On sharing the household labour

watergun
still lots of time for play

The house smells wonderful right now, and the cause is not my cooking — it’s AppleApple’s! She is making Italian-style tomato sauce to serve over pasta for supper tonight. Why? I think there are a few factors at play here.

1.  I’m giving the kids more room to experiment, and more responsibility with chores around the house. I have a controlling type-A personality. I like my laundry hung just so. I like my cooking done just so. And my kitchen has been my kitchen up til now. You know what I mean. But the kids are getting plenty old enough to learn how to cook for themselves, and care for themselves. I need to let them do that.

2. The kids are at home for the summer. They are on hand. They are looking for things to do. And when they’re asking can I make lunch? I’m saying, yes, please go ahead. Yesterday, Fooey made mini-pizzas for everyone. She looked up a recipe, she grated cheese, sliced tomatoes and green peppers, she worked super-hard, and the only part I had to do was supervise the oven. AppleApple is a few years older and knows how to use the gas stove. She’s being supervised, at some distance, by today’s babysitter. And by my nose.

3. I’m in my office not having to see what’s going on, and therefore not getting fussed about the potential mess. I’m prioritizing career work over domestic work. I’m seeing that the kids can genuinely help out — and they’re seeing that too. I’m starting to believe that a household shouldn’t be one person’s responsibility, but the entire family’s. Yes, someone needs to be organizing everyone to make sure everything’s getting done that needs doing. But everyone is capable of pitching in and keeping the enterprise going. It’s not always my job. In fact, we’re all going to learn from letting each other help out.

4. I’m prioritizing working together. I’ve started to see our family differently since I added earning money to my priority list. Before, it was nice to earn a bit extra; now, as we’ve started budgeting more consciously, we realize that to do everything we want to do, our family actually needs that extra. That is a relatively recent development — really just a few months old. It’s shifting the way I see our household working, and the way I view domestic labour. Domestic labour is every bit as important and valuable as paid employment, but that doesn’t mean only one of us has to do it. We’re not boxed into either/or categories.

5. Further to that thought: I’m coming around to the (perhaps painfully obvious) belief that parents aren’t supposed to be slaves or servants. It’s not good for the parents, and it’s not good for the kids either. Obviously, very young children can’t be expected to do major chores, but children the ages of mine are capable of being genuinely helpful. They need to know that too! They need to know they can contribute to the family’s welfare and sustainability. Their work and effort and ideas are valued too. We’re in this together. Chores aren’t really fun. But when we’re all working together, there are excellent and immediate rewards — more time to spend doing something fun together (for us, this summer, that’s watching a few episodes of Modern Family before bed). It also teaches the kids the value of time — their time, and ours. And they’re gaining a more sophisticated understanding of household economics.

There’s a p.s. to this post.

That wonderful smell in the house? About mid-way through writing this, I realized it had gone from wonderful to slightly burnt. Sure enough, when I checked, some of the sauce had started sticking to the bottom of the pot. She was following the recipe to the word, but was using a timer rather than checking to see how things were progressing. Live and learn, we agreed, and were happy to see that the rest of the sauce was still salvageable. And next time, she’ll know to peek and stir more frequently! I’d put this experiment in the win column. (I’d probably have put it in the win column even if the sauce had been inedible, frankly. Because it’s only by experience that we learn how to do things independently.)

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1 Comment

  1. Timely posting.

    I have been thinking of sharing household labour since reading the article “Spoiled Rotten” on The New Yorker (link http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/books/2012/07/02/120702crbo_books_kolbert#ixzz1zrVx53uV )
    I feel like my kids don’t do enough around the house. I have to ask them multiple times to do every single chore and in the end I get frustrated and end up doing it myself. I don’t know whether I should be patient and continue to remind them or attach a reward (such as a movie outing ) to the chores.
    Kavitha

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