Sunday, June 10, 2012

Chores and training children for real life

"One day another mom told me that the only reason I have time to teach my children how to do chores is because we homeschool. She explained why her children were not required to help around the house. 'With soccer, the tutor and dance after school each day, I couldn't possibly ask them to do chores.' 

I explained that I am completely certain that with our genes, our children will likely not be professional soccer players or dancers. They will need to wear clothes and eat, though, so it seems appropriate to train them to do laundry and cook."

- Rose Godfrey, The Pig in the Pantry

In my previous post, I have already touched on the subject of chores and the importance of steering children towards a productive, responsible life. I fully believe in pursuing one's dreams and developing one's talents, but not at the cost of shedding all responsibility for the basics without which a family can't function. An individual, no matter how talented, will likely not grow into a pleasant, hardworking adult if he is never asked to lift a finger around the house or be a productive part of family life. 

Now, chores and the running of a home are the primary responsibility of the parents, and no more than is appropriate should be heaped on the shoulders of a child. No child, no matter the age, should be turned into a housework drudge to the point of neglecting all other pursuits, even if it is a 20-year-old daughter with a houseful of little brothers and sisters. A child can do much, but the childhood years, and even the adult years lived at home, are supposed to be a time of training, not an opportunity for the parents to pile adult responsibilities on a child. 

Having said that, the inclusion of children in basic chores - and in the whole process of life - is not only important in the way of teaching how to run a household, but can be a tremendous learning opportunity in many other ways. Every day, I see more and more how kindergartens and early grades of elementary school must artificially create that learning environment which is so naturally and readily present at home. Reading, counting, measuring, matching, dividing, shaping and so much more are all a part, if one doesn't rush and presents things in the right way, of laundry, cooking, dishes, and other such basic chores ("good, now give me three eggs. No, that is two. I want another one"). Of course it's easier to just grab those eggs myself, but there's an opportunity to learn! 

It is important that a child has time and space to develop his inclinations. I believe it is one of the most important things, and the most easily accomplished ones too, in learning at home vs. regular schooling. But it shouldn't be an all-exhausting effort. I don't think any of us is "too important" to participate in the daily mill of normal life, and all the countless joys and sorrows it entails. For children, it is especially important. Children need a lot of seemingly empty time, time to just be; a very rigorous schedule of school and extracurricular activities leaves no chance for that. So what is the result? Talents may be pursued, and later paraded and made much of, but at what price? 

Irritable, tired, restless, cranky children; children with enormous learning difficulties; listless, idle, or on the other hand, unnaturally ambitious, test-results-obsessed children; much of this, I feel, finds its roots in the extinguishing of calm, orderly, nourishing (physically and mentally) home life. Working alongside each other - not in an artificially created environment, but really doing those simple chores that can be shared by a 3-year-old and a 33-year-old, such as watering the plants or sweeping the porch - can be a time of bonding, shared conversation, and an opportunity for a child to feel like an important member of the family, contributing in real ways. It makes them so proud, and really isn't that difficult to achieve. And of course, lending a hand means that time is freed up to do something fun, like reading a story or taking a walk together. 

So what do we need? Primarily time. A life that is always lived in a hurry is no fit environment for little children; for any of us, as a matter of fact. We just weren't created to live at a crazy pace. It stresses us out and makes us sick. To be healthy and happy, we must slow down and make time for all that counts - nurturing real relationships, building real homes, cooking real food, living real life that is happening all around us. 

There's so much confusion, so much conflict of priorities that it's often difficult to know what to think or do. But if one has a child, then drains on one's time must be strictly regulated. Every activity or outside commitment should be weighed and considered whether, taking everything into account, it is appropriate and right for everyone involved. 

I feel I'm getting on a roll here, and possibly headed towards a slightly different subject, so perhaps I had better save this for another day; in the meantime, I hope you've all had a wonderful weekend, and remain,

Your friend,

Mrs. T


misskirwan said...

I work with young adults with emotional an behavioural difficulties. we work on education as well as basic life and social skills. the one trait that have noticed an all the young people is that they do not participate in their home life ( no shores, no eating together, no cooking, do not buy any of their own toiletries,a lot of them do not speak to their parents). ounce they have been with is for a few months. parents notice changes in them and they ask us how we did it, and the answer is always the same, we gave them responsibilities. something as basic as teaching a child how to make a cup of tea or hoover can do wanders for someone's self esteem.I totally agree with everything you say. love your blog, still waiting for the fish stew recipe!

Kim said...

Well said! I am in the process of training my 18mo DD and she can do amazing things: she can put her toys away at night, and wipe down the tray on her high chair.
God Bless
Kim W

Rose said...

Having taught high school kids for twenty five years, I saw the effect of the home training or lack of it. A child who participates in the classroom, gets on with the other kids, picks up his or her mess is more than likely the child who does age appropriate chores at home.

Katie B. of said...

Such an excellent point, Anna. As you'd indicated in another entry, we are not merely raising children; we are raising future adults. It is a parent's responsibility to train a child with the life skills that he or she will need, and yet so many parents are so very busy these days they find it easier to simply do everything themselves (and whine about it) than take the time to enlist their child's help.

With my son's friends, I can tell those who are expected to participate in family responsibilities, such as housework, and those who feel their parents are little more than domestic servants. The latter come to my home and speak to me rudely, and with far too much familiarity. (When did children stop addressing adults as Mr. or Mrs?) Those children are very rarely invited to visit again, but the former are absolutely wonderful to have over. Not surprisingly, we encourage our son to develop deep friendships with them. The others? Not so much.