Now, that's an extreme example, and not one I'd really recommend. My Grandpa had taken me on a trip to visit my uncle for my 7th birthday and noticed that my uncle needed his lawn mowed, so he set me up in the backyard with the push-mower. He went inside to read his paper and watch from the window, and yep, he had to walk right back out to start up the mower again every time I ran it into a tree or let go of the handle and let the engine die. He'd walk back out, pull-start the engine because I wasn't strong enough to do it, and get me going. He didn't let me quit just because I didn't know how to mow.
That was a one-time thing. I didn't actually start mowing my own family's yard regularly till I was 10. My brother started when he was 8, but that's because he was bigger and stronger.
More and more these days, I feel like I am coming across men and women of my own age who lack basic life skills. They don't know how to cook, do laundry, mow a lawn, or buy a car. They are in the process of learning these skills in their 20s and 30s, when you don't learn new things nearly as quickly as you used to. I also know moms who say that they feel like they are drowning in the tasks of keeping a home and raising their children, even though their kids are old enough to contribute toward household tasks.
I'm convinced it doesn't have to be this way, but for many people, life is this way because they either believe that kids aren't capable of handling real responsibility or that it is 'mean' to ask children to do real work to help their family. In my opinion, kids ARE capable and no, it is NOT mean.
People are often impressed with the mere existence of my Mom, and they should be. She has raised seven children and homeschooled them and for part of that time she had a full-time job outside the home. But it's not as if my mom were an alien, something inhuman who accomplishes feats impossible to anyone else. She has accomplished a lot in life, but it is because she decided to do so and specifically chose to invoke certain strategies, it's not just something that accidentally happened.
I decided to go with a family picture from way back in 2009 to show us all at younger ages. I believe we were 17, 15, 13, 11, 9, 7, and 2 in this photo.
My family didn't have a dryer for six years, but my Mom didn't break her back doing all washing, hanging, and ironing clothes for a family of 9 all on her own. All of us pitched in and accomplished the task when necessary--no, there was no chore chart or complex schedule of alternations for the job. For my family, the rule was, "If you see something that needs to be done, you do it." Even a 7 year old knew better than to walk past a dirty sock on the floor and leave it lying there.
Because my family lived in an old house for many years, us kids were also brought alongside and taught how to perform basic home repairs and use power tools. I was 12 and my little brother was 9 the first time we worked on a roof (a very, very safe roof with little incline at all), using shingle-eaters during the tear off process, and carefully learning how to use a nail gun when we put new shingles on. Years later, both Isaac and I were able to volunteer with church-sponsored roofing projects as young adults, and had the knowledge and roofing skills we needed to be an asset to our work team (I may not look like a construction worker, but I have no fear of heights and can jump from one roof jack to another with ease).
Homeschooling did not mean that Mom had to take several hours of every day to teach each child all of their subjects. Older kids were often assigned to teach younger kids in their area of expertise. I can remember doling out 3rd grade spelling tests for my little sisters while working on my geometry homework in high school.
I believe that people can be contributing members of society BEFORE they reach the age of 18 (or, with the delayed adolescence effect of our society's expectations, the age of 30). I also believe that, in the short run, taking the strategy of teaching children real life skills can be harder and more time consuming that just doing everything yourself. A mom can peel a couple pounds of potatoes much faster than an 8 year old can, and so the temptation to just do everything yourself rather than take the time to teach is a very real one. But let that 8 year old peel potatoes a couple dozen times, and they'll get speedy. In a couple years, as they gain skills, they'll be able to put together more and more dishes and they'll be better prepared for life than if you simply chose to peel the potatoes for them.
It's kinder for parents to take the hard road and give their children real tasks and real responsibilities while they're still children, so that they're better prepared to be independant adults when the time comes. Take my 17 year old sister Anna for example. She's an amazing little woman in her own right, but she's also skilled at any home chore you could throw at her. If you left her in charge of your house, she could make daily meals and do any cleaning necessary, probably while doing her homework and babysitting a couple of toddlers at the same time and teaching them their ABCs. Sure, she'd watch tv (I recently got her addicted to Once Upon a Time) and read books and have fun relaxation time, but she knows how to motivate herself to work, she knows what needs to be done, and she'll do it without needing someone in charge specifying every step to her. She's 17. To some people, that's an age of no responsibilities outside of caring for one's self, but to Anna, it means that she knows how to handle a lot of aspects of adult life long before reaching her 18th birthday.
My parents have taken the harder road, and I admire them for that. My Mom didn't do everything for us. When we were toddlers and infants, yes, she did, because we couldn't do anything, but as soon as we were physically big enough to start taking responsibility for little tasks, she'd give us tasks that befitted our abilities. We started with picking up our own toys and making our own beds, and eventually graduated up to cleaning the entire house from top to bottom. She didn't braid all of our hair every day--once the older girls knew how, they were assigned to making sure that their little sisters' hair was never in rats' nest status. Hey, as teenagers we sometimes joked that we couldn't remember the last time our mom cooked dinner! Bad, bad, fishy teenagers.
None of us are plastic people. The seven of us kids have widely different personalities and interests and skills (You should hear me and Lizzy when we get into a fight...or maybe you shouldn't...it scared Angel...). There have been plenty of times when us kids didn't follow the rules we knew and didn't do the work that we ought to have done--and some learned from the consequences of such crimes faster than others did. But what all of us kids have in common is that we were taught from a young age to work hard and to work well, and that's a lesson I will be sure to pass on to the next generation.
So that's it, my kid-power post. Don't look down on those who are young merely because they are young. Little might you know the abilities of kids and teens unless you give them the opportunity and the education necessary to accomplish big tasks.
Can you remember the first time you were given a responsibility like mowing the lawn? Or washing the car, babysitting your siblings, or cleaning up after a meal?