I've had this conversation a lot lately with moms in all different stages of parenting. I have some mom friends who have teenagers and babies and their teenagers are given a lot of responsibility with their younger siblings. They rise very well to the challenge- even enjoy it, from what I can tell. I have a lot of friends whose oldests are only three or four, but still they crave responsibility. Is this a characteristic of the oldest? Do they have a natural inclination to want to be in charge? It seems true to my experience. Not that they are necessarily bossy, just that they want to make things happen. On the other hand, Elspeth appears to want the same things. I know it's not a girl thing, maybe it's just a how-some-people-are thing. It's definitely not a how-Abby-is thing.
Amabel and I actually went through sort of a rough patch where I felt like we were butting heads a lot. It seemed like a constant power struggle, which is really rough when the one who is supposed to be in charge really doesn't want to be in charge and is painfully insecure (who could she be talking about?). I struggle with that, with having to be in charge. And when I know I need to be and I do all the work (for me it is a lot of work) to make a decision and a plan and then someone (perhaps a five-year-old?) comes along and tries to usurp that responsibility, to change the plan, to tell me what to do, I get really really upset. There are other people who can do this (sisters, mothers, friends), and that's tough too because I know that the person is much better than me at being in charge, but when it's my home and my children (the only places I assume the position of CEO), it's not for them to try to take over. It's the sort of thing that makes me crazy, but I really don't know what to do about it. Not what the post is about though, sorry. My children trying to take charge is another thing, because I can look in Scripture and see that I have a God-given authority. For some reason, God saw it fit to make me the mother of Amabel, August, and Elspeth, and put me in charge of them. George backs this up. He sees fit to leave me at home with them all day and go out into the world. Two pretty weighty votes of confidence back me up every day telling me I can do this, that I must do this. It was really hard for that season that my oldest did not seem to appreciate that God-given authority (quite frankly, I did not appreciate it either, but I knew I couldn't leave everything up to a five or six-year-old), but over time, she has learned to be humble and respectful. I think much of the problem was remedied when she started homeschooling. I have several possible theories as to why this was the case, but I really don't know for sure. Age? Environment? Consistency?
Whatever the reason, things go pretty smoothly around here these days. (Well, in this regard, at least.) I have been told a lot by other mothers that I really have a blessing in this daughter who is so willing and able to help. Yet, I remember when her desire to have something to do was there, and there seemed to be no way to really channel it properly. When I talk to moms with younger kids, they indicate this same trouble in their own family. How do we let these eager children help out without creating more work for ourselves, whether the work be with trying to deflate their ego or redo the tasks they want so badly to do but are not capable of yet?
I had a friend who let her girls help sort laundry. My feeling about this was that the laundry would likely need to be resorted, and if something was missed, could ruin the clothes- so basically, that this was no help at all. I let my children carry their plates to and from the table, but some children would spill food all over the floor, creating more work for mom. I have some friends who put their oldest in charge and rebuke their youngest ones if they do not respond to their older sibling. I am still in the phase where I have to remind the oldest that the younger ones are not required to respond to her and not to tell them what to do! So basically, things that work for one family won't necessarily work for all families, but perhaps y'all might like to weigh in about the ways you let your kids help out. It doesn't matter if they are two or twelve or twenty, someone would probably like to hear your ideas. That someone is me, for one. And I will go first.
I like Windex wipes. And damp paper towels. And Swiffers. Arm my girls with any of these, and they are busy and happy for at least thirty minutes. Even a two-year-old can wipe a window clean- or cleaner than it was, and that's something. I used to ("used to" only because we don't have them since we moved) let them color all over our sliding glass doors with those Crayola window markers, and the clean-up was as much fun as the art. When our friends were in town this winter, we ended up with four children arguing over damp rags- everyone wanted to wipe down the tables! In the end, everyone got a rag, and it was like Annie's orphanage around here- only the singing was happy. And as long as you don't have lots of porcelain knickknacks (please tell me you don't have porcelain knickknacks), almost any child can be trusted with a Swiffer. And how much of a pain is cleaning the baseboards? It's good fun if you're a kid in my house!
Amabel is just now vacuuming. This could be old or young to begin this task, I don't know. But August very much envies that she is "allowed" to vacuum. She's not very good with sweeping and he's not really able to make his bed, so we have a long way to go, but every little bit helps. Away from home, Amabel is also an excellent help with pushing strollers or grocery buggies or even running to another end of the store to grab something off a shelf. August amazes me with his chivalry. I rarely have to ask him to hold doors or let others go first.
Well, those are just a couple of examples of how I employ my children to help out. They really want to be doing something helpful and grown up, and I can always use a hand around here! We have never had "chores" or "allowances" because none of that really suits the personality of our family. I pretty much just ask my children to do something when it needs to be done and they do it (though sometimes after complaining and/or discipline). There are a few exceptions, I expect them to regularly put their dirty clothes in the laundry, put their dirty dishes in the sink, and make their beds (August daily wrestles with his down comforter, so this, as anything, requires recognition of how much they can actually do and patience to meet them where they are and encourage them for their efforts). However, I have to remind them of these tasks more times than not. But I know lots of people have more orderly and consistent ways of doing things. I hope they will share and get us thinking.