02/01/2005: Responsibility Month Experiment
This being February 1st and all...its the end of my month long "Responsibility Experiment" that had been going on at my house since my New Year's resolution letter had been printed in the Chicago Tribune on January 1, 2005.
I have to say, I'm giving it an A- (this minus is for "nagging"...I Lied about that one...and there were a few sticky and tricky points...but over all a great success!) And if you're wondering how to get your children to go from ignoring a basement mess like this (the actual MESS no else seemed to see which I wanted "tidied up" during the holidays):
The click on the "more" button to read "below the flap."
We moms never get a real break…even our vacations involve so much planning and effort they hardly qualify as a restful holiday…and we’re so often the villainous Captain Blye forcing the swabbies to unjust duties.
Initial there was resentment (and begging, pleading, whining for me to reconsider…to no avail) about having to do these things and for a whole month! However, they resented my parental attitudes when I was doing all this stuff for them anyway. Now there is less of my own resentment at feeling under-appreciated or always being the organizer, responsible for everything and everybody. They've had some experience before...so I'm not just dumping all tasks at ground zero level...plus, since you've not seen my pantry & freezer, they'd be hard pressed to starve to death in this "house of food."
My children already knew how to do some of these things, but acted on a “Bartleby the Scrivener” notion of, “I would prefer not to.” Wouldn’t all Moms like that option too…fat chance…our world doesn’t work on an “if I feel like it” basis. While I can ignore the Playmobile™ castle in one corner of my living room…and it companion Fortress in the other corner, this wasn’t meant to be “Attila the Hun” month…with hordes of barbaric children running rampantly unsupervised through the house.
I offered some practical options on how to approach this project. One was to have an “every man for himself” approach. The other choice I offered was an approach where they agreed to cooperate and help each other to get their tasks done. They liked the cooperative idea.
Each girl chooses a "cooking night" for dinner. They have made up their own chart (taped to the kitchen cabinet) of shared chores such as who's turn it is to empty the dishwasher and wash the dirty pots and pans. If it's "Mom, we're hungry," I ask them what (of the things I can make) would they like to learn to cook. If we need to shop for the fixings, they make the list, I give them money and drop them at the grocery store and pick them up when they are done. Then I teach them how to make their choice of entree. This has the added bonus to being just their favorite choice for a meal.
Similarly, if it’s “I need clean pants,” I go over how to sort their loads, the laundry settings to use, how much soap, etc. They sort, wash and fold their stuff...because eventually they realize they do indeed want clean pants or tops to wear to school.
Finally, we have a process called the Failsafe System (mostly a psychological safety-net.) As in: First you try, then IF you fail, I will save you….but first you have to TRY. And, from my point of view, they are trying and succeeding…they are not failing. . This is not a "punishment" in terms of "do this or you'll be grounded" type of usual parental nagging and threats to enforce behavior. My light lies at the other end of that tunnel in teaching the self-reliance and skills to get there that will bring us all into the "many hands make light work" model rather than the "Mom'll get to it, if I don't" model.
I've taken their own needs/desires/wants and put them into the actions they can take to achieve their own goals. It has become their needs transformed into reality by their own efforts (and less effort on my part as they become proficient over time.) So, after years of the usual cajoling, bribery, grounding, praise, threats and punitive methods that all worked only occasionally…I think I’ve found something that works and will hold up over time to transform the dynamic of our household approach to jobs. Plus, It never hurts to keep your sense of humor…no matter what happens. The only household member who was “excused” was our FurKid, Sami the dachshund, who didn’t have to cook her own meals or do her own laundry…though she did pick up her chew-toys. We did make a few adjustments for dealing with “intransigence” if something vital was not finished, and accommodations for finals and studying to lend a helping hand.
The best comment of the months was: “It just never stops…I just finish with dishes and I have to do it all over again…Eughhh.” Housework Déjà Vu. Can’t we all relate to this?
My husband, an erstwhile supporter of my efforts, wishes I had been published my letter under an assumed name (to save face)…so perhaps I should have called myself Silence Dogood in honor of the renewed interest in Ben Franklin and the success of the current movie National Treasure. He also said he’d only comment if he was provided separate representation of counsel or he’d take the Fifth Amendment because anything he could say would tend to incriminate himself.
Now, no drooling over this scrumptious list, but they’ve learned to make: Cheese & Spinach Stuffed Shells; Homemade Eggdrop Noodles with Pot roast & Gravy; Noodles Alfredo with Chicken; Blonde Brownies; Homemade Ravioli (Meat, Cheese, Sweet potato, Mushroom); Soft Shell Chicken Tacos; Pancakes (Blueberry, Choc Chip, Peanut butter); Bacon & Steamed Eggs with Dill; Scrambled Eggs with Veggies ; Pasta Fresca; Pot-Belly style Sandwiches; Pork Tenderloin with Rice and a Creamy Mustard-Dill sauce. (Sorry, no…you can’t have dinner at my house.)
The Plan is to keep this going…they Can Do IT and I Expect It. I will be rotating back into cooking meals and lending a helping hand…but they will continue with their own laundry, shopping, dishes and things to help themselves to becoming the responsible adults they need to be. Hey...it's also “freed me up” time-wise to even join this blog website The final message is that we are a family and we are all in this together and can work and help each other to maintain our lifestyle better than if we all just go it alone. Thanks for the calls and e-mails of encouragement and support from many moms (and even a dad too) who know exactly what I am up against.
Karen on 02.01.05 @ 05:37 AM CST