Friday, August 31, 2012

Practicality: Chores and Preparing for the Future

One of the most important things you will give your children, as parents, is an understanding of the work ethic. It is important that they learn how to organize and run their days so that they can become productive adults. It is also important that they understand what it means to work, and are allowed the pride and feeling of accomplishment that comes along with a job well done. The way to start them on this path is to assign to them typical everyday chores from as early an age as possible.

Chores not only teach us how to take care of themselves, and remind them that as a family we work together since we live together, but it is a way to teach your child responsibility. For responsibility is a large part of life. We do what we have to inorder to be able to do the things we would prefer to do. In other words, our "fun" is the earned reward for doing all the boring and annoying stuff. We of course also all that "fun" a "paycheck."

A terrible perspective that chores are the gateway to a happy life. Really? Who out there really likes cleaning the toilet or dusting the furniture? But to remain healthy you need to clean the house. Who out there really likes mowing the lawn or shoveling the driveway? But to keep your property value up you need to take care of your house and lawn. To be able to get where you need to go after a snowstorm you need to shovel the driveway. Chores are that part of life, that enables us to live our lives.

I suppose if you work in an office, you can associate chores with all the triplicate forms you fill out, or the timecard you have to punch. Now of course we are assuming that you, in some small way at least, enjoy what you do for a living. So in the end after all the crap at work, you finally get to do what truly fills you with joy. Ok if not joy at least a sense of accomplishment.

Chores we learn to do from an early age. As a small child you learn to pick up and put away your toys. You learn to put your dirty clothes in the hamper. You set the table for dinner. You hang your coat up and put your bookbag on your desk or in your room or wherever is the designated space.

Chores are also not always big, huge, humungous activities that need to be done. Most chores are simple, basic life organizing responsibilities. They are also age and developmentally appropriate. You cannot ask a six year old to operate a snowblower yet you should ask a 16 year old to do laundry and clean the bathroom.

The important thing to do in assigning chores is to understand your child and understand too, that it may take your child awhile to be proficient at the task you set our for them. Example: setting the table. We all know forks on the left and knives on the right. Here is a several step process. You can teach your child by rote and picture where to put these utensils, but it might help if they truly knew which was right and which was left. In other words, it would behoove you to teach your child right from left before you just expect them to "get" where everything goes on a table.

Until they are able to navigate the entire place setting, you can have them help put out the glasses, or the napkins. They can put down the placemat where they know everyone sits. The truth of the matter is that you may need to break down this chore, or any chore in fact, in much the same way you have to breakdown their school assignments. Remember  as with everything concerning our children,  make the chores developmentally appropriate and to break it down into manageable pieces as well.

When the boys started doing laundry I wrote down what to do every step of the way. We broke it down into 5 easy steps:
1. Bring the dirty clothes down to the laundry room.
2. Separate out the whites from the color wash and wash separately. (I had to emphasize the separate wash principle, because after they separated everything out, they then stuck it all in the washingmachine together...When you are teaching try to be as specific as possible.)
***** I showed them how to use the machine (including how to measure detergent, clorox 2 and fabric softener) which required its own step program. I also left the instructions up on a whiteboard in the laundry room.
3. Take the clothes from the washingmachine and put in dryer.
***** Dryer step by step instructions. (This rubric was happily alot less overwhelming then the washingmachine one.)
4. Take dry clothes out and bring up stairs.
5. Fold and put away laundry. (We taught them to fold and hubby labeled everyone's draws so they knew where to put the folded laundry. Yes the label maker is your friend).

Honestly when they started doing the laundry they were not little boys. I started teaching them when they were in high school and definitely now that they are in college. (I had tired to teach them earlier in life to launder clothes, but after CM1 had decided to put bleach in with my good jeans, which ultimately necessitated a trip to the store for new pants, I decided all they had to do for quite some time was to wash towels). I felt that they might not be away at college, but there are some things that they should be able to do that is age appropriate. No they don't cook, beyond the microwaved meal, but then most college students do not cook 5 course french nouvelle cuisine meals either.

Teaching them to be responsible is a large part of having them do chores. Actually one aspect of them doing chores, is that they also earn money towards their video games. The boys volunteer and work at internships. The reality is that even if they had summer jobs they would earn only minimum wage and quite frankly not certain what they would do with that first. CM1 in fact had a part time paying job this summer. He worked 4 hours a week. After social security and payroll tax what can he really buy with that? So the boys need some way to earn their games.

I think it is a good way that they also know that there comes a point that mom and dad are not just going to hand things to them. Clothes, food, shelter is one thing. But there is no constitutional right to video games. So if they want to play they got to "pay."

Now anyone who is a longtime reader of this blog, knows too that this little pay for play scenario evolved out of an incident from CM1's freshman year in college. He took my credit card, no not to buy games, sneakers or clothing, but to give to a charity he liked. He had decided that I had not donated enough. He understood that in effect he was stealing from me, because he went into my email and erased the confirmation letters sent by the charity. What he didn't figure on was that I received bills for my credit card. (Never really understood why he thought people just gave us money for nothing and that we never had to pay it back. Yes, he knows better now)

What ended up happening was that he lost his allowance, any money he had saved (to cover the bill) and had to do chores to pay off the rest of what he spent. He then learned that he lost his allowance forever and that if he wanted games or "playing cards" ever again he had to earn them through doing chores. Needlesstosay, this boy rarely spends his earnings on games and constantly finds charities to donate to. I just know that he is one day going to give most of his salary away. Hopefully he will understand that he will need to pay bills and take care of himself first.

Now CM2 realized that his brother was earning extra money and getting some really cool stuff. So one day when I picked him up from school he presented me with a business plan. He had written down chores and what he thought they were worth. We negotiated the chores true value and he then started earning some extra bucks himself.

I really liked that CM2 approached me with a proposal to earn money instead of asking for a raise in his allowance. I was really proud of him for that. We made a big deal of his initiative.

One more important thing about them earning money for chores...if they do a lousy job they don't earn the money and they redo the chore. Once when CM1 had done a terrible job with the laundry, I told him he was to rewash the clothes and refold them. He told me he quit. I told him he couldn't. His response was that if this was a real job he could quit. I countered with the fact that this was not a "real job" but a chore and that he was going to do it whether he got paid or not so he was better off just redoing the laundry and getting paid before he pissed me off....he never argued with me again about his chores, the quality and quitting. I also told him that if he did a bad job at work, he wouldn't have a choice to quit, his boss would fire his tuchas. So he had better learn to do a good job the first time.

Chores are an essential part of childhood and preparing your child for the future. You can use chores to teach lifeskills and self-help skills. You can use chores to teach the value of a dollar and how to budget for an item. Chores go along way in teaching your child independence and self-reliance. It is a way to help their self-esteem for a job well done.

Until next time,