Kids ruling the roost, or not

Family preparing a meal (1) Tomorrow’s Parent Journey at the church I serve is devoted to a discussion of a piece Elizabeth Kolbert wrote in the New Yorker last summer, a review of parenting books titled “Why Are American Kids So Spoiled?” “Why do kids rule the roost?” she asked, and my immediate reaction was, “Do they?” She seemed to be making the mistake so many social commentators make who can’t be bothered to actually research a question or even look up others’ research: generalizing from her own experience.

I’ve encountered this before in the parenting realm, in an otherwise enlightening book called The Mask of Motherhood whose author got on my nerves by making assertions such as (this is a paraphrase) “fathers don’t do as much of the parenting work because we mothers don’t let them–we want to be in control, don’t we, ladies?” I wanted to say, “You might prefer control to an equal sharing of the load, but we don’t all.” When Kolbert told about picking up ” the used tissues, ant-filled raisin boxes, and slimy Saran Wrap scattered across the yard” after her son, Aaron, did an inadequate job of taking out the garbage, I was filled with scorn. She dares to claim that we’re all as wimpy as she is, and then excoriate us for it!

On the other hand, while I do not pick up the nasty garbage dropped by my daughter, who is less than half Aaron’s age–I make her do it–the article did prick my conscience about just how little we expect Mookie to do around the house. Reading all of the Laura Ingalls Wilder books with her over the past year has been a sobering reminder that five-year-olds are perfectly capable of washing the dishes, drying and putting them away, sweeping the floors, etc. And I always get a rosy, we’re-doing-good-parenting feeling when Mookie drops her breakfast dishes into the sink without being asked. Then I feel a little silly, and remiss, that that is one of the very few expectations we have of her as a citizen of the household.

That is changing, however. We decided that her sixth birthday would mean an increase in privileges and responsibilities: she would begin to get an allowance, and also (separate from the allowance) do a few daily or weekly chores around the house. Now to actually decide what those should be. Suggestions?

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3 thoughts on “Kids ruling the roost, or not

  1. This works better in the summer than in the school-year (when it tends to fall by the wayside), but we put chores on popsicle sticks and draw them out each Sunday evening, putting who got which chore on a whiteboard in the laundry room. The types of chores that get divvied up between me and the 2 kids are: feeding the dog, feeding the cat, water the plants, take recycling items out to the bins in the garage, unload the dishwasher, “sparkle duty” (wiping down table and counters after a meal), setting the table, put away groceries. The tricky thing in the school year, I think, is weighing how to tackle the scenario of 6th grader who has done swim team, come home to a load of homework, still needs to shower and have a bit of downtime — am I “spoiling” her if I take over her chores for that evening? Is it unfair then if I make her younger brother who has no real homework do his chores, even though I’m doing hers? Love that you all read Wilder — E lost interest after Silver Lake, as fictional Laura started to age, and I’ve never been able to get her to give them another try now that she is older. Wilder unfortunately has less and less appeal to this generation, because by the time they are good enough readers and/or old enough to appreciate fictional Laura in the later books, they’ve moved on to other books and consider the Wilder books too babyish or dated.

  2. Remembering things my sister and I used to do — folding laundry, dusting (Pledge and a dustrag), Windexing mirrors, windows, etc., sweeping, vacuuming eventually when big enough to maneuver the thing, general tidying up, things of that sort. All due respect to Laura and Mary, I don’t think I started washing dishes until I was Elizabeth’s age or so…

  3. I’m thinking that “Free To Be, You & Me” might come in handy here. Not the “some kind of help” song, but the Carol Channing monologue — what if the “chores” became fun things to do together? For instance, I loved doing dishes *with* people, but not alone — I still don’t like doing them by myself. (Music helps.)

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