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.
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:
- How will they learn to take care of their own home someday?
- How will I manage if they aren’t helping out?
- You mean I’m just going to have to clean up after them forever?
- How is this fair?
- Am I supposed to be their slave?
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.
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! =)