My oldest turned six recently. On his birthday I explained why that is such a big deal.
Me: “So when you are five and you hold up your fingers to show how old you are it is one hand. Now you need to add another finger so it takes two hands. That is a super big deal. It also means that you are ready for a new job around the house. You will start to help with laundry, you will bring your basket to the basement, move things to the drier and start it, and then load your things into the washer.”
Kid: “Oh, OK.” He says while excitedly looking at his two hands held up to show the number six.
Now to be clear I assist him with his laundry. It is something we do together, measuring out the soap and turning on the washer. He will then move his things to the drier and eventually carry things back to his room when they are done. He does not fold his own laundry yet, but he does often help me fold the house laundry. Easy things like napkins and cleaning rags.
This is not the first time he has been asked to take a role in the care of the home.
At the age of two our children must help pick up the toys they play with, and clear their dishes after a meal, including scraping food bits into the pig food bucket or compost bucket. It also means helping to clean up any messes made. Like it’s not the end of the world if you spill some milk, and you will have to get a rag and help clean the mess up.
At three we ask the kids help pick up messes even if they are not ours and ask for help with projects on the estate or in the barn. This would be picking up weeds in their wheel barrow to bring to the compost pile, collecting eggs during barn chores, or harvesting cucumbers.
With four comes the ability to start creating things in the wood shop and fiscal awareness. Kids may play in the wood shop before then, but four comes the ability to have ones own set of tools which really opens up the possibilities. It also means having a bank (or rather making one). We don’t generally give our kids money directly, but other people do at times and then they have a place to save it up till they can buy something they want. The rule is that you may only buy a new toy if you have taken care of the items one already owns. For example my son has a play bow and arrows that he plays with quite a bit. Despite numerous reminders to put his arrows away out of his sisters reach he did not and the girls broke them all. So when he had enough money he replaced his own arrows. Now a year later he has accumulated over ten dollars and we have started conversation about what he may want and how much he would need to save to get those things.
Five means a pocket knife and scissors. This one is big. It means knowing your limits and boundaries, being aware of your own body in space, and putting things away so little hands don’t get them. A year later this knife still involves a lot of supervision. Meaning it is something that can be used in the house or on the porch. At some point I will grant access to romps in the woods but we are not their yet.
There are lots of reasons why we have taken on installing this independence and responsibility in our little people. Truth is it takes a lot of time to follow through with these requests. Like, it would be easier to clear the table and pick up the toys my damn self.
However when the kids ask me to do something and I explain the things in the house I need to get done first they have a respect and awareness of those things. Or they know they can offer help so I will be available sooner. Or if the kids eat dinner at another house and come home and I have picked up their room they all say thank you unprompted. When they go to other homes they offer to help even if other kids aren’t. And of course these things don’t happen everytime but at least it is the norm and it is not necessarily expected. I feel like my job as parental unit is to prepare my kids to be well rounded adults. I don’t want them to have to figure out taking care of themselves and a home while taking on the financial and legal responsibility of being an adult. So each year we take a small step on that direction.
There are no monetary compensations for these tasks. I do not get paid to taking care of these things, and i am sure as hell not gonna pay my kids to do the same stuff. We do these tasks to know together that each day we are working towards a common goal, that we are a team. To take an ownership over the home and take pride in a job well done. I pay special attention to stop what I am doing to acknowledge the kids efforts in the home, especially when it is unprompted.
Now when the kids reach an age where they need their own finances their are ample opportunities on our farm for employment. That is separate, in my mind, then care of the home. There is the opportunity for childcare, mowing, providing one on one support, office support, or even lending a hand in haying season.
But those days are far away, and in the mean time we will teach these mini humans what it means to a contributing part of a team. So commit to holding your child accountable for one thing in the house. Knowing the help will come in time. Its not about the help around the house to start. Its about building an awareness and an appreciation.