I randomly came across this article from NPR entitled: How To Get Your Kids to Do Chores (Without Resenting It).
I wouldn't have normally clicked on this sort of thing. Most articles I read on this subject involve sticker charts, payment scales or punishments to encourage a child to participate in chores.
Encourage is probably a weak word, too. Wrangle. Coerce. Force.....these are more appropriate words it sometimes feels in my own life and among the women I know well enough to discuss such subjects. I know a sum total of ZERO women whose kids do chores around the house and are generally helpful with a positive attitude.
My sister's kids are the closest I know, and even they have their moments.
I myself have gone down some dark roads in a quest to involve my kids in chores or to encourage their participation in making our home livable.
Discussions (usually regarding my unhappiness and feelings of being overworked).
The list goes on, and it continues to this day, so when I saw this article I did an internal eye roll, but then I saw a comment underneath it that read: have you ever read an article that wasn't so wrong...but so right?
So, I clicked.
This article marries two things I love: sociology and anthropology. Add to that it's legitimate parenting advice, and this wins big time in my books.
The article explores why, in some cultures, children are happy to participate in chores and often so do without not only complaint but expectation - certainly without payment or bribery.
The crux of the article is based on the work of psychologist Suzanne Gaskins and her team who study how this phenomenon exists in a village in Mexico.
In the past 30 years, Gaskins and a handful of other psychologists have been documenting a remarkable phenomenon in indigenous families in Mexico and Guatemala: Young children in these homes are extremely helpful around the house.
The researchers in the article go on to explain and explore the philosophy of mothers in affluent households vs. less-affluent households when it comes to chores and expectations of children.
The analysis hits home, readers. I could be one of those middle-class American moms who can't be bothered to let her children help because it will be too messy or take up too much time.
The irony is that I'm not actually that busy and certainly don't have a job to go to or a field to cultivate or clothes to wash in a river somewhere - yet I'm so 'busy' I can't slow down long enough to teach my children how to peel a potato?
I'm being hard on myself, actually. My kids can peel potatoes. I often let them help me cook, and I'm often patient and a great instructor. But I don't do this when it comes to chores, perhaps because chores are loathsome for all of us. It's one thing for a child to help cook, an activity they often enjoy, but it's another to elicit excitement for, say, wiping down the toilet seat.
But this article and the approach/philosophy of the women interviewed and studied makes me want to do just that....to slow down, let my kids help (and learn) and to stop expecting perfection but, rather, understand the process.
The approach of the Mexican women is:
First, they give toddlers the opportunity to watch the chores as often as possible. "They invite them over by saying something like, 'Come, my child, and help me while I wash the dishes,' " Mejia-Arauz says.
Then if the child wants to participate, "they are welcome," she says, even if it means going more slowly or if the mom has to redo the task.
According to another psychologist studying this issue, the more affluent American mothers reported a different feeling:
"We have mothers tell us things like, 'I need to do a chore very quickly, and if my toddler tries to help, he makes a mess. So I'd rather do it myself than having them helping."
The article ends up with what we can do to change or shift not only our approach but (more importantly) our perspectives regarding chores, children and responsibility here in the US among middle-class American families.
The suggestions are solid. One of them really hits home, which is the idea that we need to work with our children. My husband loves to sit at the dinner table, glass of wine in hand, and say, "You're doing the dishes."
He directs this at one of our two children and the goes upstairs and turns on the evening news.
It, obviously, fails. The kids don't do the dishes, do a half-assed job or complain/whine until I finally come in and do them myself.
People don't learn by being told what to do and left alone. People learn through hands-on, guided experience. Our kids need mentors not dictators.
And lest you think I'm blaming my husband, don't be confused. I do a lot of what I call 'bathtub parenting.' I sit in a hot bath, a book in hand, and yell out to everyone what they're supposed to be doing, knowing full-well nobody will do it and then losing my shit when I get of said bath and (for example) the dishes are still rotting on the dinner table.
This article obviously struck a nerve for me.
I'd love to have the sort of communal feeling I hear in this article, among these families, and I realize now not just my mistake as a mother in achieving that but our mistake as a society when we think children need to be shoved off with an iPad to 'play' rather than join us in the kitchen or be present in the work of life.
What do you think?
Does any of this resonate with your or your experiences as a parent?
It's a dreary day here in NC, with full-blown cloud cover after a massive thunder storm last night. I was going to make our dinner ahead of time, but I think I'm going to get my kids from camp and let them join me (even if it's a small start) in making the dinner together.