Chores: Let Kids Do What Works

Saying there was only one way to do a job excluded any modification, even if the change saved time or money.

By Jackie Saulmon Ramirez | April 22, 2015

My grandmother Mur used to say, “There is more than one way to skin a cat,” and she was right.

This past weekend I came up with a new way to do my work that will save me time. I was so pleased with myself that I thought about my father and wished he could see what I have managed to accomplish in my life. You see, when I was young, my father often repeated his mantras:

“There is only one way to do a job and that is the right way.”

“Do a job once and do it right the first time.”

“Use the right tool to fit the job.”

“For every job there’s a tool.”

As I thought about him, I acknowledged his work ethics and success in business. He was a hard worker and he stood behind the completed work; if something broke down he would come and fix it within hours and not charge a dime. As a father, though, he was rigid and unforgiving, even when he was wrong.

My father’s words seemed wise at the time but what it was doing was limiting any creativity and modification. If you did not do things his way you were lazy – it was that simple. I was riding along our electric fence cutting weeds and making repairs once and used a rock to drive a nail in a fence post. The scolding that earned me really deflated my feeling of accomplishment; I thought he would be happy for my ingenuity – instead, I felt really dumb.

When I had my own children I tried to always remember what I learned from my father and to allow leniency in the way my daughters accomplished an assignment or chore. My concern was the final product, not the process, unless it was something like laundry. In laundry, if you throw anything red in the washer you are going to have pink everything including business shirts when they were formerly white, gray or light blue. (Yes they really did! Thank goodness Rit makes a great color remover. After this incident I typed up step-by-step directions for our laundry.)

This weekend was an affirmation for me that I did have skills for organizing and efficiency. I am also pretty good at repairing and inventing things. When I worked for Kmart many years ago, the corporate office paid me for two separate suggestions I sent in that were adopted into stores across the country. Some years after that I sent tips into Wood, a carpentry magazine, that I was paid for and published. When Gmail was in its infancy I joined Gmail Labs; I sent in two suggestions that were adopted by them. The Gmail team of engineers snail-mailed me a “Black Belt Cheat Sheet” to show their appreciation.

Around home I have built and repaired things that have stood the test of time. The deck I replaced needs a new coat of paint now but is as solid as the first day I built it. The water filter was hard to open so I created a wooden key that would not scratch the refrigerator and it worked. I could go on and on but the best validation of my skills is what comes from my husband who says I would have been a great technician and Mr. Ramirez never flatters.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about giving kids clear instructions and that was to get them started. Parents should know their children’s abilities enough so that once they have completed a task a few times, and kids understand the end result, that they can give kids ownership of the chore and allow kids to modify the process that may save time, money or made the job safer. Let children experiment and explore; that is how they learn to do things. Also, by giving kids ownership of the work they do, parents show they have confidence and trust in them.

Related topic: Instructions: Be Clear and Concise

Unrelated Anecdote

One of my jobs as a child was to use an old-fashioned can opener to open cans; you had to jab a hole in the top of the can and cut the lid off incrementally with stab-cut wrist motions which left the lid and opening sharp, jagged and dangerous. After I left home one of the first things I bought for myself was a Swing-A-Way can opener. I was so happy with it that on my first trip home I took one to my mother – who promptly told me it was a waste of money and was for lazy people. I know now, though, that it was not about the can opener. On my next visit home months later my mother showed me her Swing-A-Way can opener and how easily it opened cans. She evidently forgot that it was me who gave it to her.

*sigh* I still have that original stab-cut can opener; don’t ask me why.

Old-fashioned can openers required users to jab a hole in the top of the can and cut the lid off incrementally with stab-cut wrist motions which left the lid and opening sharp, jagged and dangerous.


The early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese. ~Author Unknown

An expert is a man who tells you a simple thing in a confused way in such a fashion as to make you think the confusion is your own fault. ~William Castle

I have six locks on my door all in a row. When I go out, I lock every other one. I figure no matter how long somebody stands there picking the locks, they are always locking three. ~Elayne Boosler

Don’t worry about the world coming to an end today. It is already tomorrow in Australia. ~Charles Schulz

The large print giveth, but the small print taketh away. ~Tom Waits, Small Change

A celebrity is a person who works hard all his life to become well known, then wears dark glasses to avoid being recognized. ~Fred Allen

Don’t worry about the world coming to an end today. It is already tomorrow in Australia. ~Charles Schulz

The surest sign that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe is that it has never tried to contact us. ~Bill Watterson, Calvin and Hobbes

There’s no such thing as fun for the whole family. ~Jerry Seinfeld

Before you criticize someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes. That way, when you criticize them, you’re a mile away and you have their shoes. ~Jack Handey

If all else fails, immortality can always be assured by spectacular error. ~John Kenneth Galbraith, Money: Whence It Came, Where It Went

All my life, I always wanted to be somebody. Now I see that I should have been more specific. ~Jane Wagner, The Search For Intelligent Life In The Universe, performed by Lily Tomlin

Anybody can win, unless there happens to be a second entry. ~George Ade

I plan on living forever. So far, so good. ~Author Unknown

Humor is a reminder that no matter how high the throne one sits on, one sits on one’s bottom. ~Taki

PHOTO: Courtesy of Jason Rhode Under Flicker/CC License.
PHOTO: Courtesy of VasenkaPhotography Under Flicker/CC License.

Copyright © 2014 Jackie Saulmon Ramirez. All Rights Reserved.

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About Jackie Saulmon Ramirez

Jackie has volunteered for more than twenty years for children and family issues. Currently she writes for parents in the "Reminder" and "Parent Rap" Facebook page. If you are interested in receiving the "Reminder," send her a message.
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7 Responses to Chores: Let Kids Do What Works

  1. I can’t wait to finish this post but I got to do laundry right NOW, the ONLY chore I really learned! & dusting what was never dusty!! LMAO


    • Jackie Saulmon Ramirez says:

      By the time I left home I could do most anything, including chores most frequently left to sons. So get back to your laundry!


  2. Great article. You mentioned about the final product not the process, unless it was something like laundry – I add to that doing the dishes (washing dishes under running water, instead of filling the sink up) 🙂


    • Jackie Saulmon Ramirez says:

      My group members once told me that I am a perfectionist so I learned to give kids chores after they knew how to do it and let them own the results. The first stack of towels and wash cloths they folded were crooked but folded. I asked myself if I wanted to accept that as their best work or if I wanted to fold them myself for the remaining time they lived with me. The conclusion was that they needed to learn and I needed to let go. Over time their towels and wash clots were folded better each time. I tried to apply that to all the jobs they did for our family.

      As far as dishes go, I cleaned and washed as I worked. We used a dishwasher that was actually more economical to run once it was full. The real test was when I picked something up, whether it was greasy or had particles dried on the items.

      Liked by 1 person

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