Meaningful chores provide a sense of accomplishmentPublished 4:39pm Saturday, November 3, 2012
QUESTION: How do we get our children to help with the household chores when, from their perspective, getting the task done doesn’t carry much urgency?
ANSWER: When most of America was still largely agricultural, children were an economic asset, a necessary resource for family survival. Every member of the family was a needed worker. There was no other way to get the work done to keep the family sheltered, clothed and fed. With the coming of the industrial revolution and city living, children were still an economic asset; everybody went to work in the factories and mines as quickly as possible so that there would be enough money to buy the necessities of life.
Despite change in our way of life, we know that work — the ability to do a job, to feel the satisfaction in a job well done — is still an essential in human experience. The challenge is how to give children a new sense of the meaningfulness of work without the element of survival-necessity.
One way to find sensible answers to this dilemma is to divide up the routine chores, like taking out the garbage, mowing the lawn, washing dishes and the car, among everyone in the family. In addition, we might sit down with our children and talk to them about what they think is needed. Maybe they think the dog needs a longer run in the back yard; maybe they have some practical ideas for creating more shelf space in the playroom; maybe they have the energy to plant flowers along the side of the house or organize the closets or the basement storage room.
What we want to communicate to our children is cooperation is good human relations and it’s just as important as it ever was. We need to be clear in our own minds there is no inborn instinct that will drive children to shoulder responsibilities that annoy or bore them. We can make it clear that sharing what has to be done, however unexciting the jobs may be, is an expression of love and a sure road to self-respect. Despite abundance and automation, the family is still a cooperative enterprise. One mother put it accurately when she said, “When I ask Jeff to do something that he thinks is just another of my compulsive stupidities, before he even asks why, I say, “For love; that’s all, just for love!”
If you would like to talk about the challenges of raising children, call the toll-free Parent WarmLine at 1-888-584-2204/Línea de Apoyo at 877-434-9528. For free emergency child care call Crisis Nursery at 1-877-434-9599. Check out www.familiesand communities.org