Canada’s National Post newspaper ran a front-page article about a Calgary mom who went on strike because she was tired of working all day and cleaning up after her 2 daughters, ages 10 and 12. Here’s the article. Click on it if only to view the mess:
How did it get to the point that this mom felt her only option was to go on strike? At some point, I think all moms – all parents – have fantasized about plunking ourselves down and saying, “Go away. Leave me alone. I’m not doing another thing.” But to feel that your only recourse is to actually stage a strike, now that’s extreme.
I don’t walk in the other mom’s shoes. I don’t know the family and I don’t know the circumstances, other than what’s been in the media.
Shouldn’t a 10 and 12 year old be pitching in and doing household chores? At 10 and 12, shouldn’t they know how to unload a dishwasher, mop up a spill, sweep the floor, run a vacuum, pick up after themselves? Shouldn’t they be responsible for assigned chores and suffer some sort of consequence if they don’t do them?
Chores aren’t just for maintaining relative order and cleanliness in the home. The home is a microcosm of the wider world and it’s parents who are primarily responsible for teaching their kids how to behave appropriately in that world. I don’t want my kids going through life thinking that someone else is going to pick up after their proverbial (life, stuff) mess. Nor do I want my kids driving people around them crazy because they lack consideration for their neighbours’ belongings and space.
By assigning age-appropriate chores, children learn to contribute to the household. In our home, we instituted a chores list years ago so that everyone knew what they were responsible for on any given day of the week. Over the years, the list has had many revisions as schedules change and kids get older. With some minor glitches, the chores are always completed. The kids know it’s part of the family routine.
Lately, a new phenomenon has emerged. Increasingly, revisions in the chores list are becoming harder to make since the older kids have erratic schedules and a few of them are hardly home. From the 20-somethings right down to the youngest, our kids have started assigning chores to each other. They’ve got a barter system in place where one trades sweeping the kitchen floor for washing dishes; one will substitute cleaning the bathrooms on Tuesday for Wednesday – compromise and cooperation. It’s not perfect. Sometimes arguments happen when one feels unfairly treated, but over all, they work things out and the house is acceptably clean.
What children learn at home, they will carry with them in the wider world: responsibility for themselves and their actions; cooperation to get the job done; consideration for other people’s space, belongings, feelings; integrity from looking outside of themselves.
I know that training kids to clean up the mess is difficult. How many times have I grabbed the broom myself just to avoid a looming conflict? But there’s a larger, more important issue at stake here. It’s not really about the gleaming floors or the squeaky clean dishes. Ultimately, it’s about children growing into responsible adults, taking their place in the world and being contributors, not liabilities. And it all starts with making them pick up their toys.