TYRANNY ON DOMESTIC SOIL (Teaching My Children to Work)

ImageLast week I suggested that you throw away all of your kids’ toys. Cruel as it was, it was surprisingly well-received. As if that challenge wasn’t pressing my luck enough, this post runs the risk of proving to everyone that this crazy mom of 5 is a slave-driving tyrant opposed to all things fun.

My sister-in-law Amanda observed my toy purge via Facebook from her sleep-deprived end-of-pregnancy state in St. Louis. She chimed in once to say, “No. No I will not get rid of all of our toys. I might hide them for awhile, but I won’t get rid of them.” Point made. I didn’t engage her in witty banter as usual since she was days away from birthing a 10 lb 2 oz bundle of joy to add to the 3 toddlers she was already busy with. I went on to post several other updates regarding the purge and then blogged about it without comment from Amanda (who was busy with diapers and feedings and healing from her 3rd c-section in 4 years.)

Then, a few days ago she tags me in this gem. It took me a couple of days to read it and sort through my thoughts on the matter. Assuming you didn’t just stop to read the whole article, I’ll sum it up for you. Researchers concluded after observing families in other countries as well as several in the US that our kids are spoiled and have no sense of independence or responsibility. While 6 year olds in other cultures are voluntarily cooking for and serving meals to other families, 6 year olds in America are expecting their parents to untie and re-ties their shoes. While 3 year olds elsewhere in the world are cutting grass with machetes and heating/preparing their own food, 3 year olds in our own neck of the woods are being told repeatedly and to no avail to do simple tasks like “throw this in the trash can.” While 8 year olds somewhere out there are carrying out major responsibilities that contribute to the welfare of everyone in their home without being asked, 8 year olds in our own homes are rudely asking “How am I supposed to eat?!” when seated at the dinner table without flatware, prompting their parents to get up and retrieve the utensils from a drawer, the location of which the child was well-aware. The connection was made from American parents’ lack of instilling responsibility while their children are yet teachable to adult children still living with and relying on their parents, and epidemic that doesn’t seem to exist in other cultures.

ImageHonestly, I hadn’t considered the idea that my 3 year old and 4 year olds are capable of learning to do things for themselves apart from jobs like putting their shoes away when we walk in the house and putting their books back on the shelf. (Let’s face it, I don’t expect them to clean up toys, we don’t have any!) So this really got the gears turning in my brain. What could my kids be learning to do right now that will prevent them from expecting everything to be done for them in the coming years though they are able-bodied? And I’m not talking about chores to give them that they will moan and whine about and protest and have to be reminded of constantly. I’m talking about training them to recognize when things need to be done and then take the initiative to DO THEM. The possibilities are endless, and I’m just scratching the surface! I have only just started and already I’m realizing that I have ENTIRELY UNDERESTIMATED these kids. I sat them down and had a talk with them. It went something like this: “Kids, it has come to my attention that you are very capable of doing a lot more things than I previously believed possible. That considered, we are going to make some changes. I don’t know what the kids at your preschool are expected to do at home, but here in the Politte house, we are going to be kids who know how to do things! We are going to be kids who HAVE JOBS! Mommy is going to teach you how to do a lot more things, and we aren’t going to play or watch any shows unless our jobs are done. You are 3 and 4 years old, so it’s time to start pulling your weight.” Blank stares. “So…. what are we? We are kids who……?” After a moment Adeline chimed in, “HAVE JOBS!”

And then we got to it. THAT DAY I taught them how to unload the dishwasher. (Don’t touch the sharp knives.) Adeline pulls dishes out of the dishwasher, Campbell hands them to Anderson who is on his knees on the counter having used a chair to climb up, he puts them in the cabinet. I taught them to use the washing machine, with the help of a stool. I taught them how to use the dryer. I taught them to make their own peanut butter (and sunbutter for those with peanut allergies) and honey sandwiches and to use separate knives so as not to contaminate the sunbutter. I taught them to use the microwave. When I say I taught them, I mean I stood there and talked them through the process, without ever touching anything myself, and my little children completed these tasks, themselves. I haven’t gotten around to teaching them to cut the grass with a machete, yet. All in good time.Image

This is not an effort to work myself out of a job (though it may turn out to be a lucky side-effect). Rather, I  am convicted that I don’t want to be faced with a house full of teenagers (and mine will all be teenagers at the same time) who are accustomed to having me do everything for them. That would most certainly bleed into the kind of adults they become and what they believe they are entitled to.

 I’m realizing that I have ENTIRELY UNDERESTIMATED these kids.

Part of the training I’m instituting involves NOT REWARDING them. I will occasionally reward them for their good work, but I’m not setting up a system that encourages them to believe doing things that need to be done = getting a treat, or money, or whatever. Unexpected treats are great, and we already do a lot of those, (because contrary to the way I am presenting myself, I am not a tyrant, I DO love my children, and I like to make them happy). But every task does not result in reward. Things need to be done, and we don’t get a cookie for doing what’s expected of us. We may decide to employ an allowance system, but it will be for jobs that benefit the whole family: emptying the bathroom trash, setting the table, yardwork, emptying the dishwasher. Jobs that pertain to individuals to not constitute payment: putting your own shoes away, making your own lunch, washing your own clothes, putting away your own books, putting your dishes in the dishwasher. I don’t know. We aren’t at the stage of promising payment for anything, yet. I’ll have to stew on that one. I want to encourage responsibility with money, so I see value in some kind of payment system. I’ll keep you posted on that one.

Now, maybe you think I’m the meanest mom on the face of the planet. If you do, that’s ok. But don’t come crying to me when your 28 year old is still living in his childhood bedroom, eating your food and occupying a line on your cell phone plan. I’ll have my own problems, (like re-learning to load the dishwasher and do the laundry.)

CHALLENGE: teach your kids 5 new jobs this week that you’ve considered to grown up for their age. Let me know how it goes!

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12 thoughts on “TYRANNY ON DOMESTIC SOIL (Teaching My Children to Work)

  1. Stephanie – you are awesome and you inspire me. Brilliant and yet, at the same time, it should be the norm! I think you are doing an amazing job at being purposeful in raising your kids.

  2. bettyann walck

    Dear Smarty Pants, I am applauding you and the Politte Job Force!! These kids are already wonderful; but they are going to be standing out among their peers in days to come. I salute you all!! Keep it up. (have you considered writing a book?) ~

  3. hey there, fellow tyrant here…i make my kid wash the plastic kid dishes with no payment other than the satisfaction of knowing that he helped momma out with her list of household chores. he’s also good at sorting and folding clean socks, although about 3 pairs into the pile he develops a very strong case of fatigue that he’s quite vocal about but i selectively don’t hear. he can vacuum the hardwood floors too! all for no payment 😉 i grew up without an allowance, so daggum it, what was good for me is good enough for my kids! i’ve been dealing with way too much complaining and arguing and general child-sized entitlement lately so i’ve been gradually adding to his “work load” around the house in hopes that we will nip this in the bud, before the 2 year old picks up on his example!

  4. Good for you! Our people here have a terrible work ethic. I talk with people from Nigeria, India, and Philippines often. They are often asking for prayer for a job that will allow them to move out of their parents homes. They have worked jobs to pay for their education and now need a good placement. Here we see people with good jobs complaining that they have to work to pay their bills instead of being able to play. We are most certainly spoiled! The things you are teaching them make them feel like they are a valuable part of the family. I realized how lacks I had been when I was faced with surgery a few years ago. I thought, if I die today, my family will not know how to function. I’ve done it all for years. I have been trying to undo that ever since. It’s harder with an adult husband and teenager though. Start now and you won’t regret it. The Amish teach their kids how to do all of it early.

  5. Sheila

    Very nice Stephanie, you inspire me!

  6. Amanda Politte

    Well said, Stephanie. I contemplate this issue quite a bit and see-saw regularly on how much I think is reasonable to expect my 4 yr old to do for herself. I can’t go in to the all the specifics right now about why I don’t expect enough of her at this stage, but I will say that I agree with you that I underestimate her considerably! I will do better….once I heal from this hormonal insanity called postpartum. And by the way, thanks for the many excuses you’ve provided me in your post for why I “posted and ran” without providing follow-up banter about your adventures; I appreciate your cutting me some slack. 😉 Oh, and I have to give credit where it’s due -I didn’t find that article myself, my cousin Emily posted it first and I followed her link -just made me think of you when I read it: 1. for obvious content reasons and 2. because you like to debate thought-provoking issues.

  7. Mom

    Great post! Wish I’d read it about 40 years ago. But then, my kids have all grown up with a great work ethic. I’m proud of every one of them! Wish I could take some credit for that, but I think we just got lucky. 😉

  8. Rick

    Great article, as always.

  9. Missy:)

    I never get around to reading your blog much anymore mostly cuz Im the worlds worst best friend!!!! But, i DID get around to reading this one. You know me, Steph. Im all for training these youngsters to help manage this house. I can’t do it all by myself!! And frankly, i don’t want them thinking i can!! I want them growing up knowing it takes teamwork to run this house of 8!! Nothing like instilling a GREAT work ethic by teaching 6 kids how to take care of each other and their their home!! Great post, bestie!!!:)

  10. Stephanie Sanders

    Hey Steph- love Smarty Pants. You guys are amazing. I had to teach my kids to make their lunch at young ages b/c I have Fibromyalgia and there were days I couldn’t function much. They learned how to use microwave & how to make a sandwich & waiting on mom some. Not too young. Good work ethics are needed to be taught more these days!! Keep it up!

  11. doubleofive

    Someday you’ll be surprised when your kids look back on their childhoods and thank you for trying to make them productive members of society. Maybe you won’t be surprised. But keep it up!

  12. Thanks everyone! Glad to hear from so many who agree. I really suspected there would be more backlash from people who think I’m not letting my kids be kids. But you know what? At this stage, they’re still fighting over who gets to put the detergent in the washer!

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