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Book Review
Chores Without Wars

Reviewed by Lizz C.
From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 19 No. 3, May-June 2002, p. 112

Chores Without Wars explains how to encourage your family to pitch in with housework while making it enjoyable for everyone. This book offers dozens of simple, effective ideas for improving cooperation and changing negative energy into positive actions.

"Picture yourself trying to pick up and move a large table to another room. Now picture moving that same table with a person at each side, everyone holding up their end and moving in unison to relocate the piece of furniture. Although you could probably accomplish this project with or without teamwork, working together for a common goal is more powerful and fulfilling." So write Lynn Lott and Riki Intner in Chores Without Wars: Turning Dad and Kids from Reluctant Stick-in-the-Muds to Enthusiastic Team Players.

To get started, Lott and Intner suggest accelerating change in the home with eight practical pointers:

  • Focus on one thing at a time until it becomes routine
  • Act without talking (actions speak louder than words!)
  • Offer limited choices
  • Operate by agreements instead of assumptions
  • Don't stereotype jobs by gender
  • Don't baby the young child who wants to help
  • Watch out for pity

Moving beyond these pointers, the authors discuss broad-ranging issues of family dynamics and cooperation. For example, in many families, chores are related to allowances and money handling, and the authors explore those subjects in detail. They also discuss creating routines and traditions, as well as the idea of shared decision-making and family meetings. The book targets parents of children of all ages, and also addresses challenges specific to single-parent, blended, and all-adult households, including concerns about adding aging parents to the family dynamics.

Although ostensibly about chores, much of the book goes to the heart of what makes a cooperative family. The authors explain that "it is more realistic to view change as a process and to focus on progress instead of perfection.... [W]ork to create a cooperative family, not just a clean living room." Change in others can only follow change in oneself, and the reader is encouraged to inspire and invite participation in familial responsibilities by her own actions.

One way to effect change by one's own actions is to respect different ideas and standards about the work others do. "If you expect your teen to do things your way, you invite unnecessary power struggles since your teen is in the process of defining how he or she is different from you. Instead of making assumptions about your teen's motives, talk about and agree on standards before starting a job to prevent problems from developing later." With younger children, the authors recommend spending the time to teach them how to participate in family responsibilities: "You learn more about them-how they think and what motivates them-and your children enjoy the attention you give them." Responsibilities given should be age appropriate, but they should be given when deserved, whether to a teen or to the "baby" of the family.

Finally, the authors stress the importance of being flexible. "We know that children do better when they are listened to and taken seriously. We know that children who learn to think through the consequences of their decisions have better self-esteem. We also know that children who are involved in the decision making treat others with more respect." Allowing children to help make decisions will necessarily entail making compromises and not always doing things exactly as one would like. But the payoff of that flexibility is children who feel better about themselves and are more likely to want to cooperate, the authors say.

Lott and Intner take a creative approach to making "chore time" into "fun time" for everyone, and there are lots of tips to help busy parents build family unity while getting the work of the home finished.

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