Life’s Not Fair and Other Lessons Via Laundry

Laundry lessons

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Life’s not fair — a lesson we learn early and one that’s been on the syllabus at our house for the past several months. My 10-year old twins’ opportunities to internalize this hard-knock fact abound.

With four kids and a busy husband, pitching in on household chores is not only an important task toward the development of responsibility, but it’s necessary for my sanity. And I don’t always divvy up the chores equally. However, my boys would like me to deal them out like playing cards, being careful to weigh the time and effort requirement of each task.

While some days I have the patience to ignore the eye rolls and heavy sighs as the daily chores get assigned (or are chosen), on other days the well’s dry.

On one such occasion, one of my equality-seeking sons asked if his twin brother was going to have to do anything (read with the appropriate amount of preteen drama for the full effect) after I asked for his help in the kitchen. This response is par for the course despite my insistence that “it all evens out in the end.” And while this reaction was developmentally appropriate for their age, and especially because, up until now, most things have been equally distributed between them, I needed to come up with a different response strategy.

And herein enters laundry.

My reply:

Yes, let’s make sure everyone does equal amounts of housework. And by everyone, I mean mom too.

 I divvied up the work and laid down the rules.

 Mom’s List

  1. Make the day’s meals
  2. Give little kids baths
  3. Pay bills
  4. Wash floors

Dad’s List

  1. Go to work and make money to pay bills
  2. Put the little kids to bed
  3. Take out the garbage

Twins’ List (to divide as they see fit)

  1. Clean the four bathrooms
  2. Laundry (sort, wash, dry, fold and put away)


  1. There will be no complaining. Any complaining will result in more chores. (While our default rule is that feelings should be shared as long as it’s done respectfully, we’ve been working on not complaining when chores are assigned.)
  2. Any chores not completed today will be continued the next day and so on until they are finished.

The boys took this task in stride — at first. After all, cleaning bathrooms was old hat for them. And one of my tricks to getting them to help fold laundry without complaints is allowing them to watch TV while doing it. Yes, they could watch while folding.

No problem. They got this.

Day #1

At the end of that first day, they triumphantly declared their list complete. Four sparkling bathrooms? Check! Laundry collected from bedrooms, sorted, washed, folded and put away? Check!

“But wait, not so fast,” I responded. I walked them up the stairs to inspect the places where laundry hides. Much to their surprise, they discovered wet towels from evening showers, and the day’s dirty clothes in all bedrooms. Looks like the laundry’s not done after all.

Despite the urge to protest (remember Rule #1?), they hauled the laundry down two flights of stairs, put it in the washer and turned in for the night.

Day #2 (and 3 and 4)

Remember Rule #2? They quickly realized that, with a family of six, laundry is endless. Washing sheets, towels, sports clothes, etc. goes on, and on and on.

I allowed this to continue for four consecutive days. For four days they collected, laundered and returned folded clothes to their drawers. For four days they didn’t complain.

And I literally saw the learning, the empathy, the hard-reality sink in over those 96 hours. Life isn’t fair. And that’s okay. Because, life’s not about fairness after all.

Life Lessons

We debriefed after the laundry lesson (sharing feelings, needs, opinions, etc.). And I asked them to write essays about what they learned. (If your kids hate writing, I don’t recommend this exercise. But my kids enjoy it, and I know that this form of reflection helps to bring the lesson home.)

My words summarizing their 9-year old reflections (they were 9 at the time, and have since turned 10) wouldn’t do them justice. And here, my friends, is one of my son’s unedited essays (shared with his permission, of course).

Dear Mom,

With the punishment that you have given me, I have learned a few things. The first thing is don’t fight about every little thing. Sometimes, you just have to deal with whatever the problem is. I promise to work on that. Second of all, life isn’t fair. Every little thing I do doesn’t have to be even. I have that from days and days of laundry. I will not do this again. Third, looking what might be ahead of me, I won’t try to bicker with my brother because more serious consequences might occur. I will try to treat my brother as I do at school.

I learned that do not overreact when you are getting punished. I have learned that it is not a big deal and that I should just deal with it and carry on with the horrid task that we have ahead of us. ( No, I am NOT exaggerating)

Now that we are getting to the end of the page, (Yay!) I am going to wrap this story up. I have learned that I should not make everything be even, not bicker with my brother, and not overreact. This will help me in future situations. Bye Bye!

Life isn’t fair.

Every little thing doesn’t have to be even.

Just deal with it

I will treat my brother like I do at school.

Lessons that required no yelling. Lessons that, I’d argue, are mandatory when molding responsible, nurturing, soon-to-be adults.

It’s been five months since the laundry lesson. We’ve had no significant set backs, so I’m declaring this a lesson deeply learned. And when I do see a hint of “but, Mom” in their sweet faces, I gently suggest they do some laundry.

NOTE: While I was disappointed that my son considered laundry a punishment, I’m not surprised. I didn’t dole it out as punishment. After all, their request was that the chores be equal, and they are fully aware of the fact that laundry is a chore — it’s just usually done by mom. But the laundry wasn’t fun, and it was assigned by me, so it probably felt like “punishment.” Truth be told, however, my kids rarely if ever are “punished” (the use of force to change behavior). Instead, we allow natural consequences to occur that guide, or discipline, them into better behavior and choices. But that’s a whole new post 🙂


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