People like to say that kids these days don’t know how to help out around the home. That has not been my experience at all! I don’t know who those deadbeat kids are, but I’ll bet you anything they are products of structured days, sufficient adult supervision, and safety-proofed homes. My parenting style, on the other hand, which I like to think of as “Creative/Permissive” (but perhaps could also be called “Benign Neglect with a Positive Reframe” or “Would Somebody Get This Woman a Nanny STAT?”) has resulted in children who are exceptionally good at noticing little tasks they can perform. From a very young age, they take the initiative to complete these tasks without any prompting from their father or me.
For example, I have never, ever had to dust the banister: my children polish it to a high sheen daily with the seats of their pants. They are not even doing it for the sake of parental approval (I can tell this because they go out of their way to do it when nobody is looking). They think nothing of risking their physical wellbeing for the sake of testing the stability and durability of our counters, tables, and furniture. Anytime I walk into the kitchen and find one of them hanging upside down off the edge of the poured cement island (which somehow passed inspection even though it wobbles disconcertingly when used for gymnastics purposes) I think to myself, “These kids of ours… they sure do look out for their ol’ mom and dad! If they survive childhood, they’ll be going places in this world!”
You might think that at age of five, Duncan is not ready to be left alone in the shower for any length of time. I heartily disagree. I have found that he is not only perfectly capable of showering himself, but he also makes sure to thoroughly cleanse every other surface in the bathroom in the process. For the parts he cannot reach—such as the ceiling or the high edge of the mirror—he has discovered that he can spout water directly from his mouth with impressive trajectory, easily spanning the chasm between bathtub and vanity. As if that wasn’t enough, the other day this thoughtful child saw that my special “only for Mommy” bottles of shampoo and conditioner were “almost half-empty” and so he took it upon himself to refill them for me, finding a second use for that dirty bathwater that might have otherwise been wasted down the drain. And when this sweet boy of mine notices me looking a little distracted or rundown, he will commence an invigorating face massage, and by this, I mean he massages my face with his face… hard.
Little Milo, nearly three, has spent his first few years of life becoming an expert in efficiently clearing those cluttered surfaces that so irritate his neatnik daddy. With one sweep of the arm, he can make any table, shelf or countertop spic-and-span in the blink of the eye. And now that he has figured out how to haul a chair around to use as a ladder, no surface is too high for him to tackle. As you might expect, laundry is hard to keep up with for a busy family of five, but this child does his part to keep the clothes hamper from getting overfull: he will work industriously until every last piece of dirty clothing has been deposited over the banister or out the window and soon, voila! an empty hamper. Although not quite tall enough or strong enough to open the fridge and freezer himself, he shows promise in the kitchen. He needs no help spreading jam on his toast or anything else within reach. He likes to experiment with different recipes: “All My Dinner into My Cup of Milk” is one that he’s been working on for a while. Recently, he served me a meatball that he had prepared for me himself. By “prepared”, I mean “pre-chewed”. By “served”, I mean “stuffed into my mouth as I opened it to speak”. I am a vegetarian.
A few years ago, we gave Wyatt some tools of his own and henceforth he has done a masterful job of dismantling anything he is “pretty sure we don’t need anymore”. Recently he took note of our plain old box of tissues and made them “more fancy” by meticulously perforating each one with his hole-puncher before stuffing them back in the box again; now it is just like having a box of disposable lace handkerchiefs– fancy, indeed! He also helps me keep an eye on my figure by reminding me frequently about my “little chocolate problem”. If he sees me considering a delicious bit of chocolate something-or-other, he says, “Mommy, remember what happens when you eat too much chocolate?” If pressed (and by “pressed”, I mean if any human being is standing within a ten foot radius) he will volunteer the details of this delicate and tragic health issue: “Did you know that too much chocolate makes my mommy fart! Like, a lot! And super stinky, too! I mean super stinky. That’s why she can’t eat too much chocolate anymore! Isn’t that so weird? Isn’t that so hilarious? Mommy, why are you pinching me?”
In conclusion, if you, too, find yourself raising resourceful youngsters with an overabundance of self-initiative, congratulations! Here are some of the benefits you can count on reaping:
1. Nobody will suffer from boredom in your household– not your kids (who at this moment are busily trying to pop popcorn in your dryer) nor you, who will have plenty of daily excitement discovering what little surprises have been prepared for you, nor visitors to your home, who will be so overawed by the nonstop freneticism surrounding them that they will require no further entertaining.
2. You will have a lifetime worth of “remember when” stories to comfort you in your empty nest days. These stories will be a lot funnier in retrospect. I hope. At the very least, they will help you keep your nostalgia in check when your kids finally grow up and fly the coop.
3. Sure, having a nanny or some household help would probably go a long way toward minimizing the impact of your children’s “help” around the house, but if that’s not a financial possibility, at least you can maximize your savings by also refusing to shell out cash for expensive toys, classes, activities, outings and the like. Unlike some, your children need no assistance staying occupied.
For those of you plagued with children who just sit around, waiting patiently and asking politely for permission to touch things. Don’t worry, it’s not too late to liven up your household: just say the word and I’ll be happy to send my brood over to your home for private lessons! They are always available. How about tomorrow? Please? Okay then, maybe next week?