Let’s face it. Most kids today s–l—i—-d—–e when it comes to contributing.
You go through the motions of assigning chores, but most of us find that it’s just easier to do them ourselves. Especially if the alternative is to beg, cajole and demand that they take out the recycling, take out the recycling… take out the recycling!
Who can blame you? Why bother? It’s painful all the way around.
Here’s what I learned during supper with my Granny. From my vantage point, she’s not your average centenarian.
Sure, it’s the middle of summer and she’s wearing her blue wool sweater. But she’s got ALL her wits. — Only her hearing and sight are diminished.
At 103, she’s a beauty with a blunt white bob, light blue eyes and a genuine interest in others that permeates every conversation.
She loves to ask about details. And she’s interested in mine.
On this occasion I made a conscious effort to ask her the questions… at least one.
Dinner with Granny
Due to her hearing loss, a snippet of our conversation (in a dining room full of people) went like this…
GRANNY, I’M STILL TEACHING PARENTING CLASSES.
Won-der-ful! (her pronunciation deliberate and bright)
I’M CURIOUS ABOUT YOUR EXPERIENCE AS A MOM. AFTER 78 YEARS OF PARENTING, WHAT WOULD YOU SAY WAS THE MOST IMPORTANT LESSON?
I really don’t recall (she waves her hand and shakes her head as if that’s too far back to remember)… but mother and father (she’s referring to her parents) did a marvelous job.
WHAT DID THEY DO THAT WAS SO MARVELOUS?
(She pauses for a few moments to consider before answering) I was allowed to help with a lot of things. We didn’t have any help so we were the help.
She grew up in a modest, hard working immigrant family in Perth Amboy, New Jersey. Her mother from Denmark, her father from Norway and she the youngest, by far, of 3 and the only girl to boot. She said her brothers always teased her saying she was favored.
So when she says she was allowed to help, she means it – she felt special sitting beside her mother making and mending clothes, weaving rugs, cooking meals, planting vegetables in the garden, etc.
Granny is a practical woman. Learning useful skills that enabled her to contribute to the wellbeing of her family was deeply satisfying.
Our conversation went on, she acknowledged how proud I must be of my growing children – my voice echoing throughout the dining room.
It’s that simple.
I’m struck by the power of a sense of usefulness to withstand the test of time. With love and caring as a cornerstone, Granny’s sense of being a useful member of the family is paramount in her childhood memories.
I know I struggle to get my kids involved in day to day housework. You and I both know, it’s so much easier to just do it ourselves!
Over dinner last summer Granny reminded me of just how worthwhile that effort is.
Yesterday I had laundry that needed to be unloaded, carried, sorted and put away. Seven year-old S. was in a bit of a snit after-school and I knew asking her to help with this relatively light task could easily back fire and become an unpleasant battle.
Here’s what happened:
Me: I’m going to get the laundry – you can come give me a hand or meet me to fold it in my room.
She didn’t say anything but scurried along beside me (things are looking good!)
I took towels out of the drier.
Me: How many can you carry?
She got silly.
S: Mommy, put them all on my head, I CAN DO IT!
I played along for a bit and then just grabbed a few towels so that she could see as she walked, covered in towels, to our room.
In my bedroom she watched as I began folding clothes and towels and stacking them on my bed.
Me: How about you take alike things and put them away in your drawers – like this stack of pants?
S: Okay. (Miraculously she purposefully takes a few trips, arms fully loaded, and then decides it would be interesting to switch with me and be the folder)
We went on like this until the task was complete – all clothes and towels folded and put away. This is a minor miracle – usually things get put away over the course of a day or two – often clothes take the most direct route – basket to body).
Here are four fundamentals to keep in mind to increase your odds of success when encouraging kids to pitch in:
- Do house work WITH your kids – side by side if they are 7 and under. When they’re young they still love doing most every task with you so use that to your advantage while you still can!
- Shift your focus from getting the job done perfectly to seeing it as an opportunity to be together teaching your child life lessons/skills.
- Take time for training. With younger kids this means methodically doing a task together, with older children it means using a specific list of ”to do’s”, rather than a vague “clean up the playroom.”
- Hold the jobs lightly. While follow through is extremely important, you’ll win more cooperation by saying “I notice the dog looks hungry,” rather than demanding, “Rachel, feed the dog right now!”
Let’s brainstorm specific jobs kids can help with around the house. I hope this list encourages you in this challenging and wildly worthwhile parenting responsibility.
Here’s a list by age:
2 to 3
- put toys away
- feed pets
- wipe up spills
- put dirty clothes in hamper
4 to 6
the list from above plus
- unload clean flatware from dishwasher
- water plants
- set house alarm
- bring in mail
- help prepare meals
- scramble eggs
7 to 10
the lists from about plus
- help make and pack lunch
- help do laundry
- help load/unload dishwasher
- help grocery shop
- help make dinner (apple pie)
- take pet for walk
- make toast
10 to 13
the lists from above plus
- fold and put away laundry
- wash car
- wash windows
- babysit younger siblings
- take out garbage & recycling
- garden tasks
- run walkable/bikeable errands
14 and up
the list from above plus
- grocery shopping
- cooking full meals for family
- extended sibling sitting
- transporting siblings and running errands in car
Being allowed to contribute has an impact that lasts a life-time.
I’ve only scratched the surface with these ideas. Please share yours in the comment section below and help grow these lists…and in doing so – help us all have more satisfied families!
If you haven’t already done so, join me on this journey!
Wanna talk? Schedule a time here.