“…with their Xboxes and their iPods and their “I don’t need no education.” Young whippersnappers with too much sass and too little respect. They wouldn’t know an honest day’s work if it bit them in the bee-hind.”
Okay, you can stop using the crotchety old man voice now.
I’m not usually this person (though I have to admit a few thoughts like these will pop into my head occasionally). But BrightSide and I held a Family Meeting in the fall that was equal parts unspeakably ridiculous and horrific. Gotta love what happens around that dinner table, man. I’m telling you, some dinners = kiss of death to a pleasant evening.
It all started with the kids not really pulling their weight around the house. They had a couple of “official” chores (cleaning their rooms/bathroom weekly, unpacking lunch boxes after school, & feeding the dogs) and others like setting the table and cleaning up their dishes, but besides that they were kind of slack in the helping out department. I can’t remember what was the final straw, but after they went to bed one night BrightSide and I had a heart-to-heart about what was going on with them.
I **might** have heard the old man voice come out of his mouth that night. I believe the phrase “these kids today have no idea what it’s like to work” may have been used…
I agreed, the kids weren’t doing a whole lot around the house and they were more concerned with play time than working, but I can’t say I was as surprised by that as he was. I also took a hard look at myself and admitted that I wasn’t really expecting a lot from them; what we did expect was nonnegotiable, but I wasn’t giving them enough responsibility. Maybe because I stay at home and have some crazy idea that this means I should handle everything around here…
Anyway, a while ago I’d printed out a copy of age-appropriate chores, and when I looked that over I realized exactly how far behind they were in household obligations for their ages. (In case you’re curious, this is the chart I used.) So BrightSide and I discussed it, came up with a plan, and by the end of the night I’d created a “School Year Chore Schedule” (I do love a good chart!) to post in the kitchen. Ta-da! We were ready to discuss the new house rules the next night.
So we finished dinner the next evening and I started the discussion by pointing out that they’re older now and ready for more responsibility around the house, so we would be starting a new job schedule. I pull out the handy-dandy chart and begin explaining how things are going to work from here on out. They’d each have a daily chore to be completed before they could go out to play, and at the bottom there was also a list of chores that could be requested on an as-needed basis.
I’d like to point out here that these daily chores are ridiculously easy. We are NOT talking top-to-bottom cleaning on a school day here. We’re talking things like vacuum two area rugs, collect trash from the rooms/bathrooms, take trash cans to the road, wipe down the kitchen counter FOR THE LOVE OF PETE.
I spent a stupid amount of time making this chart: creating reasonable chores, taking into account their after-school activities and heavier homework days, making sure no single day would bury them. Saturday’s chore is slightly more challenging since they have more time available, but they work as a team on that one. And I explained that with this system it was really only the first week that would be hard — after that it would be maintenance clean-up, and that goes really fast.
Let me just say that we were completely unprepared for the level of D-R-A-M-A unleashed by this meeting. I had gotten about four sentences into explaining the job chart when I heard sobs from Bear’s side of the table. Heart wrenching sobs. I glanced quizzically at her and then looked over to see T-man listening with big, fat tears rolling silently down his cheeks. I looked at BrightSide for a moment like WTH but then just pressed on, figuring we’d discuss it afterward.
The complaints they could verbalize were that they were losing their play time and that having a “job” on the weekend would “take away the only free day we have!” (You can hear Bear’s dramatic flair there, right?) After all, they spend all week long in school and the only time we have to relax is the weekend and now you’re taking that away, too! What I can see in their eyes that they can’t quite articulate is that their world is crumbling around them and they are devastated.
I’m expecting child protective services to knock on the door any moment now. Who knew daily chores would ruin your children’s lives so completely? We are surely the Worst Parents EVER.
So I use my best Love and Logic voice to address their complaints: I explain that each of these jobs will take at most 10 minutes (and usually more like 5), that I’d given a great deal of thought into when to assign each one, and that I was confident they’d still have plenty of free time. I also acknowledged my own fault in having reached this point; that I should have started giving them more responsibility a long time ago so that this wasn’t coming as such a shock, and I was sorry about that.
BrightSide added a description of his dad’s life growing up on a farm…how as a kid grandpop was expected to get up at 5:00AM to milk the cows, spend all day in school, then milk the cows again after school before doing his homework, going to bed, and doing it all over again the next day. So, comparatively speaking, having one tiny chore added to their daily routine wasn’t unreasonable at all.
This didn’t seem to register through the tears.
Eventually we’d said all there was to say. I finally told them only time would show them how manageable this all was and sent them off to bed. Oh, the tears, they went on and on and on. But the next day we started using our chore chart.
And, hand to God, it was only three days later when Bear commented to T-man “I can’t believe how upset we got over these. This is really easy.” Lots of days they chose to do their chore before school just so they wouldn’t have to worry about it later. AND, lo and behold, they still seemed to have plenty of time to get into trouble outside with their friends.
The Drama. The Angst. The Horrible Wretchedness of It All. But what do you know? Everything turned out okay in the end.
I’m a little concerned about their reaction once we bring out the “Summer Chore Schedule,” though. I don’t know if my blood pressure can take another one of those traumatizing family meetings.