01/24/2005: Holiday from Drudgery
This is A New Year’s Resolution letter I wrote that appeared in the Chicago Tribune's Voice of the People on January 1, 2005
Holiday from Drudgery
An Experiment in Personal Responsibility
This is an article about a month long experiment in the idea of “Personal Responsibility” for my household of five. It comes with a warning label: Not Suitable For Children Under Ten Years of Age. (But since my crew of daughters are 11, 13 and 15, and my husband is of consenting age, I feel safe venturing into uncharted territory in my attempt to rescue some sanity and respect for the 24/7, years of long care and nurturing efforts that seem to be going unacknowledged and unappreciated day in and day out.)
I all started innocently enough; the usual squabbles over holiday break about jobs not done; dirty plates found unattended; crumb trails leading like Hansel and Gretel’s magic path to worse encounters with littered left-overs; and no one seeming to know (or care) why or how clean folded clothes arrive in their room…just don’t ask them to put things away. It’s been a war of attrition fought over countless weekends and holidays. It includes the last minute scramble before guests arrive to show a cohesive face of unity and cleanliness intended to lull everyone into feelings of effortless hospitality (a good mirage.)
Behind the scenes however, are the “Nazi-mother” comments, the “I’ll get to it in a minute, Mom” put-offs that mean hours from now or not at all, if truth be told. My, husband, bless his soul, is as big a culprit and enabler as the three children. There is the pile of items (clean folded laundry) that lurk waiting for some kind soul to help them back to their place in the closet (as long as it’s not him); the baggage from a trip weeks ago with (presumably full of dirty laundry) that have collapsed in the corner begging for unpacking. The perfect “do as I say, not as I do” lifestyle and role model, while get to be the proverbial “nag.”
The turning point was a transgression of traitorous disrespect that came from (unexpectedly) my husband. When he was asked to coral the neer-do-well daughters to spend five minutes to finish some straightening up (that means no scraps of litter, pop cans, empty cups, toy pieces) replied with a disdainful, “You make them pick up to your standards.” That was the last piece of lint that broke the Dromedary’s back. It said everything…these are not OUR household rules, not issues to teach OUR children, but MY standards, MY issues (unreasonable of course) and MY problem to enforce same.
So, we are embarking on a month long “Experiment” where in there are “No Standards” except what each shall choose for themselves and enforce for their own benefit. Likewise, with the “No Standards” comes the attendant “Responsibilities” for these choices. While I am not abdicating all of my parental role (helping with homework, carpooling from school and activities, bedtime limits on school nights, etc.) I am going to take a holiday from the drudgery of both enforcing standards and the efforts of putting my time and energy into them. These include shopping for the family and household meals, laundry for the family, cleaning rooms and dishes (and anything else they can be responsible for that I haven’t thought of.) They can get themselves up for school on time, pack & make their own lunches, fix their own snacks, make their own dinner (or get take-out), clean their own dishes, put away their own things, straighten their own rooms & bathroom, etc....and I’ll do the same for myself at the standards I wish to live by for myself. (This is also why the warning label…it isn’t suitable or wise to expect young children to fend for themselves in cooking or using kitchen or laundry items…but my crew are just the ages to navigate this experiment.)
I will of course be around in the event of a nuclear household meltdown, but I think an entire month of this course with be both instructional, interesting, and worth the effort. (And I won’t have to nag about a single thing.) While not as extreme as the parent’s picketing their children with “On Strike” signs and living on the front lawn in a tent…this is a more quiet battle, but just as important in its way as both an experiment and a statement. My attitude will be “if you’re happy with it…I’m happy with it.” So, until January 31, 2005, this effort is underway. If you like, I’ll keep up with some future updates on how this all going: my “Mom Takes a Holiday” from the drudgery while my family gets a lesson in those elusive “Standards and Personal Responsibility.”
We are almost at the close of the month...so I will post a follow up on how this Responsibility Month turned out and where we are going from there.
Karen on 01.24.05 @ 08:19 PM CST