“Don’t underestimate your child — independence can start early at home!” Maria Montessori wrote on her Facebook page, which features an age-appropriate chore chart for children. My older daughter is five, and just yesterday, she silently got the broom out of the pantry and swept the kitchen floor. Then she asked me to retrieve the dustpan for her since it was out of her reach.
I sighed loudly. “I’ll just do it,” I said as I swept up the pile of dried peas and other assorted remnants from dinners past.
She looked dejected. I know, I know I’m supposed to let her do this stuff. Or even make her do it. She learns autonomy, responsibility, and accountability by doing chores. She likes doing chores. She asks for chores.
But she’s five. When she sweeps, she somehow manages to make more of a mess than was there before she started. When she clears her plate, the food miraculously multiplies in the seconds that it takes her to get it from the table to the kitchen counter — and it all spills onto the floor or her chair. When she cleans up her toys, I have to clean them up and put them in their proper place after she’s done. Her making her own bed results in a tangle of sheets that practically requires trained surgeons to undo. If she wipes the toothpaste chunks out of the bathroom sink, she uses the decorative towels that the blue gel just never seems to wash out of.
I’d rather just do my kids’ chores for them.
Am I the only parent who feels like everything is a lesson? They need to learn to be grateful and polite when receiving birthday gifts. They have to share when playing with friends. When eating the last cupcake, it’s only right that they’ve offered it to everyone else first before they can enjoy it. I get that I’m my kids’ mom and not their friend, and I believe that’s how it should be, especially in the early years.
What I don’t get, however, is why I have to pain myself to teach them how to clean when what they’re doing is not actually cleaning, but usually making more of a mess, which is just more work for me. It’s more work for me to nag them to tell them to do it. There is often screaming, tears, and resentment on both sides. When my kids feel like doing something useful, they usually just do it. When I ask or tell them to, it’s like Act II, Scene IV. Not everything has to be a thing. Sometimes kids can just do stuff with you without it being an official part of their day. Adults don’t appreciate or function particularly well when their every waking minute is filled with tasks. Why would kids be any different?
I was told and have found it to be true that you have to give up something when becoming a parent. I’ve long since given up the hope of sleeping past 6:30 am. I also know that bathroom privacy is a thing of the past. Peace and quiet for more than five consecutive minutes? See you in a few decades. But I like my house clean. Depending on my kids to make it thus is fruitless.
I continually strive to impart unto my kids the importance of being empathetic, kind, smart, and conscientious. I’m just not sure why any of it has to involve a Swiffer mop and a can of Pledge.
If we, as a family, can make it through a 24-hour period without something or someone breaking, bleeding, or bawling, I consider us all a success. It may not be a chore that’s worthy of a chart, but I’ll take it, anyway.