By Mary Jo Rapini
Recently a woman named Jessica Stilwell from Canada made national news. No, she didn’t develop a new drug, nor did she win the Nobel Peace prize. She did something less original but no less spectacular in today’s society. She held her three kids responsible for doing their chores. This woman is a social worker and has twin 12-year-old girls, a ten-year-old daughter and a foster baby for whom she is caring on a temporary basis. Jessica got home early one evening and had time to look around. What she noticed was the clutter and mess of the house. As she reflected upon the mess, she also noted that none of it was hers. Basically, she realized her daughters had become sloppy and disorganized, and they were no longer doing anything to help out around the home.
Jessica’s training as a social worker had empowered her with the understanding that natural consequences are the best way to motivate kids to do what they should. It did not provide understanding as to how she had slipped into her current pattern of doing everything for her kids. She decided to make a plan of action. Her plan included packing the kids’ lunches, but she no longer made herself responsible for cleaning their lunch bag and making sure they were prepared to receive the lunch she had packed. She continued to do laundry but only if it was in the correct hamper and sorted by color. She no longer made herself responsible for those tasks the children could do on their own. She wasn’t mean, she didn’t nag, and basically she did what a good mom does. She supported and cared for her children and held them accountable for taking care of their daily tasks. Her husband was her co-conspirator, because the plan demanded both of them work together. Both admitted it was difficult to watch the house get messier, knowing tweens don’t change their behavior right away. She said that, within two days, there were rumblings, but by day six, things were beginning to change. She and her husband backed one another up and took care of their own chores, but they stuck with the plan of holding their kids accountable.
There is a sense of entitlement among kids, and that sense is many times formed at the hands of their parents. When you give and do everything for your kids, your kids have little choice but to expect that treatment from others. Parents raising kids without assigning them chores do a great disservice to their children, but from a larger perspective, they do society a great disservice. Children build self-esteem from experiences they learn in the family. If your child cannot perform everyday tasks, they cannot learn the satisfaction of hearing, “Job well done,” nor can they tell themselves, “Of course I can handle this on my own, I have been doing all of these things on my own and for the family.” I talk to kids in high school who have no idea which day is trash day, recycle day, how to wash white clothes, how to fold clothes, how to iron a shirt or pair of slacks, how to sew on a button, how to make a meal, how to mow the lawn, the difference between pliers and a wrench, how to set a table, and a thousand other chores that need to be done around the home. No wonder they want to live with mom and dad forever; they have no idea how to live alone.
If you’ve become the caretaker of everyone and realized you are raising a family of kids who feel they are entitled, it will behoove you to make changes. These changes won’t be easy, and they will require your attention as well as your follow through. However, it may be the best way to boost your child’s self-esteem and confidence.
1. A family meeting is the best way to begin. Prior to the meeting try to enlist the cooperation of your child’s other parent. A plan that is embraced by both parents has the highest success rate.
2. The family meeting should take no more than 30 minutes, with the last 15 minutes being used for questions. The plan itself should never be longer than a 15-minute explanation.
3. A chart should be placed in a central area with all of the chores listed and who is responsible for what. It works best if you allow the kids to initial behind the chores they will be expected to complete.
4. It is not necessary to pay kids for doing what they should. Some parents tie the chores in with earning an allowance, which is fine, as long as you don’t pay them when they forget, fall down on the way home, or produce whatever excuse they can muster. Remember, you are teaching them how to live and survive in the real world.
5. Being a parent is tough, and prioritizing the importance of your kids’ learning responsibility is time consuming. However, if you are a parent and don’t do your job, your kids’ inability to live on their own in the real world will be a constant reminder of what you should have done when they were young. When they grow up it’s too late to raise them differently.
6. Kids watch both parents. If moms and dads don’t share the responsibility of taking care of household tasks it will be more difficult to teach your kids the importance of being a responsible person and completing chores.
For many of us, we are so busy with work, kids, and relationships that we don’t have one more hour a day to spare. There has never been a time in our history where so many families are run by a single person. Part of running a family is making sure the people within the family understand their part in belonging. Kids feel more engaged when they know they are valued members. Giving them chores, holding them accountable for doing their chores, and being able to appreciate their completion of the chores builds their sense of mastery, thus giving them confidence which ultimately leads to a higher self-esteem.