When my children cook and clean

Posted By on December 16, 2011

If someone told me that one day, my children would do the dishes, clean the laundry, help prepare dinner, clean up afterwards, prepare their lunch for the next day … and put away their toys, I would have gone back to sleep because I would have been dreaming. Today, that dream is playing out in my house almost everyday.

Here is how it started: I noticed my children talking and playing in the next room. I was in the kitchen doing dishes, in my mind listing all the work I did so far that day: Laundry, cooking, compost, feed chickens, collect the eggs, garbage and working on my business. Resentment swelled in me and I recognized emotions reminiscent of my mother’s. She was a single mom raising my brother and me in that old tenement apartment in New York City, working more than 40 hours a week. I remember on Saturday mornings, I would wake up to chairs banging against the table, the mop banging against chairs, “Get up. You’re so lazy”, was her greeting to me.

Then for the rest of the morning, we would clean. I did it because I knew she needed help. I knew she would appreciate it. I also would have done it if she had asked. Then we would have been a team and we would have been doing it together. And if she had said “thank you”, I would have gladly done it again the next day.

What else can I do with the past but find peace with it and acknowledge I was a witness to my mother’s process. She was brought up in a very different culture. Now, I get to create my own culture. Thanks to my experiences and conscious reflection, I have learned to have compassion for my children, for my mother and myself.

Today our house operates very differently than it once did. My attitude has become: my kids like to play and they have the ability to help. Everyone participates and contributes in one way or another to the family community, from my four-year-old to my almost grown up husband. When I remind them of something that needs to be done, they gladly do it –  most of the time. The benefits are many: our home runs smoothly, I feel supported as the manager of the house, the children feel empowered and I get more time to work and play.

I hold to five simple principles:

1. Taking ownership of the attitudes I bring to chores. Do I clean begrudgingly or do I clean joyfully? What do my children see, what do they hear from me about work around the house? How much of my past do I bring to my present and who is it serving?
2. Communicating clearly with all members of the family. Agreeing on what needs to be done for the household to be sanitary, comfortable, fun and to run smoothly.
3. Creating a clear system that can track tasks and who did them.
4. Creating a space for expression of gratitude and recognition for each individual’s contribution to the home and society.
5. Letting go of expectations of how and when chores get done.

Our children will have their own expression in the world and that includes how they cook or clean. I can only guide them with my gifts, then watch them develop theirs. If I pay attention, I usually learn something too.

If you want to learn more about how to inspire your family to participate in home responsibilities, join me at the January 2012 workshop: Many Hands Make Light Work: How to inspire your family to pitch in.

About The Author

I am a Chinese-American mother of three boys, parenting with the traditions worth keeping from the East and West. I continue to learn new ways of raising a family and myself.

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