Expectations of children have changed a lot over the past few decades ….and in relation to jobs and chores they have been drastically lowered. There are a few different reasons for this. We have all been horrified by the evidence of child labour in developing countries, where young children have their lives shortened and made miserable by unrelenting labour for mere pennies, and so we have become very wary of over-taxing our own kids. Very importantly, the huge acceleration in the number of families where both parents do work outside the home, means that mums especially, now try and “make up” for time the children spend in after-school care or with others, by more trips out, more gifts, more out of school activities, more shopping…..and the extension of childhood.
That’s understandable. But what it risks doing, is reducing children’s participation in the teamwork of running a home, their ability to take responsibility, and their growth in competence. Think about it. Fifty years ago ( and very much still so in farming communities around the world) children had quite responsible jobs which they had to do every day, and which had genuine importance. These would vary a lot, from cleaning the whole family’s shoes, to pouring the milk out of the churns, to cleaning out the stables or feeding the pigs. Fifty years ago it would have been very rare to find a sixteen year-old girl who couldn’t cook, or a fifteen year-old boy who couldn’t mend something.
So how do our children measure up now? Often hassled parents who are short of time, describe that they need to do things quickly for it all to fit in. They feel guilty about asking the children to help if they have been at after-school care or in the car for ages because of their brother’s basketball training. But what this risks producing is children who are physically less active, unskilled, and who feel over-entitled and can’t see the benefit of helping out their over-stretched parents. We may end up with 22 year-olds who will fling a tantrum if they are asked to cook for the whole family one night, and who cannot call a plumber or deal with a minor emergency.
So when you notice that your kids are reluctant to do their chores or who complain or become aggressive, stand back and look at your family’s whole picture. What do you think they should be able to contribute to the family at each age and stage? What skills would you like them to develop, and when? If you can take this perspective it will help a great deal in being firm and in feeling confident about why you are asking them to make a cup of tea or pack a dishwasher. You’ll be amazed at the difference it makes.