I guess that’s why it has become one of my favorite holidays.

Yesterday, I flipped the pages of the kitchen calendar from August to September. I was giddy with excitement. “Look,” I said trying to mask the glee in my voice. “You kids go back to school right after Labor Day.”

“What is Labor Day, anyway?” my 9-year-old, Lewis, asked.I wanted to lie and say that it’s a day of mandatory and complete silence to honor mothers who have endured childbirth. But instead, I seized another opportunity:

“It’s a day when parents get to rest and kids do all the work,” I lied.“Really?” he wondered.

“Yes, and I have lots of fun chores planned for you and your brother and sister.”

Best-Laid Plans

Chores. I just love that word. It conjures up images of freckle-faced kids cheerfully gathering eggs and mowing lawns. It’s a word I associate with Opie, Wally and the Beaver – not with my kids. Frankly, my kids’ idea of hard work is buttering their own toast.

Believe me, I’ve tried to get them to pitch in. I’ve created chore charts and job wheels and matrixes. I’ve instituted reward systems with stickers, coupons and cold, hard cash. I’ve nagged and bribed and threatened and yelled. I’m not asking my kids to tar the roof or rebuild the transmission in the minivan. I’m only asking them to pick up the Legos™ off the floor and keep a clear path from the bedroom door to their beds. Heck, I’d be happy if they’d just remember to flush the toilet. “Sweetie,” I say to my 13-year-old daughter, “would you please pick up the 17 damp bath towels that are molding on your bedroom floor?”

“I’ll do it later,” she says, meaning when she goes away to college.

So, I end up picking up her towels, putting away my son’s Legos™ and flushing the toilets myself.

 A Good Idea

According to the experts, I’m not doing my kids any favors. They say that chores build character. That kids who help around the house perform better in school, have healthier relationships with other members of their family and enjoy increased confidence and self-esteem.

Parents, they say, should start early and enlist the help of their children as soon as they are able to hold their heads upright. Even infants, the experts argue, are able to absorb messy kitchen spills with their diapers and ingest the dust bunnies under the living room couch.

Apparently, I’m doing something wrong, because I have teenagers who can’t identify the dishwasher, who still believe in the Garbage Fairy and who consider dust bunnies installation art.

But maybe it’s not too late to turn them into productive citizens with a strong sense of self-worth. Maybe it’s time we put the labor back in Labor Day – at least for the kids. Let’s proclaim Sept. 2 National Chores Day. Nothing would make my long weekend sweeter than watching my kids sweat a little. Who knows, a day of work might not only build character, but also make going back to school seem like a pretty good idea.

When not writing the Household Word column, Carol Band raises champion dust bunnies. Write to her at

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From United Parenting Publications, September 2002.