SOCIAL MEDIA

25 April 2014

Kids Aren't Useless

I was seven years old the first time I mowed a lawn.

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.

One of those strategies my Mom used was to teach all of her kids life skills from a very early age. From early childhood she taught us to be polite and respectful while also having good social skills by assigning us to greet a certain number of adults each Sunday at church (we had to report back on their names when we arrived at home, or face the consequences of failing to obey), and to smile and respond to people we happened to meet while we were out and about. All of us learned to cook at young ages--starting with peeling the potatoes, stirring the macaroni noodles, and tearing lettuce for a salad. Now any kid in my family over the age of 12 could easily put together a company-ready meal on their own and have all dishes hot and ready, and the house cleaned and presentable, at the same time. Not only the girls, either. My little brother specializes in Indian dishes, but can cook anything he wants to. How many teenage boys do you know who wouldn't blink at the prospect of making chicken curry from scratch for 60 people? 'Cause that's what Isaac made for the main course at my graduation party two years ago.

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?

42 comments :

  1. I am so impressed with your mother! I think it's amazing she raised all of you AND took the time to teach each of you important skills! I was also using power tools at a young age thanks to my dad. And thanks to my mom I can cook and do laundry and other boring tasks :P Your parents are rockstars!

    ReplyDelete
  2. LOVE this! Your mom sounds awesome! And the way of family life she created is so good! More families need to implement that!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Awesome post Rachel. There are so many things I regret I never learned (I still don't know how to now a lawn even though my hubby has been in the landscaping business for most of his working life, he just does it) I grew up cleaning. In my home growing up the boys were expected to mow the grass, and occasionally sweep or mop a floor but otherwise the women did the babysitting, cleaning, etc. I get criticized when I tell other moms in my family hat I make our preschooler clean her OWN room. She may hate it and fight it but I am not. I may only put things up that she can't reach but that's it. She can do dishes, fold simple blankets, make her bed, etc. but I need to do better. Thank you for the reminder to allow the kids to help. Your mom and family sound interesting and one of a kind. Rachel xo

    ReplyDelete
  4. i fully support this. i don't get how people in their 20s don't even know how to work a washing machine or balance their check book or stuff that oh, ADULTS SHOULD KNOW BY NOW?? i give my 5yr old age-appropriate chores and as she gets older, more gets added. tidying up, folding her laundry, putting dishes away after a meal, picking up after her mess...that sort of thing. i was pretty much raising myself and did everything by the time i was 15 and i thank god for that because while everyone in college was completely lost without their mommies and daddies, i was perfectly fine. this one guy never did laundry all year - he just bought new clothes like every week FOR THE WHOLE YEAR WTF.

    -kathy
    Vodka and Soda

    ReplyDelete
  5. I love this! It's definitely important for kids to be involved in the house. I mean they don't pay rent! This isn't a free world and they need to be used to working for what they have. Maybe that's harsh, but I saw way too many kids in college who wouldn't microwave popcorn without the fire alarms going off. My brother and I always had chores to do over the weekend and it was never a big deal. I do wish I had learned more about power tools and stuff from my dad, but I'm learning now :)

    ReplyDelete
  6. I think sadly this is a problem with our society today. Kids are spoiled. They aren't given responsibilities and that turns them into incapable adults.

    I always had to look after my younger sister who is 3 years my junior. I can't remember what age I was when I had to do chores, but it was young. I took on a part time job working in our family's ice cream shop from the age of 11. Everyone in the family had to work both at home and at the shops. It taught us to have a good work ethic and how to be responsible. At the time I thought it was pretty harsh, but boy did I love having my own money to spend as I wanted.

    My husband, who is French came from a household where he never did a thing. Ever. When we got together it was a nightmare. I had to teach him EVERYTHING. How to wash dishes, hot to mop a floor, how to prepare a meal. It was exhausting. But right from the start I let him know that we were partners, and I'm not his mother. The days of him doing nothing were over. It would have been so much easier had his parents forced him to learn when he was a kid.

    bisous
    Suzanne

    ReplyDelete
  7. Great post and what an amazing family you have! I want to come for the holidays. :)

    ReplyDelete
  8. your mom could teach super nanny a thing or two. i think she will be so proud when all of her children are grown and she sees what independent, responsible people she raised.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I remember hand washing my hankies and underwear while my grandma hand washed clothes when I was four years old. She also had me help her prepare vegetables when I was four. My grandpa taught me how to wash dishes when I was six years old. I remember sweeping the floor at an even earlier age. Real cooking came later. I only learned to cook rice when I was 12 years old. My grandparents were great teaching me to do these things at an early age. My problem now is my own parents do not let my son do his chores whenever they are here and I always end up arguing with them.

    ReplyDelete
  10. My daughter is three and she is fully responsible for cleaning her room, cleaning her toy room, and putting her clothes away. Start them young!

    ReplyDelete
  11. My sister and I always helped out around the house. Everyday chores, cooking, cleaning, and we volunteered a lot too. I completely agree with your families' child rearing strategy and I hope I can do the same for my future children. It shocked me how many people struggled to take care of themselves in college because they weren't trained to. It's really a disservice to your children to do everything for them.

    ReplyDelete
  12. This is a truly great post, and one I'm pinning so I remember to come back to it for refreshers from time to time. My hope is that my daughter learns how to be respectful and responsible as early as possible because I know it will make for a fuller life down the road.

    ReplyDelete
  13. I completely and totally agree with you! I grew up living with my grandparents and they started having my sister and I do chores around the house at a very young age. I remember I started helping my grandmother with the ironing when I was 8. Just pillowcases and my grandfather's handkerchiefs at first, and then learning more as I got older. I know that having these responsibilities at a young age has really helped me as an adult and I plan to give my children chores and responsibilities once the time comes.

    ReplyDelete
  14. I find all of this amazing, but true. I work in a small local restaurant. Most of the people I work with are in their 20's and lower 30's. We have a large "dish machine" to do the dishes. Of course these things do not work all the time and one day we had to do the dishes by hand. We have four sinks set in a row in case we have to do them by hand with instructions on the wall on how to do it. You would think the world came to an end. I did them all myself and let them go about their other work. They all thought we would be getting off extra late bc of the extra work. It was 10 minutes later than normal closing. I little silly I think. Great post!!

    ReplyDelete
  15. I love this and I COMPLETELY agree with you. It's so frustrating to me to see people in their 20's and 30's who were obviously so privileged they have no idea how to WORK. My husband even has an employee who is 21 and still acts/talks like a 14 year old, doesn't really respect authority, etc...and you can tell it's because she was babied (she's the youngest girl of the family) and never really made to do anything. We started helping around the house by the time we were 3-4 years old - simple things, obviously, but we were taught to help out. There were only 2 of us (me and my sister...Rachel...haha) but we had designated chores that we were in charge of (cleaning our own rooms and cleaning our our bathroom, as well as other rotated household chores...dishes, vacuuming, dusting, etc) and if we didn't do them, we were grounded until they were done. I can't stand hearing moms complaining about how much they have to work to keep up around the house - meanwhile their kids are off playing and out with friends, etc. My parents had the attitude of, "You live here, you don't pay rent, you get an allowance...therefore, you must work to keep those privileges." And we plan on doing the same with our future kids!

    ReplyDelete
  16. I couldn't agree more that kids aren't worthless. I definitely learned how to do a lot of housework when I was really young and I am so happy I did

    ReplyDelete
  17. Okay...first off, I love this post and agree 100%! Second, a few months ago I had a post about a Leibster award and a list of bloggers that I had chosen to give the award to. You commented that your sister was 7 and how y'all were 15 years apart. Well I just so happened to have 7 bloggers listed and when you said your sister was 7, I thought you meant the 7th blogger I had listed. I'm sure my reply made absolutely no sense to you but after looking at this picture, I didn't see the blogger that was listed 7th so I went back to the post and realized you were telling me your sister was 7 years old!

    ReplyDelete
  18. My family was very similar to yours in this respect. My brother and I started mowing at the same time because he was younger than me but we probably had about the same strength. I wanna say we were like 8 and 11. Or maybe 9 and 12. And I always helped with dinner and housework. Even now when I go visit my parents as a "guest" I am still expected to help with chores. And I wouldn't have it any other way :)

    ReplyDelete
  19. I knew a girl that was 22 years old, and her internship was her "first job," Cue the major eye roll from me. I started working when I was SIXTEEN. So, it baffles me when people graduate and they are looking for a job for the first time. Then they are baffled that they don't land their dream job right away.

    I do admit that I was spoiled growing up (and was the only child). However, I do know how to cook, do laundry, clean, etc. I just leave all the manly chores (like car stuff and lawn for my husband).

    ReplyDelete
  20. Yes yes yes!!! I keep hoping and praying that the pendulum will swing back to this school of thought- for the sake of our future world. Good grief there are an excessive amount of children adults. Shameful.

    ReplyDelete
  21. I absolutely agree. My kids have jobs but I'd much prefer it to be how you said, if it needs doing, you do it. That's the way it should be!

    ReplyDelete
  22. I really need to give my kids more jobs. They really don't do a lot.

    Growing up I did have to mow, do dishes, and the catbox, but that didn't start until I was a teenager.

    ReplyDelete
  23. This is a great post Rachel....kudos to your Mom, that is impressive! My parents did similar things with us three kids; had rules expectations for helping and being a part of our family. It taught all a lot of life skills, which has helped us all as we grew up.
    PS that family picture is sooo cute, you all are a good looking bunch!!

    ReplyDelete
  24. Yes to all of it. I couldn't agree with you more. If more people raised their children like your mother raised you the world would be a much better place.
    Debbie
    www.fashionfairydust.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete
  25. Your mom sounds amazing!! And I love that throwback pic of the fam! :) I remember getting chores when I was younger and feeling so empowered!

    ReplyDelete
  26. My mom had me start doing my laundry when I was in sixth grade. Once I reached college, I was shocked how few people knew how to do laundry, especially boys!

    ReplyDelete
  27. Since it was just my father and me starting at the age of 10, I was cleaning bathrooms, doing laundry and preparing simple meals as early as middle school. I'm definitely guilty of choosing to do things myself instead of having my kids help, but I'm working on it. My four year old is responsible for clearing her place at the table, can use a paring knife to cut soft fruits and vegetables, helps to pack lunches, and is responsible for keeping her room picked up. It's not much, but it's a start and she feels very empowered. Thanks for giving me some more ideas too. Happy Saturday Sharefest!

    ReplyDelete
  28. My dad was very good at this. When I was a kid he showed me how to do everything from changing a tire to doing my taxes. He never wanted me to have to depend on someone else to do things for me. I'm so grateful that he taught me those things because I can't imagine how it must feel to lack basic life skills. I have a friend who can't do much of anything for himself and watching him struggle is painful.

    ReplyDelete
  29. Ho-lee crap. What an incredible post...and so on the money. I have two kids, one is 8, the other turning 2 next month. My 8 year old wants to be a farmer, so her special responsibility this year is the compost pile. It's not easy work - she has to haul out the hose, turn the pile with a shovel that is 5 times her size, and bring the scraps outside rain or shine. It took her a minute to become comfortable with her abilities, but a month into the project we're finally at a point where I don't need to bug her to do her compost pile. She gets it. Kids get it. They can figure it out...the tricky part is having enough patience to let them.

    ReplyDelete
  30. As a parent, I feel that sometimes you want to pretend your babies are still just babies.... but the fact is, it is our job to prepare those babies to fly the nest. Our children are all part of the Home Team - they get to help cook, clean, do laundry, bring in the groceries, help with the grocery list/coupons and the like. And yes, you are right. It would go faster if I just did it myself - but that would mean they would have to live with me until they figured it all out on their own. Now, I don't care ( I say that now, lol) how long my kids stay in the house. But I don't want it to be because I failed to teach them. I want it to be because they simply can't think of leaving their momma all alone with pappa! LOL

    ReplyDelete
  31. This is spot on! What a great post...and philosophy. My kids already do chores at 5 and 2, but you gave me a lot to think about. We are sheltering our kids too much in this society. Thanks for writing this.

    ReplyDelete
  32. I love how some of you are not wearing shoes in the family photo :)

    great wisdom here. There were things my mom taught me and things that I had to learn later! It's interesting to look back on. For one, I had to learn how to cook on my own basically, but I knew how to do laundry and dishes. My brother and little sister mostly mowed the lawn, but I was made to help in the garden and do sweeping chores and stuff :)

    ReplyDelete
  33. This is brilliant. I don't think I ever truly realized or appreciated that not everyone was raised with the similar responsibilities and expectations my parents had for me until I was a nanny. I worked for a family for 4 years and the only requirements they had for their middle school aged children was that the kids make their beds each morning and empty the dishwasher. My goodness, I was like pulling teeth to get each kid to empty one shelf of the dishwasher - and woe the child who was made to empty the BOTTOM drawer because that was SO much more work.

    ReplyDelete
  34. Your mum sounds amazing! I think kids should be made to do more. My parents were pretty slack with me and I kind of regret it because now I'm kind of a slob, ha.

    Your family is beautiful!

    Corinne x
    www.skinnedcartree.com

    ReplyDelete
  35. I totally agree with the way you were all raised. If you're going to have a big family, you might as well put them to work! Having such a large family would mean that there would always be lots to do...!! I can't even imagine the number of dishes there were to clean, dry and put away never mind all of the laundry to wash, sort and hang to dry..
    My mom was super duper strict growing up. We all had to answer the phone very professionally and when we addressed adults we never called them by their first name unless they insisted and we still asked my mom if it was okay. LOL

    ReplyDelete
  36. This is a very hot-button topic in our family right now- Joel and I were literally discussing this the same morning you posted on it!

    I am a huge fan/advocate for children of all ages helping when they can- my youngest is 1.5 and LOVES to "help" with laundry and the dishwasher. It's a great way for her to learn and it's additional time we can spend together. However, I never want to forget as the parents that while it is our responsibility to teach our kids chores and how to take care of things, it is not our children's jobs to maintain our home.

    I really want to find a good balance of teaching these responsibilities so our children can learn and also value the blessings of a home and work, but not take advantage of their help, if that makes sense? I feel the parents should shoulder the majority of the load.

    ReplyDelete
  37. Your mom is AWESOME - lord how did she do all that? I guess strategy is key. My son is turning 7 and I will be adding more things for him to do, he loves to help in the kitchen so can't wait until he can help peel potatoes for sure haha. I agree i think kids should be taught valuable, adult-like lessons before they're 18. I feel in American culture we try so hard to preserve their "childhood" we disable them for adulthood. Great post Rachel and have a great one! -Iva

    ReplyDelete
  38. you're presenting a sociological argument for thinking about children as 'small adults' rather than 'helpless kids,' but the whole post really just comes across as a sweet thank you to your mom - she sounds like an incredible woman :) and yes, i whole-heartedly agree with your statement that sums it all up: "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 independent adults when the time comes"

    ReplyDelete
  39. This is such a great post! I love reading your perspective. It seems like the standard that our society sets for children just get lower and lower all the time - there is much to be said for holding children to a higher standard AND teaching and equipping them with valuable life skills that allow them to contribute to their household as children and later their households as adults.

    ReplyDelete
  40. Yes to all of this! We're currently going through a phase with Little J where we are getting her started on chores. Not so much because I need the help, but more so because we want to establish independence early on. I think it's very important that kids learn how to take care of simple tasks, such as putting away their toys, or wiping up their tables after they finish eating. Otherwise, like you pointed out, we'll have a bunch of 20 and 30 year old's who have no clue how to wash a load of laundry.

    I think it's great that your parents taught you how to work with tools. I suppose that is one of the upsides of living in an older home that needs repairs. You learn your way around a power drill. I see a lot of women my age who can't tell you the difference between a Phillips and a flathead. It's a bit scary!

    BTW, you mom sounds completely awesome! I'm so jealous of your big family. How awesome it would have been to be able to grow up with that many siblings looking out for each other!

    ReplyDelete
  41. This is cool and I couldn't agree more! I am v messy now but my Mum used to make us do the house cleaning: hovering, polishing, bathroom, kitchen floor, worktops from when I was 8, we earnt money that way. We always did washing up etc and cleaned after ourselves and were taught to talk to adults. We used to do baking with my Dad though I wish he'd got me doing DIY or home repairs because I am useless and he's v v good. I had part time jobs from the age of 12-dog walking, chip shop, playing in a theatre orchestra a few times which meant I had savings for University I'd saved myself. That said, I don't feel as confident or skilled as you !!! Your mum sounds Amazing! X

    ReplyDelete