I don’t let my kids do enough.
I’m not talking about giving them more freedom; I’m talking about housework. I’ve gotten into the habit of just doing the work myself to avoid the initial fight when I ask them to do something, followed by the inevitable disappointment I feel when I view the final product.
For instance, last week when we had a fairly heavy snowfall I started getting dressed to head outside to shovel when I remembered that I have two kids! What is the point of having kids if you can’t make them do tedious work around the house?
So I turned to my oldest and said, “Please go outside and shovel. Thank you.”
You would think I asked him to shovel the snow in his bare feet with one hand tied behind his back while simultaneously painting the house—that’s how much he complained.
Just to be clear, shoveling snow at our house does not involve removing snow from a large driveway or even a 600-foot long sidewalk. It’s about 100 feet of walkway—front and back. In the time it took my son to complain about shoveling, he could have been done.
About 15 minutes after my initial request, he finally trudged out the door. Usually it’s those 15 minutes of listening to him bitch about the task that does me in and I take over just to have some peace. But this time I ignored him and kept repeating, “Please go outside and shovel. Thank you.”
Yes, I thought. It worked!
Then I tried to walk to the garage.
Apparently my son and I have very different ideas of what it means to shovel. I believe the snow should be removed from the width of the entire walk (in this case that’s four feet); he believes the width of the shovel is enough of a path. So now I’m slogging along the walk, dragging grocery bags across the snow because I only have about 16 inches of clearance.
What do I do now? Do I make him go outside and do it the “right way” or do I let him do it his way and just be happy that he did something?
Part of me is convinced that he does a crap job so I will eventually stop asking him to do anything. It’s the same theory I have about my husband washing dishes – there is so much water on the counters and the floor when he attempts to “help” with the dishes that I inevitably step in before he can even start. He denies the plot but I’m not convinced.
Is my son also plotting against me or is he just being a teenager?
I couldn’t help myself; I had to ask him what he thought about the shoveling job. I explained my predicament with the groceries. He told me that I should have lifted the bags higher.
I just stared at him.
He then suggested that I get a wider shovel. Followed by my favorite line: “It’s supposed to warm up tomorrow anyway. It will probably melt.”
While I had to applaud his creativity, it still didn’t solve my dilemma. Why can’t he see that he didn’t do a good job shoveling the walk?
I was mulling over this question when I remembered a Wall Street Journal article that I read recently entitled, “What’s Wrong with the Teenage Mind.”* The author, Alison Gopnik, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, believes that teenagers today don’t learn practical life skills the way their predecessors did and it’s having a negative impact on them. In the past, children would be expected to help around the house (or the farm) and they would have jobs like a paper route or baby-sitting long before they were 16, she explained.
“[Today’s] adolescents,” the author notes “often don’t do much of anything except go to school.”
Getting a better education may have led to higher IQ (and in my son’s case, a more creative approach to problem-solving), but the lack of basic skill development is, she believes, at the root of why teenagers have delayed development of the pre-frontal cortex of the brain—the part that governs impulse control, motivation and decision-making. If kids don’t flex those muscles (or that part of their brain) early and often she believes, they can’t develop into the responsible and productive adults they are meant to become.
As I stood at the back door with my groceries, I reasoned that he isn’t doing a “bad” job just to piss me off; he simply hasn’t been doing enough work around the house to learn how to do it well!
Apparently, it is my job to make my kids do as much work around the house as possible!
Armed with this knowledge, I decided to simply say thank you for the shoveling…and then I made him carry in the rest of the groceries. Not because I wanted him to have to drag the groceries through the snow, of course. I’m just helping with that pre-frontal cortex thing.
*For Alison Gopnik’s article see: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203806504577181351486558984.html.