Kids learn life lessons by doing household chores
My elder sister and I kept a record of the tasks we did at home. The list was maintained with honesty and regularly updated. It included tasks like who answered the doorbell, who got water for mum, who ran down to the market to buy a loaf of bread, who cleared the dishes after dinner, etc. We made sure to never attend to a chore unless it was indeed our turn. Sometimes, she and I would waste half an hour to decide on who'd run an errand, which required only three minutes of our attention. In hindsight, it was both silly and fun. Just last week, I was at a dinner at a friend's place, when I witnessed a similar scenario; brother, sister squabbled over who'd walk to the living room to plug in dad's phone for charging. I had a good laugh, the nature of the task had changed, but the bickering continued. It's almost 2020 (update: 2021), after all.
Yes, a lot has changed between then and now. Nannies are around to pick up dirty laundry, fetch a glass of juice, and beyond. We can't blame the parents for hiring help or the kids for not helping at home; the latter do have busier lives than you and I. In between, attending to studies and participating in extra-curricular activities, and showing up at birthday parties and writing competitive exams, you can't expect them to clean the lawns. Can you? But, maybe you can get them to clean up their room?
The debate on whether children should be burdened with chores or allowed to have fun is an old one. Which side of the spectrum are you on? I am all for letting kids lend a hand to their working parents and hardworking nannies. As a child, it was my responsibility to serve a glass of cold water to our house help, when she came for work after climbing a flight of stairs in the heat. Yes, at times, I must have cribbed, but I thoroughly enjoyed the feeling of being useful, responsible and grown-up.
Do your children help you with household chores? A neighbour, who recently shifted in our community, mentioned how she was glad to be in a place surrounded by supermarkets. She makes sure her 13-year-old boy steps down to buy the daily essentials - eggs, bread, and milk. She even confessed how she was willing to take the risk of him (the son) returning home with cracked eggshells, but not of him getting spoilt. "We used to walk in the heat. He has an air-conditioned corridor and an elevator at his service," she shared.
Of course, making the children attend to chores can itself be a chore! But once you make it fun, you won't have to nag at them. A rewards system like a smiley chart, a friendly competition between the siblings, and a treat at the end of the week are a few ideas that can work. Whether you wish to give them an allowance is up to you. We never got one. Acknowledge a job well done and make sure each member of the family is made responsible for age-appropriate chores. Soon enough, the young ones will learn how to look after themselves and realise it's their responsibility to look after each other as well. The fact that you'd be raising adults with great life skills is another fair advantage.
We were taught early on that there are no menial jobs. So, go ahead, and involve them in simpler tasks be it changing bedsheets, watering the plants, helping sort out groceries, and more. Yes, they're likely to throw words like child labour at you, let them.
Tell them just like studying Math and learning how to swim, folding laundry is an essential part of growing up. Let them feed the pet and throw the trash. They'll thank you for all the memories and lessons.
This piece was first published in Khaleej Times.