What’s your motivation for doing chores?

I don’t like doing dishes.

Even as I write this, I have a pots and pans from dinner two nights ago still on the stove and a handful in the sink. (As much as I don’t like dishes, I like a filled sink even less. How can one clean the dishes when they are spilling over the confinements of the metal basin?)

This wasn’t necessarily always the case. As a young child when my family would visit my dad’s parents, my twin and I were only too eager to do the dishes after lunch. My grandma would tie two of her aprons around us and bring a step stool up to the sink. She’d then fill one side of the twin sink with bubbly water and the other with hot water. In the midst of laughter, water splashes, and soap fights, we’d somehow manage to get the dishes cleaned without breaking anything.

One of my favorite things about doing the dishes at her place was the scrubbing brush she had. I’m sure she kept buying them because of our love of them. (And buying multiples, so my twin and I could each have one while cleaning.) They were made of a standard white-coated wire at the end of which was a mop of white flaked with blue, pink, or even green. As a child, the fabric reminded me of what I thought touching a sheep should feel like: fluffy, squishy, airy. (My dad’s family raised sheep, so I sadly knew they weren’t as soft as one might imagine.) I loved how the brush fibers would easily conform into the shape of the glasses, making sure all nooks were reached.

The position of the sink was another favorite. My grandfather, the architect and builder, had placed it on an outside corner of the kitchen surrounded by windows. From it, one could see the driveway, the swing set, and the fields beyond where my grandfather farmed. It was the perfect spot for my grandmother to work on dinner and keep an eye on the boys and her husband. At the end of our task, my grandmother would sometimes pay us with Indian head pennies or Buffalo nickels–all of which I still have.

I can’t remember when I stopped washing the dishes for her. Maybe when I saw my sisters enjoying the sunshine and swings and was jealous I was still inside. Or maybe I felt pigeonholed into the task and wanted to be known for something else. Or maybe it was simply because my twin and I got too big to do them together, and doing it alone felt too much like a chore. For whatever reason I stopped, and I’ve never really found joy in doing dishes since.

Maybe a beautiful sink and scenery would help or my own scrubber brush. (I looked in multiple stores when I first got my own kitchen, but I’ve never found anything coming close to the ones she had.) But maybe what the past few years have taught me is that the joy can be found not in the task itself, but in knowing the benefit in doing them. There is the obvious benefit of having clean dishes to use, but the other benefit is greater. It’s in the fact that it honors my husband and our family by helping to keep the household going.

I think about this benefit when I look back on my childhood. I used to do the dishes for my grandma, but I was less likely to do them for my own mother. I remember dishes piling up near the sink or stove, but rather than turn on the water, I would turn a blind eye. Now when I visit my mom, I try hard to do the dishes, knowing she probably likes doing them as much as I do, and trying to make up for all those times growing up when I did not help her.

So now seems like a perfect time to tackle those dishes on my stove, not because I like to or want to, but because I know my family of two will benefit more from having them done than not done.

Are there chores you don’t like doing, but do anyway? What motivates you to do them?

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