Coffee and Conversation: Refrigerator, Responsibility, Reality

Grab a cuppa and a comfy seat, and let’s chat a while.

It’s Monday again – time for Coffee and Conversation.

When I was six, my family was driving on a highway late at night. Streaks of headlights and taillights painted the dark. For the first time, I realized that each car held people living lives as important to them as mine was to me.

I wanted to know what those lives were, and to share my own…

Now, each Monday, I strive for that understanding by offering ideas and tidbits from my life. Settle in for a while, and maybe share something of yours, too..

Okay. I’m guessing at least some of you are sitting out there, asking yourselves what these three words have in common, other than that alliterative ‘R’. Right (I know; again with the ‘R’!)? Well, let me explain… Yes, these photos are of our refrigerator. I took them last week, just after I bought my new Elph camera (it’s BLUE!!!!!!) and just before I got a nasty cold. I took them for a reason, but we’ll get to that in a minute or two, depending upon how quickly you read or scroll.

Sparkly -shiny!

Many parents assign chores as a means of ‘teaching children responsibility‘. Some make it simple and friendly. Some have complex checklists, sticker charts, and the like. When I was a kid, there were no rewards for doing chores. You did what you were told, or paid a painful price. Period. Here, where there are two children, no one has any assigned chores. I know. When I first read about this concept, I gasped too. My mind filled with questions:

Oh, and the Big Question:

Okay, so there’s the refrigerator; and we’ve chatted a bit about responsibility. Reality’s what ties it all together. The reality here is that we don’t assign our kids chores. Instead, my Partner in Parenthood and I do what needs to be done around the house and yard, and we try to do it with an attitude of generosity and service. We ask for help, sometimes – but the kids are as free to decline as we are to decide that doing that last load of laundry isn’t absolutely necessary today, or that we’d rather enjoy an evening at home and order Chinese than go to the grocery store and then cook something.

A freezer door makes a happy canvas…

We try to impart a sense that we are all a part of what makes life here at our house peaceful or chaotic, that we can each contribute to the welfare of all. Sometimes, it looks like we’re not succeeding, as clutter overwhelms us. Dishes and laundry gather so fast, I wonder if they’re breeding. And then, I get up one morning, and the front of the refrigerator is gleaming – and so are my nine-year-old’s eyes. “It was dirty, so I washed it,” she tells me. A little later, she shows me how she organized all the coupons and receipts, and put our four Claudia magnets in order, to make a little magnet biography. Somehow, the clutter seems – not so chaotic. Those receipts strewn across the floor? Well, she’s been studying those, lately, along with reading bills and bank statements. Sometimes, she just reads quietly; others, she has questions and comments. And that interest in interest might have led to the organizing, in the way watching her dad clean the fridge a few weeks before might have led her to notice it was getting grubby again. I could have coerced her to wash the refrigerator. Partner in Parenthood could have growled while he cleaned it. Would she want to do it then? Would there be tears and yelling and threats and punishment? Would it have been worth it, for something that might take ten minutes of my own time? I guess that depends. More than responsibility, I hope my children will develop a growing awareness of the needs and preferences of others, and the generosity to help as they can. I hope they will possess the judgment, to see things like dirty fridges, or that frazzled other mom at the grocery store, and know if and how they might help (frazzled moms in stores seldom want to be confronted, but giving their child a sheet of stickers,a little bottle of bubbles, or a game of peekaboo can work wonders!). I want my children to feel loved, valued, respected, and worthy of kind gestures. I want them to bestow those same things upon others. If I had assigned her a list of chores, she might think of that checklist as her job. Once it was done, she might not even consider looking around her, and deciding to make something better because it could be fun, and she was willing to do it. If I used a reward system, she’d probably be looking for her payoff. For sure, I would have missed that glowing, I-thought-of-this-and-did-it-all-by-myself-because-I -wanted-to face, and the pleasure of that surprisingly sparkling surface – and my life would be a little less shiny today. Instead, she got the pleasure and pride of accomplishment and service, and I saw her grow into more of my hopes, without force or any payoff but the kindness of her act, and our gratitude. You might call me crazy, but that’s worth the clutter that comes with chore-free and happy children, to me. Did you have chores as a child? Do you assign them to your own children, or would you? Have stories of cheerful service to share? I’ll replenish your cuppa; let’s converse! =)

One real live girl, just as she is…

4 comments

  1. I’m in Lauralynn’s place. Not that chores weren’t expected of me (in the form of manipulative “Oh, I just sat down, would you be a dear”?) but even when there were set rules, they were rarely enforced on a consistent schedule. Things would pile up, then there’d be an explosion, and… lots of tears, frustration and….

    On other hand, though it doesn’t seem that D. had to do many chores, he grow up expecting a certain kind of house maintenance, and… I’m so not that. It’s taking us time, but we’re finding our balance. Good things take time.

    Congrats on the new camera. What happened to the old one?

    • Sys,

      I think you remember how chores were at my house. I remember you with an impossible-looking stack of dishes…

      I want to hug us both.

      I’ve noticed that when one family member does the most, and leads others to expect certain standards, they often continue expecting those around them to live up to those standards. Not saying that’s true in every case, or in yours, but I can see where two divergent upbringings can lead to a need to find balance points everyone can live with….

      Jim had chores. They were enforced with gentler means than mine were, but still enforced. Both of us have certain things we still equate with that; they aren’t our favorite things to do.

      It feels like a gift we are giving to the kids, to allow them to both understand the workings of a house (because, well, they’re HERE when it’s happening; something some schooled kids don’t have), and the freedom to choose when and how to help.

      This week, both have helped tidy the house, feed the pets, cleaned in their rooms – and Miah carried in groceries that Lise insisted she wanted to put away herself.

      The goal is less about what they do than that they learn to navigate the world. It’s not always smooth sailing, but it certainly is more peaceful and smoother than the days of enforced chores, for us.

      Nothing happened to my old camera. It’s just a lot to carry around all the time, and I wanted something nice I could carry in my purse. I found the Elph a few months back, and it happened to be on sale. =)

  2. My mom rarely made us do chores, wanting us to enjoy our childhood. My husband’s mother made her boys do chores before any play. This actually caused some problems in our marriage in the early years because I was kind of a slob. So I often wished my mother HAD made me do chores. But, at the same time, I DID have a very happy childhood. So I’m kind of waffling on how I feel about this whole thing. I think whatever works for each family is what should be done. As long as the two parents agree, things should work out fine.

    • Lauralynn,

      My parents made us do chores, and I was a slob until well into my 30s. I avoided dishes assiduously, for some years, because I had been required to do them daily from the time I was 8. I just got tired.

      I don’t think it matters as much whether a child has chores as it does what the child’s nature and nurture are. In my case, I was a creative and expansive free spirit – and my parents wanted things done according to exact specifications. The sheer number of rules tended to smother even my best efforts.

      Neither of my children (nor my spouse) are as inclined to value tidiness as I am. My daughter? Expansive, creative, and an even freer spirit than I was. Both get wrapped up in their projects, like their dad, and like I used to. I could try to make them do chores, but it would require a lot of effort, and might damage our relationship.

      I’ve noticed, though, that as they grow, it’s easier to talk about mutual equitability, and to ask for and get participation. I think that a willingness to accept a no or not now makes it easier for them to say yes at other times.

      I agree that parents should agree – but parents aren’t the only ones in the family. For me, the relationship with my kids matters more than who is doing the hometending. Lately, I’ve seen some manipulation tactics that seem to me to be likely to damage connections between parents and kids, and since kids eventually outgrow control, those are not methods I’m interested in.

      My bottom line is that I would rather my kids help out because they want to than because they feel they HAVE to. Other parents may have other goals, so other approaches would be better suited.

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