My mother used to say this: ‘I had children so I could have my own little slaves.’
Of course, she was only (half) kidding but we hated hearing her say that. I took it so personally. It wasn’t fair. Why did I have to do housework? I was a kid and kids shouldn’t have to do anything apart from go to school and watch TV. She was treating me like a slave and I told her so! But if I didn’t do the housework I was asked to, I was punished and so, after much unpleasantness, I usually ended up do what I’d been told to.
When I went on to have kids of my own, I suppose I had some vague idea that I’d spare them the housework. That would be the adult’s job. My kids would be free to be children, to enjoy their short childhood unfettered by mundane chores and tasks.
It didn’t take long before I changed my mind about this issue. I don’t live alone in this house. I certainly don’t make all the mess. So why should I be the only one who does any cleaning up?
Actually DH is pretty good at giving me a hand with washing and cooking, so it’s not just me doing housework, but I do most of the cleaning. And as the kids have grown older, more capable and more messy, I feel less inclined to spend my life tidying up after them.
So I found myself asking them if they would please put their clean clothes away, tidy up the messes they have made, put their dirty washing in the basket, make their own lunches or unload the dishwasher.
Of course they didn’t want to. It’s too hard, they don’t know how. Or they did it last time and now it’s their sister’s/ brother’s turn. It isn’t fair, they aren’t my slaves!
At that, I found my mouth opening and the horribly familiar words coming out of it, ‘Why do you think I had kids, if not so I could have some slaves of my own.’
Of course, I don’t mean it. Why are our parents’ words so ingrained in our minds that they just pop out without invitation? But I feel my children should do something around the house. Not everything; after all they should have plenty of free time to enjoy their childhood. But surely they should do something?
So I ask you how much housework is it acceptable to ask children to do? Should they merely be encouraged to tidy up after themselves? Or is it okay for them to be expected to perform non-self care tasks as well?
What works for your household?