Job Jar: A simple family tool for empowerment, collaboration, pride, and fun

When coaching with couples (especially those with young children), we often hear concerns about household tasks that don’t get done, or resentment about which person needs to do them. The resentments are often due to unmet and uncommunicated expectations about “the way it should be.” Yet, at the core, these parents usually share a common desire to have a clean, safe environment in which to live and raise their family. They also want their kids to grow up to be confident, effective, productive members of society, and to understand the value of contribution and working as a team.

Hearing these concerns, I reflect on my own childhood. My father was an alcoholic, so couldn’t be counted on for much help. Mom ran the household as a single-mom with four kids. She used a ‘Job Jar’ as a way for us to be involved in the household tasks, help get things done, and to learn valuable skills we needed as we matured.

A Job Jar? It worked like this.

On Saturday morning (after our treat of sugared cereal), all four kids drew jobs out of the Job Jar. The rule was that the tasks were to be completed by noon. They included things like: taking out the garbage; washing the sheets on a certain bed; cleaning a cupboard drawer in the kitchen; cleaning the toilets; etc. Some were quick and easy, some a bit harder or even undesirable. We each drew two or three jobs and then set about doing our tasks.

As the youngest, I sometimes drew a task that was bigger or more complex than I could handle. Since there was no option to put a task back in the jar, one of my older siblings would lend a hand and we would complete the task together. Because they had their own jobs to complete, I was often able to give them a hand, or at least feel as if I was helping.

What was the motivation?

To reward us for our efforts, Mom always had a low-cost (or probably no-cost) outing planned for our family – once the jobs were complete. We might have a picnic or go swimming in the nearby Elbow River. The sooner we could get our jobs done, the sooner we could have fun as a family.

As a child, the Job Jar was a Saturday morning ritual in which we all participated as a family team. The jobs were never difficult, especially when we worked together. And we knew the reward was well worth our effort.

As an adult, I recognize this was a way for Mom to instill her values of family helping one another, having pride in a job well-done, contribution to something bigger than “just me”, and it ensured that our house ran somewhat smoothly.

The life lessons?

  • Get at your tasks early in the day.
  • Jobs are easier, quicker, and usually higher quality when people agree to work together (that’s why I love volunteering for community projects).
  • Pride is the result when a job is well-done, and it is even better when a group can share the pride, as in, “we did it together.”
  • Building “caring” sibling relationships is critical. With high levels of trust and compassion, siblings are always there to lend a hand (I can always count on mine, even today!).
  • It’s OK to take on tasks that seem bigger than what you are capable. These provide an opportunity to ask for help/advice, learn, and ‘grow into’ greater accomplishments and skills.
  • And most importantly, plan time for fun and celebration.

I am grateful for the many things my mother taught and modelled for me. Not everyone is as fortunate as I am. Even at 90 years young, my mom is still incredibly resourceful and able to handle whatever life throws her. Although she doesn’t use the Job Jar anymore, she always has a list of chores for any of her kids who come to visit. We are all thrilled to help, and the reward of her love and friendship is ample motivation.

If you feel a bit resentful about tasks that need to be done around your house or yard, I invite you to use the Job Jar as a family tool. It will help you get household tasks done quicker, build your children’s confidence and skills, and instill the value of working together as a team. Besides modelling something very powerful for your little ones, it will also be a lot of fun.

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