It seems like there is this phase kids go through where they really want to imitate their parents. My 14 month old son is in that phase now. This’ll tell you all you need to know about how I’ve spent the last 14 months of my life: he just adores wiping up spills, sweeping and pushing his mini-vacuum back and forth. He thinks it’s just fantastically fun to blot up spills (almost always his) by dancing on top of a white rag set over the spill.
|“It’s cool, mommy, I got this one.”|
So I’m going with it, I’m encouraging the hell out of that behavior. When he smears peanut butter all over the table with a rag because he’s helping, I clap and cheer.
When he takes his little broom and “sweeps” at the dirt, crumbs, hair, and cheese stick wrappers I finally got into a pile and am just about to sweep into the dust pan, I thank him for his good help. Never mind I now have to re-sweep the whole mess.
When he “puts away” the pile of diapers I’ve just washed and folded by grabbing and running with them all over the house, I show him where they really belong and use my idiot-child sing-song voice to encourage him to, “put the diapers…right!…on the shelf!” And then for good measure I say, “Yay! Good job!”
Here’s the painful truth: I hate every goddamn minute of this cheerleading. Okay, maybe that’s a bit strong. There is something adorable in seeing a little boy wipe up his own mess. But it takes time and patience to teach a child to do something properly, and often I have little time and less patience.
I would much rather just get the laundry folded and put away, get the dirt in the dustpan, and wipe up the spills once, instead of four or five times after each bout of toddler “help.” I’m all about efficient, and a 14-month-old with a broom is not efficient. I frequently find myself wanting everyone to just leave me the hell alone so I can just do it all myself. So I can do it faster, so I can do it efficiently, so I can do it the right way.
I try very hard to master this impulse towards perfectionistic martyrdom. In a few years, my son is going to realize that cleaning up after himself isn’t actually that fun, and I’m racing the clock to get him in the habit of personal responsibility, now, before it’s a much harder-to-fight battle.
I have some reason to believe the “start ’em young” method works. My 7 year old cleans her own room, puts away her own clothes, unloads and loads the dishwasher and (when requested) feeds the cats and the chickens and watches her brother. She has been known to clean the entire kitchen just to help out, and she knows that there are always jobs that can be done should she need to earn some spending money.
I’m not saying this to be one of those asshole moms who think their kids are perfect. (My kids aren’t perfect. They take after their mom that way.) And I can’t take full credit for my daughter’s willingness to do chores because she’s a natural people pleaser. She just likes to be helpful. But I will take partial credit and say that we started her on chores early, back before they were really chores, back when they were just play.
I think it makes a difference, so I’m faking patience until the payoff in a few years when he can do shit for himself.
One of Oliver’s chores is to come outside with me to the chicken coop and collect the eggs. He carries one egg inside and I carry the rest. Then he puts the eggs in the egg carton.
Usually it works.
Sometimes it doesn’t.
Sometimes the cost of teaching Oliver is broken egg and a little extra clean-up for me. It would be faster and simpler for me to do this egg gathering solo, maybe while he’s taking a nap. And don’t think I’m not tempted. Who really wants to clean egg off the patio, the kitchen floor, the counter or the carpet? But the minute I say “let’s check the chickens!” Oliver is at the back door, ready to go get his egg. He knows.
Through this chore we work on gentle, careful, and all the other qualities that are required to get an egg from coop to fridge in one piece. I’m often frustrated and frequently bite my tongue as I grab a wet rag. But the reward is a kid who is starting to see himself as capable and responsible. That’s worth way more than a few broken eggs.
Slowly, painfully, we’re faking it ’till we make it, to patience.