Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Women, Children and Chores

I'm a terrible internet writer, because I like to think about things for awhile before I write them. So I find by the time that I'm ready to sit down and compose my thoughts, the world at large has moved on to other topics, it's too much trouble to dig up the original link, and my thoughts probably are no longer very connected to the original idea. It's all right though, I'm not entirely ready to abandon the advantages of thought.

Anyway, a week or two ago I read the blog of a mother who was upset that her children, whom she had hoped would just be willing to cheerfully help with whatever needed to be done, actually hated to work and complained about whatever she asked them to do; she was considering whether perhaps the idea of regular, defined chores had some merit, after all.

I don't think she's alone in her ideals; in fact, I suspect most mothers secretly think that's the way things ought to be; I know mine certainly did. And to give you a rare glimpse into a nearly-as-rare Source of Tension in the Duchy, I tend to think DOB should just see when I need help and come to my side, whereas he thinks I should come and ask him so he knows what to do.

Women have a good reason for thinking this way; it's the way they operate toward their home. They don't wait to be told what to do, they figure out what to do and then do it. And if they can't figure it out, they go read all the books and websites they can to tell them what to do; and if they still can't figure out what to do, they weep and despair and raid the freezer. One seldom finds children or even grown men feeling this way about their house; they may be neat or sloppy but they are generally not troubled with the constant sense that Things Could Be Better.

What women need to realize is this sense they have is a combination of many factors--long training, social pressures, the predominately female desire to nurture, a sense of ownership and control in the house--and that few, if any of those factors are present in children. They really wouldn't want them to be. A kingdom doesn't do well with two kings, and a house doesn't do well with two keepers. Mother wanting to do things this way and Daughter wanting to do things that way is the source of countless conflicts when they're grown up; you really don't want to push it along before they've learned some better people skills.

Since the children can't run the house, there are only a few options left. They could do nothing and live a life of idleness, which is good for no one. They could do regular chores, which we will address in a minute. Or they could simply "help out where needed," which often sounds to mothers like the best of the options.

But think about what it means from the other end. It means you have no advance warning of how long you'll have to work or what you'll have to do. It means you get none of the advantages of a habit, of doing something customary. It means you have no ownership over your time. In short, it means you are a slave. And no one likes being treated like a slave, not even a six-year-old.

Which leaves us with regular, defined chores. A child with regular chores is not a slave, he's an employee. It's not the highest place on the scale of work, but it's a place that's reachable for children. They can learn the skills and practices that will help them to actually see what is needed. They'll get accustomed to work so that they know it's not really such a terrible thing. And they'll still have some control over their own time.

There's still a lot of room left for teach a servant's heart, for helping them see needs, for being willing to pitch in during an emergency, for praising unsolicited assistance. But regular chores teach the basics that make those advanced concepts more achievable.


Ben, Kyri & Rachelle said...

Great post and a very helpful one to me who can never understand why others can't just see what needs to be done and do it. This will be helpful to me as we start to have ones that are old enough to help.-rlr

Jane said...

I wish I'd had a wise friend like you around when my children were growing up to explain WHY they (and my husband!) viewed the house and its needs so differently than I did! Don't give up that thinking stuff, you're good at it.

One thing that helped when our boys were young and "help" was needed outside of their regular chores was, I would set the kitchen timer for 15 minutes (at the longest, when they were teens, shorter when they were small) and all of us would work as fast as we could until the timer went off. If the work wasn't finished then, well, it could wait for another time. They always cheerfully participated this way, and even competed to see who could accomplish the most.

I love your blog!

the Joneses said...

I've gradually realized why Mom would get so irritable all of a sudden, throwing cleanup orders left and right, and complaining that she couldn't keep the house clean. It looked fine to me, back those growing up days. Now I understand. Your post well articulated our household!

-- SJ

Anonymous said...

Wow! That is fantastic advise. I'd never really analyzed help with housework and children and chores that way- but it all makes a lot of sense. Thanks so much for posting this. It will be helpful as I approach the new year and make up our new routine and schedule!

Jenni in FL

j2 & co said...

Well, it seems all that time spent thinking about it was well worth it. =) Well said.

Queen of Carrots said...

This is all very nice, but now I'm nervous that I'll wind up never having my children do chores or something. Very dangerous to write on a part of life you haven't yet reached. (The ducklings do help, of course, but at their stage of life the challenge is getting them out of the kitchen for long enough to finish the job.) I do have experience as a child doing chores, though, so that should count for something. :-)