I think it is a natural tendency for single parents to give more material gifts to our children. It is almost like we rationalize that it is ok to give them gifts because it will make up for the time we have less of to spend with them. Let's face it, a single parent gets to do the work of two adults in the house (fix the sink, mow the yard, do the cooking, dishes, laundry, ect.) That means that we have either less time to spend with our children or we get less sleep because we stay up late after the kids have gone to bed to finish the dishes or laundry or whatever other household chore our spouse used to take care of. Of course, we can choose to just not get everything done but then we end up lowering our standard of living. So what is the answere?
I admit that I am guilty of all of the above. I have at times just let the house go and become a disaster area in order to give my children what they really need, my time. I have also bought them more toys than they need at an attempt to keep them from being board while I did chores. One thing that has become very clear to me is that it is not about balance. It is about catching each ball before it hits the ground.
Now that my children are old enough, I have started making them responsible for certain chores. Yet if they don't get their chores done I have learned the best response is not to get mad but simply say, "That's a bummer you didn't get the dishes done. That just means we'll have less time together at (the fun activity) we had planned because now I have to take extra time to do your share of the family chores.". This is a tactic I learned from Love & Logic. I never really knew how powerful it was until one night we had planned on playing games the evening before I had to go on a business trip. We were just sitting down to play when our dog jumped up on the couch and peed. (I swear kids & animals always act out when they know your leaving) My 9 year old immediately started crying. I tried consoling her by letting her know we could clean it up with our carpet shampooer until she told me why she was really crying. You see, she didn't care that the house might stink like pee or that we couldn't sit on the wet couch, she just knew that it meant I would be spending less time playing with them in order to clean it up.
So if you are doing all the chores because you don't want your children to have to worry about it... or it is too much of a fight and you would rather spend your time with your children just having fun... I want you to think long and hard about what your children need more. Time with their friends...TV... iPod...... Or time with you?
The fastest way to get them moving and willing to help is ask them what fun activity they want to do today. Give them some of their favorite choices. Then show them the list of chores you usually take care of yourself and let them know you will be ready to go just as soon as your list is completely done. Then get to work without asking them to do anything. The first time they ask you if you can go yet just say, "I wish but my chores aren't done yet. I bet if you help me get this part of the list done we could go sooner.". You'll be surprised just how quickly they are able to get stuff done even at a young age. Of course make sure you create your list by grouping age appropriate task together. Then you can rip the list and hand off the right chores to each child. They will feel proud for being able to help... you'll feel appreciated... and everyone will feel happy when you get to leave sooner for your fun activity as a family.