It hit me this morning, as I dumped dirty clothes into the washing machine. I started pouring in the soap, lamenting the fact that I had to take the time to do laundry when I had this and this and this to do, when I suddenly thought, "Why am I doing this?"
Now, before you give me the obvious answer -- "Because if you don't, you and your family will wear dirty clothing and will probably have CPS come take your kids from you because you're a homeschooler that goes around in stinky attire", understand that my question to myself had more of an emphasis on the "I" than on the "Why". In other words, "Why am I doing this, rather than my children?"
They do create the bulk of the laundry. Especially since they have a tendency to wear something for about 30 minutes, change, and then put it in the dirty laundry basket. But the larger issue is, why am I not working to teach my children the responsibility of doing their own laundry? By doing their laundry for them, am I creating responsible children?
At What Age?
Many people would argue that at ages 4 and 7, the kids are way too young to be doing the laundry. I disagree. I think it's precisely that way of thinking that leads to lazy, self-absorbed kids with a sense of entitlement who expect everyone else to do everything for them. Of course children (especially young children) need guidance and support in doing such tasks, but I believe the challenge of giving kids responsibility early on is tremendously beneficial for both their character and for the effective running of the homeschool household. Let's face it. Mom has enough to do. And I intend for my children's education to include equipping them with basic life skills.
Just read Laura Ingalls' books or any historical information about pretty much every century other than this one, and you'll find highly responsible children who did more, in terms of real responsibility, than most adults do now. There was no sitting around in front of the t.v. in 1820 (ok, ok, they may not have had t.v., but you get the point), unless you were royalty somewhere. You either worked, or you starved. Children were given tremendous responsibility at early ages, cooking, cleaning, tending children, farming the land – because their efforts were essential to the survival of the family and the society. It's interesting, when you read books from the working classes from earlier time periods, how there is such little sense of entitlement. How people, even young children, bear a tremendous work ethic and a sense that nothing was owed them unless they worked for it.
I want my own children to be like that.
Chores vs. Responsibility
I believe that a big piece of making that happen is to give children real responsibility. Not simply a chore here and there, but responsibility that truly is essential to the family. Kids benefit from knowing they are truly needed, and they learn responsibility when their contributions are significant for the family's functioning.
Just look at large families. I've learned so much from homeschool families with multiple children (usually 4 or more). In these families, older children are indispensible as helpers and caretakers, because there are just so many siblings around. Older children cook, clean, repair things, do yard work, perform caretaking responsibilities of younger siblings, help parents with home businesses, and perform many other critical activities. Interestingly, in these large families who are diligent about teaching children integral responsible roles within the household, you almost always find a strong work ethic amongst the children, and a decided lack of entitlement. I believe those two things are causal.
I think we tend to make a mistake in our culture. We spend the first year of life completely serving our children (which is appropriate, because of their age and needs), but then never make the transition toward helping them serve others. As kids grow and mature, we should gradually reduce the amount we do for them, and increase the amount they do not only for themselves, but for others.
One of the many reasons I homeschool is to avoid the typical, American youth stereotype who sits in front of the t.v., expects Mom to bring him a drink, and complains when asked to do a chore. I want to create children who seek out opportunities to help others, rather than wait to be asked, or, even worse, grumble when requested to do something. I want to create children who understand that they do not get unless they work, rather than children who expect instant gratification without any effort to earn it. I want to create children who find satisfaction in a job well done, rather than children who find satisfaction in being entertained. And I want to create children who have a heart to serve rather than a heart to be served.
I believe giving children responsibility is the only way to do that.
Creating Responsible Children
So...I won't just talk about how responsibility is important. I will give my kids responsibility for things that I, that our family, really need done. And I will tell them how much I appreciate their hard work, and how much it helped our family, when they do a good job. I will expect that play comes after work, and that they are not entitled to enjoyment until they demonstrate responsibility. And I will help them see, in tangible ways, how our family couldn't run effectively without their part.
Hopefully, at the end of this whole parenting and homeschooling experiment, it will come to fruition in kids who are responsible, rather than self-absorbed.
Oh, and by the way, I will get the laundry done in the process.