by Tracee Sioux

Last week, while at a friend’s getting my hair done (read more about my Pink Hair Fiasco), our two 5-year-olds were playing dress up.

Since I was stuck in the chair, I had asked Ainsley to take care of Zack and keep him occupied in the bedroom with the other kids. During our visit, I also instructed her to keep him away from the drop-off of the stairs, feed him some toast, get him his sippy cup and take the nail polish away from him.

My friend commented, “You really expect a lot more of Ainsley than I do of Adalie. I don’t really expect anything at all of Adalie. I totally baby her. She doesn’t even have to keep her room clean or help around the house.”

I think the vast difference between the two 5-year-old girls, going to Kindergarten in the fall, may have made both of us examine the level of responsibility and expectation our daughters experience through our mothering.

I can’t tell you how her reflection went. She has a teenage daughter, so obviously her perspective is different from my own. She already has a decade of mothering experience on me and will no doubt reflect on mistakes or triumphs she made with the first daughter when deciding how to raise her second and third daughters.

I don’t have the benefit of that experience, so I just jump right in with what I appreciate about my own upbringing and my experience as a daughter. And likely, as most parents do, a little naivete and idealism about how I think a child should be raised. Every parent must be blessed with a little of this naivete and idealism, or they will just flounder around all the parenting advice not knowing what to do, flustered by this study or that, this evidence or that, this theory or that and feeling like they will inevitably screw their kids up.

As I explained to my friend, my daughter was an only child for 4 years. She had no siblings and therefore played independently quite a lot of the time. We spend quality time together cleaning the house. We would go about our chores pretending to be English and speaking in an accent while folding laundry and I would throw the wet clothes at her, trying to knock her down and bury her before they went into the dryer. She thought this was hilarious fun.

She wanted to help. I let her. She thought it was fun to be like me, capable of cleaning mirrors or toilets. Sometimes, when I wanted to hurry and get it done I’d tell her she couldn’t use the toilet brush and she’d cry. I’d tell her, you’re a strange, strange child. What kind of kid throws a fit if they aren’t allowed to clean the toilet? And she’d respond, me!

I think it may be a little known secret, but most if not all, children want to help clean the house. Especially if you are jamming out to the radio or being silly while doing it. I once let the kids in the church nursery use the vacuum and they were lining up begging for their turn.

As a result of her desire to help she’s now pretty competent at mopping floors, scrubbing toilets and sinks, putting dishes away, wiping mirrors, putting toys away, organizing, some parts of laundry, and a bit of cooking that doesn’t involve knives or taking things out of the oven.

As she gets older though, things have changed a bit. She complains more than she begs to help. She’s discovered that jumping on the trampoline with the sprinkler on is way more fun than mopping or picking up her toys.

Ah, but not only do I know how competent she is, and therefore how much real help she is in getting the dirty jobs done, but my expectations about her participation are high.

After all, when I look around the house I see clearly that she’s our biggest mess maker. The clothes and laundry alone are a huge job since dress-up is one of her favorite games. Not to mention that she loves to write and draw and leaves art and paper everywhere. When I look at my disaster of a car I realize she has brought all her favorite things, some spare shoes, a couple of jackets, a ton of books, dolls, purses, papers, artwork from school and half eaten apples or granola bars and turned it into an embarrassing garbage dump.

When I was growing up in the 1970s and 1980s kids had chores. The kids in my family, and the kids I grew up with in my neighborhoods, were expected to help around the house and do chores. We were not allowed to go and play until our rooms were clean, beds made, and whatever chores we had been assigned were done. In my house the cleaning of the kitchen rotated nightly between the four siblings. After dinner the counters were wiped, leftovers put away and the dishes were done by the child whose turn it was. We cleaned bathrooms and mowed the lawn, sometimes we were given a $5 – $15 allowance for these particularly difficult chores. For the others, we did them because we lived there. Period. And if we didn’t, we got in trouble.

I can appreciate this now. I can see that helping around the house helped shape me into a competent person. I know what work is and I know that I can do it. I also know HOW to do it, and I realize that many of today’s kids are growing up without the experience of washing a dish or sweeping a floor. I feel bad for those kids. Imagine going out on your own, after high school whether it’s to a dorm or an apartment, and not having the slightest idea how to take care of yourself? A feeling of incompetence isn’t fun.

My child is no Cinderella. She isn’t worked like a slave. But, she does have to help around the house.

When she asks me, Why do I always have to help?

I tell her the truth, because you live here and everyone who lives here has to help with the housework. You help make the mess and you can help clean it up. I am not the maid.

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