Monday, 1 June 2015

Balanced Parenting #3 - Giving the Kids Responsibilities

After MUCH delay - life, illness, and everything - here is #3 in my series. 

I started my parenting journey 30 years ago - true story...No.1 was 30 at the end of April! At the time, it must have been the beginning of what seems to me to be the majority parenting style I'm seeing now - kids scheduled up to their eyes in extra-curricular activities to the point of having no time to just 'be', let alone be part of the active running of the household. Parents are more pushed for time too, and the idea of letting the kids do stuff that night not get done 'properly' or in a way that might create more mess can start to look like more effort than it's worth. In the long term though, that's generally not the case.

It's a far cry from the way I grew up. As a little kid, I had piano lessons one afternoon a week, and Brownies another day. There was a brief spell with dance classes, but I was never going to be a successful dancer... Otherwise, my out of school time was a mix of doing my own thing and chores. It was the same for all of my friends too, and as I recall, no one really complained - it's just the way it was. We moved interstate when I was midway through primary school, and the chores accumulated as I got older and was able to do more. I spent time with my mother learning to cook, and being given more and more responsibility for parts of the meals. It got me out of doing the dishes, which was a bonus - my brother got those because I'd done my bit with dinner. I also spent time with Mum learning to sew, and made my first skirt when I was about 12, I think. We got chooks - feeding them and collecting the eggs became one of my jobs. And so on. 

I honestly didn't think about it when I had the boys - I just did the same thing. As they got bigger, I gave them things to do, so it became 'normal' for them to be doing stuff regularly around the house. When I got sick, it was vital that they be able to contribute because I honestly couldn't manage it all by myself sometimes - from the time No.2 was four, I was on my own. I have a photo of No.1, aged about three, maybe, parked ON the kitchen bench where I was preparing vegetables for dinner. He's peeling potatoes - his first time, from memory, so they were pretty rough, and I did have to finish them off, but he wanted to try SO badly, so I struck while the iron was hot. I did this at EVERY opportunity while they were both very tiny - for them, as littlies, being given 'jobs' was exciting. It was a chance to do what I, as a grown up, was doing. Obviously, there were things they couldn't manage due to their size, or that weren't safe. You have to use your common sense. BUT, they're NEVER too young to start doing things around the house, and the earlier you start, the more normal it will be for them to be making a contribution.

So, what kind of things, and when do you start them? I did it quite organically, taking my lead from their interest, and my own needs sometimes - if they wanted to play but washing HAD to be brought in...I took them outside with me and gave them the pegs to drop in the bucket while I folded things off the line. It sounds small, but it's an incremental process. I had a hunt around and came across a whole stack of lists online - ages and jobs. I don't think you have to be too bound by the divisions - be guided by your child. This one was the one I liked the most, that tallied most closely with the kinds of things my boys were doing at similar ages. It comes from and was used in the context of spring cleaning - finding suitable jobs for the kids during a big clean. However, a regular habit was a better thing to aim for, I found, so that there was ongoing input from the kids. (Click on the image to make it bigger.)
I can imagine exclamations of horror at the very thought of having a preschooler unloading the dishwasher and dusting, but here's a thing: No.2 LOVED 'doing jobs'. He was a child with an immense drive to be useful. He did plenty of imaginative play - mad cities built of books, blocks, Lego and Duplo - anything he could add that worked. He spent hours in the sandpit creating worlds. BUT, he was most happy when he was doing something that counted - like dishes. We had a dishwasher when he was small, but he really loved being parked on a chair at a sink full of soapy water, washing the plastic cups and plates he used. When the teachers at his day care centre had trouble keeping him focused and occupied, I suggested to them that they give him the dishes from fruit time to wash - they even had a sink set in a low kid sized bench. They wouldn't do it. They felt it was wrong to have him 'working' instead of being occupied with some more conventional play activity. Thing was, if he had been given those dishes, he'd have been happy, occupied, focused and feeling useful. 

No.1 was less enamoured of doing chores. However, he'd grown up in a situation where it was normal, so he did them, mostly without making much of a fuss. As the teenage hormones kicked in, that wasn't always the case, but by then, he knew that there'd be consequences he wouldn't like if he didn't pitch in and a reminder of that was usually sufficient to get him moving.

What they didn't realise at the time, of course, was that there was a bigger picture that I had in the back of my head. One day, those cute little boys were going to walk out into the world and set up their own households. How the hell were they supposed to do that if they never learned HOW to keep a house...

There's not a lot to be gained by trying to do everything yourself while the kids don't do anything around the house. You'll get pushed beyond your limits, you'll be exhausted all the time, you'll start getting resentful - especially since, if they're not expected to pick up after themselves (at the very least), let alone do actual jobs, they're not going to give much thought to the trail of death and destruction they're leaving behind themselves... It'll get a LOT worse over time, and you'll be fighting a constant losing battle with an ever growing amount of running around after other people, while no one thinks to help. Think about it. Do you want that for yourself? And do you want your kids growing up incapable of looking after themselves?

I can promise you some messy times in the early stages while they learn to do things. The kitchen WILL get wetter when little ones are washing up. Flour can travel amazing distances across a kitchen when they're cooking. The socks might not be in perfect, regulation balls when they're paired. But all these things will get better as the kids get more skilled. And you will find, over time, that your house will run smoothly and it won't be you doing all the work. 

You can read the rest of the series here:

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