FAIRIES, CRUTCHES, AND OTHER BAD IDEAS
by olivia black
I have to laugh when I think of certain devoted parents I personally know who cater to their child’s every whim. I just don't get it.
One quiet Sunday morning, I was bicycling through an upper-class development envying the beautifully landscaped gardens that many of these homes displayed. I’m sure each of these homeowners hire landscaping firms to keep their lawns and foliage tidy. As I turned a corner, I saw someone weeding the front flowerbed of this gorgeous house. It was a teenage boy, who couldn’t have been more than fourteen. He had a bucket and a shovel, and was diligently pulling grass and weeds from wherever they didn’t belong. As I passed by, he turned and smiled my way, as if he was enjoying his chore. I was so moved by this surreal movie-like experience, I nearly fell off my bicycle. I wanted to meet his parents, learn more about their parenting style, and congratulate them on doing the right thing. Of course, this could have been the result of some wrong-doing on this kid's part which resulted in him having to do this chore.
In the real world, people must work to earn. Those earnings allow us to purchase necessities like food, clothing, shelter, utilities, gas, insurance, and other great stuff. So why would you teach your child that all those things are free? That’s not an appropriate way to ready any child for the sometimes cruel and harsh real world. As a matter of fact, the shock of leaving a comfortable environment and transitioning into something that’s not quite as easy may be a leading cause of depression in young adults.
The thought of touching someone else’s dishes disgusted Princess, or at least that’s what she had her parents think. Her family sympathized and adjusted their entire chore schedule so Princess would never have to touch someone else’s dishes again. A few months later, Princess got a job at a local restaurant, working as a hostess. Ironically, one of Princess’s duties happened to be clearing off dirty plates from tables and taking them to the kitchen. When Princess’ parents met her boss, they were shocked to learn Princess didn’t seem to have a problem touching these plates, even though they’d been used by strangers. So why did Princess find it acceptable to clean the plates of complete strangers, while she couldn’t load her own family’s plates into their dishwasher? “Because I get paid for it,” she explained.
Mull that over for a while, and you’ll begin to understand my frustration.
Your child’s adult work ethic will begin in your home and will primarily be taught by you. But many parents go soft on their kids as they strive for the approval of their children, or to avoid the persistent complaining and conflict that may accompany asking this entitled generation to do anything. This is a critical mistake made by many of today’s parents. Forging a strong work ethic early on is another critical lesson that will lead to a better and more successful future, regardless of how you define success.
Many parents are tempted to play the hero. We anxiously await some sort of mishap or accident, then swoop in, clad in armor, riding our perfectly groomed white horse, to save the day. The only reward we ask is the smile of our helpless little victims. Don’t expect a thank you, as that little being will run back to watching television or whatever useless thing he or she was doing before the mishap that you’re now responsible for dealing with occurred. Give your child the opportunity to figure out a resolution to their problem. Coach them to learn from it, so that they will know how to handle similar problems in the real world. This will hopefully teach them to avoid making the same mistakes repeatedly. By jumping in and automatically resolving all the issues yourself, you’re unknowingly providing a crutch that will never be removed. Cut the cord as soon as reasonably possible. Never miss an opportunity to coach your children and point out what can make them better.
One of our own little Rockefeller’s chores was to vacuum the entire house. He was the youngest child, and vacuuming is presumably the easiest chore, requiring the least skill and responsibility. Granted, it was a fairly large two-story house, but this weekly task shouldn’t take more than 20 minutes when done efficiently. As Rockefeller got a little older, we began to point out things that would make his task slightly more complicated, but lead to a better overall result. He was big enough to move the kitchen chairs completely out of the way instead of circumnavigating them to better access the crumb-laden area under the table.
Rockefeller hated this, but he succumbed. We lauded his efforts as he began to do this himself. Call me crazy, but I could see an inkling of pride as he finished his weekly chore.
We have a small dog. She’s basically a mutt, with one part Yorkie and the other Shelte. Her temperament is wonderful. She’s very smart, fun, and energetic. But her undersized Yorkie bladder leaves much to be desired. If you don’t take that bitch out once an hour on the hour, expect a new spot on your carpet. With all the other responsibilities that come with being a parent, author, and business owner, ain’t nobody got time for that. I told my kids that the dog is now their responsibility. I warned them that if I found one more pee-pee stain on my carpet, the dog was going to the pound, where she’d probably be euthanized. That might have been a little heavy. And I made it a family chore – I made it clear that it didn’t matter who took her out, as long as someone took her out. I was hoping to foster a sense of cooperation and responsibility. As I mistakenly stepped in a warm puddle of dog pee, I realized my little plan had failed. I made a big fuss and called a family meeting, at which I announced that the dog was heading to the kennel. I packed all her toys up and loaded them all into the car as my panicking children promptly shed all the alligator tears they could conjure. I really dropped her off at my father-in-law’s house for a pre-arranged vacation, but the kids didn’t know that.
The next day was oddly quiet. I couldn’t tell if the kids were angry or sad. They immediately went back to immersing themselves into their electronic devices, just as they had while the dog was here. No one said a word about the dog until about a week later, when one of them stated that she missed her. And even that statement wasn’t more than a passing thought. I then realized my kids didn’t care! My plan had failed miserably. And now I had to go pick up the dog and bring her back home, which was going to make me look like a schmuck. But all was not lost. Now I had a new target that I could ransom which I knew would be much more effective – those damned electronic devices.
A good way to instill a strong work ethic is to explain how the real world works and how your child can take advantage of this. Compare and contrast two fictional candidates for a job. The first candidate does exactly what he or she is told, and not much more. A second candidate regularly goes out of her way to complete beneficial actions that are above and beyond her responsibilities – not only double and triple checking to ensure her primary job was done correctly, but doing it with a smile, showing pride in her work, and also performing tasks she wasn’t specifically asked to do. Invoke a little role play here, and ask your child if he or she were boss, which candidate would they hire? Then sit back and watch the gears grind as you enjoy the positive influence you just instilled into their little malleable minds. Your results probably won’t be quite as dramatic, as mine weren’t, but hopefully it’ll wedge in their brain somewhere.
Teach them the value of hard work. Your best bet is to assign each child a chore. The chore should be appropriate to the child’s age, maturity, and physical build. If your kid isn’t quite tall enough to reach the sink, he probably shouldn’t be doing dishes just yet. Graduate them into new and more difficult challenges whenever they’re ready.
Quality assurance is very important in the real world, so you will need to stress that any assigned chores must be done thoroughly and correctly. Otherwise the chore will need to be redone. A child might blow through doing dishes, leaving yucky food particles on plates or silverware, or neglecting to dry and put away washed pots and pans. This is unacceptable. Use the S.E.R.R. method to resolve these failures. Share the failures with them. Explain why they’re failures. Help them resolve those failures. Then have them repeat the chore again until it is correct. I pronounce it like “sir,” only with a long and drawn out and sometimes annoying emphasis on the double R at the end to underscore the repeat thing.
There are plenty of progressively more difficult things to do that any child can safely help with if you’ve properly trained and supervised them. Here is a list of various things that children can do around the home.
• Keep bedroom clean and tidy
• Pick up bags, cans, glasses, and personal belongings
• Empty bedroom and bathroom trash cans
• Vacuum carpets and sweep floors
• Mop wet areas
• Rinse dishes, load and unload dishwasher
• Wash, dry, and fold laundry
• Wash windows
• Dust tables, counters, lamps, decorations, and electronics
• Put trash and recycling on the curb, on appropriate days
• Weed flower beds
• Feed, water, bathe, and care for pets
• Clean toilets, bathtubs, sinks, and shower stalls (age 14 or older)
• Mow and edge lawn (best if age 16 or older)
• Anything else that constitutes “doing the right thing.”
The last chore on the list is the most important one. If they see a piece of trash laying on the floor, a wet towel placed somewhere it shouldn’t be, or bathroom stuff left on the bottom of the stairs to be carried up, your child must be trained not to ignore it, but to do the right thing – and without you asking. It’s purely common sense. We frequently set up situations like this and allow our children to encounter them, to test them. If we see them do the right thing, we compliment them. If they miss it, we let them know, and inform them they have not demonstrated an appropriate level of responsibility. The next time they ask for something or to do something they want to do, we remind them of the list of common sense things they failed to do, and that we base our decisions on their level of maturity as evidenced by the weight of their successes and failures.
Should you give them an allowance? It is a good way to teach kids the value of money. Instead of creating the illusion that your money supply is endless, like the Federal Reserve does, teach your children how financial transactions work. It is an important lesson, teaching them that once their money is gone, it’s gone until they can earn some more. Let them know that part of their allowance includes things that may appear transparent to them – like food, hot water, air conditioning, beds, blankets, pillows, clothing, smart phone data plans, access to your home internet, and cable television. Failure to complete chores is like failing to go to work. As a result, they will not only earn no allowance, but also possibly suffer a loss of some other utility until their work has been satisfactorily completed.
You may face significant resistance. In our house, it was not uncommon to hear things like “But I didn’t use those dishes, so why do I have to wash them?” Or, “I didn’t make that mess, so why do I have to clean it up?” Or, “Can’t I just do my own laundry?” Interestingly, those same chores were done with glee and zero complaints when one of our kids was at a friend’s or relative’s house whenever asked. And, as mentioned previously, Princess felt it would be acceptable to clean dishes at a restaurant because she got paid there.
Apparently, feeding, clothing, and sheltering Princess isn’t considered adequate payment.
One night, after witnessing behavior I considered disrespectful, I grabbed a piece of paper and wrote each of our children a bill for dinner that night. “That’s about what you would pay for food and drink like this at a restaurant. And don’t forget my tip.” I then collected all the cell phones and told them, “I don’t use these phones, so why do I have to pay for them?” Finally, I unplugged the internet and the cable television, because since I would do all the chores that night, I was the only one entitled to “get paid.” The looks on their faces were priceless. They were chore free, but they were left bored without being able to enjoy their favorite pastimes.
The kids eventually recognized the error of their ways, apologized, and have not complained about doing chores (at least within my earshot) since.
Don’t prop your children up any more than they need to be propped up. You don’t want to train them to use crutches if they’re not necessary.