Over to you, Sandra

According to my Mom, my Grandmother did not believe in making kids do chores.    She thought that kids should be allowed to be kids, since childhood is short enough as it is.   I find it amazing that my Grandmother, who grew up in the days of ‘children should be seen and not heard’, felt that way.   It was pretty radical thinking for someone of her generation.   But I think she was right.    Kids should be allowed to be kids.

My Grandmother’s views on this subject are in the minority.    Just today I was listening to a group of parents talking in baffled tones about how their 10 and 11 year old children have started to talk back to them – to rebel.   Which led to examples of such instances, many of which revolved around food or chores.   One Mom said something like,  “I was cooking breakfast and they were just running around the house playing!   If I’m in the kitchen working at making their breakfast, they need to be doing some work, too.”   This parent was talking about school work as opposed to chores, but the message is the same.  (And if this is the parents’ attitude, why is she baffled that the child/children rebel?)

People think kids should do chores and be forced to ‘help out’ around the house because they owe it to the ‘family unit’ and it will make them responsible people; that if they aren’t made to do these things, they will grow up to be lazy adults who sit around in Barca-loungers yelling for their spouse to bring them a beer.   (Ok that’s mostly for the boys, but you get the picture.)   There was a time when I believed this, too.   But because it only ever caused stress and upset in our house, I’ve gradually come around to my Grandmother’s way of thinking.

For more on this subject, I now cede the floor to the unschooling Mom from New Mexico who has written at length and with great clarity about this issue.    Over to you, Sandra Dodd!  [the following can be found in its’ entirety at www.sandradodd.com/chores/gift]

Do you like your dishes?

Would you wash your dishes even if you had no children?

I’ll get back to those questions.

When a mother lives with a thought like, “These kids owe me…” it’s unlikely that she will get very far toward generosity with her time and energy.  The feeling that you’re giving and giving to someone who will never repay you can be deflating.  Perhaps it’s just not right to send our children the bill, though.   I remember being told I should respect my mother because she gave me birth.  The unhappier she was making my life, the less sense that made…  I started to understand that she resented my presence and wanted to get whatever work or praise out of me that she could.

With my children I turned it right around.   They didn’t ask to be born.  I was the one who wanted children.  I invited them here by my actions and decisions.  I owe them.  I owe them food and friendship and protection.  I owe them comfort if I can arrange it.  I owe them the best of me, and to help nurture the best of them.

Before I was married, I had dishes and I washed them.  When I was married, I had dishes and I washed them.  I have children, and sometimes they help me, but they’re still my dishes, and I wash them.  When my children leave, I will still have dishes.  I will still wash them.  Should my husband and I not die at the same time, the one who is left will wash the dishes.

Where in there does it make sense to make children wash dishes?

And seriously, if you have dishes you don’t like, get rid of them and get dishes you enjoy.  Look at thrift stores or ask your friends, or learn to make dishes.  But don’t confuse the simple washing of a dish with the worth of a child.

Dishes seem to symbolize the intersection of housework and helplessness to many people.  They can understand that children can learn to read without lessons.  They’re sure science and history can be discovered in fun ways.  But they ‘have to’ do the dishes, and their children ‘have to’ help them.  And after they fight about that, there’s not enough energy or love left to make anything fun.

Over the years when people have said, “But I have to wash the dishes,” people such as Deb Lewis and Joyce Fetteroll have made many sensible and sometimes shocking suggestions.  People could get cheap dishes at garage sales and throw them away.  They could use paper plates and burn them for fuel, or throw them away or compost them.  They could eat over a sink or stove.  They could make food that doesn’t need plates, and use paper towels, or newspaper or printer paper.  They could eat out.

Some people say, “But cockroaches will come,”  or “our house has ants” or “mice”.

Submerge the dishes in water until morning, and they’ll be easy to wash.  Get a dishwasher.

But the attitude that someone has to wash the dishes gets in the way of seeing options.

Wash dishes because you want to.  What would make you want to?  Love. Generosity.  A desire to have an available kitchen, a clean slate, a fresh canvas.  The wish to do something simple and kind for yourself and others.  The wish to keep peace in your house.  The preference of singing and feeling warm soapy water over accusations and threats and tears.  The intention to build loving relationships rather than antagonism.  The hope to make a haven of your home, rather than a dangerous trap everyone would love to escape.

If you offer service with the hope of reward or praise or indebtedness, it will create resentment in you and in those who received the service.  If you offer service without sending the bill, anything others say or do will be an honest expression of gratitude, not the last-minute submission of the bare minimum payment for services rendered.  A “thank you” that’s scripted is just noise.  A “thank you” you didn’t expect is true communication.

As with all changes, it might take a while.  If the path you’re on is working really well, ignore all of this and keep on it.  If the path you’re on is causing rifts in relationships, or arguments, or if people are trying to avoid work or doing a crummy job so that the dishes aren’t really clean, consider taking a different path.

I love Sandra because she never sounds preachy and yet she gets the message across.   A skill I am a long way from mastering.     For myself, I will say that I used to hate and resent pretty much all housework, but let go of those feelings at about the same time we began life learning.   Which is no coincidence, I think.  Now I particular enjoy keeping my kitchen clean and neat.   This is probably because it’s the only room in the house in which there are no toys or books or unfinished building projects.

I am far from perfect in this regard, of course.   Some days I want to pull my hair out after I’ve just tripped over yet another stray Lego spaceship, and I am sometimes not my most gracious self when I request they be removed from the living room floor.    Like everything else, this too is a work in progress.

Thanks, Sandra, (and my Grandma) for helping us along the way.

2 comments on “Over to you, Sandra

  1. Miriam AKA Grandma says:

    Although this is truly so, my brother started working on the farm as soon as he was big enough (not old enough-a difference). He apparently enjoyed it as it has been his life’s chosen work. Still says he is having a blast. But I cannot speak to whether he would have been “made” to help, if he hated it. My mother always said “you will work the rest of your adult life, be a kid while you can” and never pressed “getting a job” or “you can’t go play with friends till you finish your chores”. Somehow, it worked, because I was able to “keep” the house/home once married, and was employed part of the time.

  2. DDB61 says:

    Wendy’s nephew Sam moved out of the house and into a Purdue dormitory last week. Sam and his younger sister Sarah are tidy, responsible and engaging. They are good kids.
    But they’ve never done chores, and that bothers Wendy.
    Even when their father had a wrenched back and their mother was recovering from melanoma surgery on her leg, it was Dan and Darlene – the parents – out doing the yard work while the children pursued their other interests.
    Wendy glowered at that one. She couldn’t understand why her brother didn’t set his kids down and say, “There is a time for everything, and now is the time when you must help with this task.” She couldn’t understand why Darlene was working in the yard just after surgery for a life threatening situation, while her healthy kids didn’t alter their schedules at all. Dan and Darlene’s children do not do chores.
    The circumstances that created some of Wendy’s favorite childhood stories arose from doing chores. They were experiences she never would have volunteered for, but they expanded the horizons of her life. Not all of them were fun or rewarding; life is like that. They didn’t take up all of her free time, even though it may have seemed that way when she was young.
    Now Sam is gone from the house and at college. I’m sure that when the time comes, he’ll be good at washing dishes and doing laundry and cutting the grass. Sam is good at almost every task set before him.
    His childhood memories and experiences are much different than his aunt’s. Maybe they’re better, time will tell. I tend to agree with Wendy that his childhood would have been more complete if at some point he’d experienced completing some chores.

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