chores and "bad kids"

Something I really want to affirm and... and celebrate! is that not all of us have kids who live up to the standardized expectations for "helping out". Some of us have kids for whom "we, as a family" and "let's all pitch in and work together" are the wrong messages - they don't fit their needs and personalities. They might have been keen to explore some housekeepery skills when they were toddlers, but by age six they have better things to do with their time and energy and attention. And reading lots of descriptions of other people's children happily helping out around the house and farm with nothing but a little cheerful modeling to prompt them feels like a kind of criticism - we're obviously doing something wrong... only we're not. The reason our kids aren't like that, is that they Aren't Like That. They're themselves, and who they are is just as precious and wonderful and valid - and just as caring and generous.

So this is for the other parents of those kids. If, in your family, everyone's happy and everyone works for everyone else, great - move along. This isn't about you.

Our kids? Given the chance to be who they are, on their own terms, they frickin rock - but you might have to learn to see that, because the usual standardized expectations for "good helpers" don't necessarily apply to them. It's the old "grading fish on climbing trees" analogy all over again. In terms of "helping out" that often means letting go of ideas about what kids "should" be doing and instead seeing what our kids Are doing - where their attention is, what their needs are... and how they're already reaching out to us for connection with innate kindness and generosity.

Sometimes generosity can look like a kid making us a present or writing us a story instead of putting their dishes in the sink. They don't need to be scolded for that, or told that their creativity is less important than a lack of ants - but it could be useful to rethink the way dirty dishes are handled to make it easier on the kid. Maybe a bus tub. Maybe just sweeping through the room, sowing affection and picking up plates as you go. I think Mo was... 11 or 12 before they started putting dishes in the skink, but now, at 16, I can barely set a cup down, myself or it will end up bussed the next time they breeze through the room.

Sometimes "helping" can look like a kid focusing on things that.. maybe aren't so "important" on the mommy checklist, but appeal to them on some level. For younger kids, that might be something like washing windows - I had the cleanest windows for a few years... and the dirtiest child
Or it could be things like arranging all the cans in the pantry just so... and forgetting to put the milk away. Telling them what they've done wrong doesn't help them do better - it just pushes them away from wanting to do more. Being appreciative of what they do builds a sense of connection and mutual support - and eventually they grow into a broader perspective and notice that there are other ways to help, too.

Sometimes it can look like a kid minimizing their very real needs in the moment, and then melting down later!

And sometimes kids are just too busy with their own stuff - and that's okay! It doesn't make them bad people. It doesn't mean they'll "turn out" to be mean or entitled or whatever the latest criticism is. It turns out that giving people a chance to be who they are doesn't ruin them. It doesn't take years - or even days - to learn basic tasks. It doesn't take enforced requirements to develop a sense of responsibility.

Kids don't need to be taught good family citizenship any more than they need to be taught... how to read Kant! Not only does teaching not guarantee learning, they may not appreciate Kant, or agree with his perspectives - and That's Okay Too. Our kids aren't us, and may not Agree with our idea about what makes a perfect family. And promoting our family ideals can push some kids right out - many of us have the experience of having lived in a family and being the "bad kid" - the one who "ruins everything" because we don't like the same things, or share the same values, or otherwise fit into the family plan. Some of us have that one kid who doesn't fit in - and I want to reassure you that that it's Okay to give them the space to be who they are, to shift your expectations to give them that space Within the family.

A big part of the issue with "chores" is that thinking about them gets tangled up in ideas about morality and molding children to a pleasing shape. It doesn't seem that way for families where kids are already mostly the "right" shape, but for those of us with kids who aren't like that, it's good to know that you can ditch those ideas entirely. Yes, there are logistics and tasks, but once you take the standardized thinking about what kids "should" do or "should" learn, they're Just logistical puzzles. There are lots of ways to solve them without "chores". And it doesn't hurt kids one bit to explore those other options.

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