Eugene, OR

Got Kids? Some Tips on Raising Good Ones.

Julia Hubbel, Walkabout Saga, Horizon Huntress by Mathilde Langevin on Unsplash

No, I am not a parent. However, this article reminded me of just one reason why mine rocked, at least in this regard.

Before you bark at me that I admit to not liking kids (you’d be right), this isn’t about the joy of babies. It is, however, a loving acknowledgment of my long-dead parents, and in the same way a knock on the knobby craniums of those misguided, self-absorbed moms and dads who think that household chores for their kids are slave labor.

Oh for crying out loud. Will you please.

Give it a few years. Some of those same folks are likely to be the people who bitch about “kids these days” (every generation does it), how kids can’t take care of their finances, dishes, sew on a button, make their beds, blah blah blah.

Well, folks. Many of you voted to help remove home economics classes from school. And many if not most of those same folks refused to engage their kids in the ongoing, everyday tasks of learning to be in life, in large part, the way I hear it (and which is validated by research) because they don’t want to have to clean up the inevitable messes made by small, learning hands.

How the hell did YOU learn, Skeezix? Did Scotty just beam your competence down or did you download it Matrix style?

Here’s the article:

Are We Raising Unhelpful, Bossy Kids? Here's The Fix

It was a simple experiment. Lucia Alcala, a psychologist, built a tiny model grocery store with aisles and different…\

This is a follow-on to the NPR radio show where the author was interviewed about what her child was like (Rosy was a holy terror, apparently, and they were always and forever at war), and why she embarked on this research. I have been to some of the places she described, as well has having traveled to some 47 countries and immersed myself in tribal culture. What they do to develop competent, capable adults used to be a way of life in agricultural America if for no other reason than Mom and Dad were desperate for additional, competent, capable help to run the farm. As soon as a kid could collect eggs, here’s the basket. As soon as a kid could watch an infant, here, your job, Mom has to milk the cows. Slaughter a pig. Make butter.

And so on.

That is how I grew up. When I was four, my father poured me into an elevated cage full of some thirty pullets, which are adolescent chickens. My job was to collect the one that the others were pecking to death (sounds like America, doesn’t it?) and Dad would move the bird to a safe place to recover. I got paid a quarter a week. When I got too heavy, my jobs escalated out of the pullet cages, as did my strength. By the time I was about ten I was packing and moving great heavy boxes of eggs, lifting a 100 lb bag of sweet feed into its barrel, and a great deal more. I loved being strong, competent, valuable to the farm.

By the time I was sixteen, I had moved out on my own for other reasons (to protect myself from my predatory brother and my father’s alcoholism). But by then I knew how to save money, work with the bank, make change, work with customers, succeed at school, cook, manage a household. My father resented my independence but I also know he was secretly very proud that I promptly located a job, an apartment, and was working and paying my way through school.

My father had an innate understanding of what it would take to develop my skills to successfully be in life. I suspect he was passing down what he learned from his dad, as was my mother. Life is full of jobs, large and small. The fundamental competence which comes of learning to help around the house, make a mess of things, laugh at the mess -which is in its own way a critical emotional maturity lesson in perspective- and clean it up allows for a child to learn how to take responsibility, be in community, add value, and watch out for the larger community once they leave the family.

A parent far more compulsively concerned with avoiding the inevitable messes that kids make will bring up an inept, terrified kid who doesn’t play well with others, whose laundry and dishes sit for weeks until Mom comes over, and who still believes the money just magically leaves the ATM into your hand that’s all there is to it. Mom and the bank will always make life easy, until Mom’s gone and your bank account is overdrawn. photos

There’s plenty of that around right now. Don’t blame the kids. Not their fault. This is on the parents.

If you don’t want to be one of those puerile people who barks about “kids these days,” don’t bring up your kids to fail. I didn’t choose to parent. However, I had a couple who chose to invest in my learning chores, earning an allowance for those chores, discipline if I skipped them (thereby forcing a parent to do the work, which wasn’t fair to them), and praise for work well done. I can invariably tell who around me had similar parents. Whatever age they are, they are a joy to be around because they are competent in life’s basics, and not stumped when a pump goes out.

Charlotte Lucas, who is Lizzie’s best friend in Pride and Prejudice, marries the insufferable Mr. Collins. Collins offers her a good home and protection in exchange for her tolerance of his stupidity. When Lizzie comes to visit, Charlotte gushes,

“Oh Lizzie, I SO love running my own household!”

Charlotte has found ways to ensure that her exposure to him is limited (she constantly pushes him into the garden for his own good) and has roped off a parlor for “her own particular use,” into which Collins is never allowed. She knows precisely what she’s doing, and she has reason to be proud not only of her house but of how she so adeptly manages it. Those are life skills.

For some reason I fell in love all over again with that movie this past year. That line leaps out at me every time I take deep and abiding pleasure in creating a magnificent, beautiful and well-run home here in Eugene. I have done all the work from selling my place to finding a new one to managing the move, moving most of my own boxes, hiring all the suppliers and contractors, to learning to work the fireplace insert and convection oven, the complex stove top and everything else. I manage the yard work, and jerk out the invasive ivy and hire the help to do what’s over my pay grade. I climb the ladders to clear my gutters, sweep my roof and keep the place immaculate. I stack and split my own wood. I run my business, exercise my body and feed myself responsibly and push myself to learn every single day.

I didn’t learn all that by osmosis. I learned that beginning the very first time I ever gave my mother an egg from the basket for her to break for breakfast. I felt useful. Wanted to be more useful. Was allowed to be more useful. The better I got the harder the jobs, the more confident I was until I was doing things most little Southern girls my age couldn’t have imagined. Part of the reason I am so competent in extreme conditions is because of these gifts that my parents gave me.

You and I learn those habits, the foundations for a successful life when we start out by dropping a spoonful of Mom’s muffin makings and make a holy mess on the kitchen counter. We want to help. And by allowing us to help, and mess up, and make it fun, we want to do more helping. And we really, really, really want to do it right, like Mommy and Daddy, or whomever is our adult. That takes patience, time, and if you will allow me this, loving our kids enough to realize that chores aren’t chores so much as community-building lessons. Confidence-building exercises.

This is what’s called adulting, not robbing our kids of the very training that they need to be successful adults because we can’t be bothered with additional cleanup.

That makes us the selfish child. Because we bring up kids who are a slave to others, they can’t care for themselves, can’t manage life’s simple basics, and are stressed to the gills when a blouse gets a stain. To my mind, call me a cretin, it is deeply unkind and irresponsible NOT to require your kids to do chores. Because I guarantee you, as I am doing in this love letter to my folks, at some point your once-chubby cherubs will be singing your praises for making them scrub the tub so that they could lay out the Legos for a few hours.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to clean out last night’s ashes, vacuum the floors, empty the dishwasher, and set out my gear for an afternoon of horse riding.

I just love managing my own household.

Thanks to my folks, I know how to do it like a boss.

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Eugene, OR

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