I have three sons, ages 8, 4, and 2. I'm starting our third year of homeschooling. I have gradually come from trying to copy the school curriculums to mostly unschooling. But when I read the comments about doing the housework for them, I want to scream! Unfair, to me, to even suggest that they should not be required to contribute. My mother said, as her mother said, "You eat, don't you? Then you can help clear the table/clean up the dishes."
I met a woman who said to clean up after her (only) four-year old son was like a 'gift' to him, to re-set his toys. I looked at her, wondering exactly what drugs she was on. I'll bet his future spouse will want to kick her butt.
Why should the children take no responsibility?
I'm taking this question to the Unschooling Discussion list, where you should follow if you want responses. While I sometimes answer unique questions by personal mail, the same-old stuff is better answered in group settings.
You might also want to read what Joyce Fetteroll has written about choices, and follow the link to her VERY new site (which has a section on chores) here:
You can unschool without that concept, but I think it will limit your deepest understanding if you don't even try to see what people are saying and why.
But when I read the comments about doing the housework for them, I want to scream! Unfair, to me, to even suggest that they should not be required to contribute.
Forget about chores for a minute.My mother said, as her mother said, "You eat, don't you? Then you can help clear the table/clean up the dishes." And how did you feel about that as a child?
If you could choose between making your children smile and making them cry or be angry with you, which would you choose?
If you could choose to do something for someone who made you angry and cry or someone who thought you were the bees knees who would you help?
Picture three friends: one friend has decided that since you're her friend it's your responsibility to help her out. She tells you what to do and peers over your shoulder at how well you're doing and criticizes when you aren't doing "as well as you should" eg, not meeting her standards. When you're done she says, thanks, you can go.
Another friend calls you up and asks if you wouldn't mind helping her out on her car since she needs a third pair of hands. She recognizes that you have more important things to do and please do feel free to say no. If she asks you to do something you aren't doing well at she apologizes for asking that you do something that was more difficult than she thought. When she's all done she invites you in for a snack or, as a way of saying thanks for interrupting things that were more important for her, offers to take you out for lunch or take your kids for the afternoon.
Another friend never tells anyone when she needs help, never invites anyone over even just to keep her company.
Which friends would you like to keep and which would you like to dump?
When I was a kid my mother did all the housework. She had assigned chores when she was young and she hated it and swore she'd never do that to her kids. And she didn't. The housework all belonged to her. She didn't share it. She didn't invite us along to be with her. Her job was to clean the house and take care of our needs. Our job was to play.
She must have pictured that when we were "old enough" (teens?) we would then spontaneously start helping. I remember her being angry that my sister and I weren't naturally pitching in. It was rather baffling to me and my sister why she'd taken care of everything on her own all along and now all of a sudden she needed help.
We aren't talking about the last friend (or my mom) who never asks. We're recognizing that being someone who is pleasant, who appreciates that others have important things to do (even if those things don't seem important to us) is someone we want to help. And the person who expects us to help and is critical when we don't meet their standards isn't someone we want to help.
We're recognizing that by making kids do chores we're modeling for them that when you want someone else to do what you want that a good strategy is to be bigger and stronger and make them. And yet when children use that tactic—the tactic we use on them—on others we wonder what's wrong with them.
If we want our children to be kind and thoughtful and treat others with respect we need to model that for them. We can make kids *act* respectful and act kind and act thoughtful but when we stop making them and give them the choice, they're unlikely to want to be kind, thoughtful and respectful of those who don't treat them that way.
Will people who make their kids do chores get more help? To some extent it seems that way while they're under our control. It will be paid for by anger and resentment (from parents and kids) and kids who would rather be anywhere else than with us. It's more likely to create kids who want to be away from us as teens and adults. So we will have traded something temporary -- straightening up — for something permanent — a lesser relationship with our kids.
It seems like from your shock that your mother filled you with a feeling of resentment towards housework and feeling that it isn't fair if others don't help. And now that the burden of housework is on your shoulders you don't care that your children feel resentful or angry at helping. It's only important that you not do it all yourself.
And you're passing that resentment onto your kids. Who will pass it onto their kids. I met a woman who said to clean up after her (only) four-year old son was like a 'gift' to him, to re-set his toys. I looked at her, wondering exactly what drugs she was on. I'll bet his future spouse will want to kick her butt.
Why should the children take no responsibility?
You are defining the word responsibility differently for adults and for children and then treating the two as though they were the same.
Try to think of one responsibility that you as an adult have that you didn't choose to take on and that you can't walk away from. There may be many you wouldn't walk away from—a marriage, your kids, paying taxes—but the truth is that you could walk away. There may be many you don't feel you had a choice about like caring for an aging parent, but the truth is you could make other arrangements but for whatever reasons (guilt, financial) you chose to take it on.
The responsibilities we choose to take on for ourselves we get to decide what standards we'll keep them at. If we take on the responsibility of a house, we get to decide how often to take out the trash, how often to scrub the toilet, when to vacuum: daily, weekly, monthly, yearly. We get to decide what quality meals to prepare: quickies, mixes, takeout, scratch cooking, gourmet.
The responsibilities we choose to take on for others we get to decide how closely we'll stick to what's required. There are consequences to our choices—our reputation may go down or up, a project may succeed or fail—but we get to decide if the consequences are worth it or not.
But that's not the situation with kids. Kids don't have ownership of the tasks they're assigned to do. They can't decide to let something go. If someone assigns them the task of mowing the lawn they can't decide to turn it into a meadow. (An adult could decide that.) They can't decide the toilet only needs scrubbed every six months. (An adult could decide that and I have on occasion!)
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