After spending the past weekend with my children and five grandchildren from ages four – fourteen , and listening to the parents talk of the usual problems of raising children; i.e., homework, chores not done, rooms not clean, little or no appreciation for the effort the parents are putting into raising them I was left with the question as to how and why these problems seem to be more serious and more prevalent than when I was growing up. The first thought that comes to mind is that everyone is so….. busy. Both parents work, there are a ton of extra curricular activities, i.e., ball games, dance lessons, music lessons and of course the HOMEWORK. Have the expectations changed? I compare this to my own childhood and teen years. My mother was a single mom, worked sometimes two shifts as a nurse to pay the bills and my brother and I had the usual homework requirements. There were a few after school activities; music lessons for awhile, an occasional ball game and some weekend school activities. We were on our own much of the time without in person supervision. The supervision was there in spirit as my mother was not a person who understood excuses of any kind. If she had promised consequences for a chore not done or homework not turned in, etc. she always kept her word. She never lied and there was no such thing as negotiation.
Several things stand out as different in Then and Now. First: There were very few diversions; TV, IPod, Xbox, etc. So, the time at home was time with little or no diversion or excuse for not doing homework or the expected chores. We had a landline phone but phone calls without a parent present and between friends were not allowed and the phone was used only for have to arrangements or emergencies and not as a means of entertainment. Second: Chores which were expected as a part of being in the family took up time each day both before and after school. We did our own laundry, kept our rooms picked up, trash, kitchen clean up and some preparation for dinner. In addition one afternoon each week was set aside for doing whatever large chores needed to be done along with our mother, i.e., the lawn mowed, heavy cleaning, etc. Third: Spiritual training which instilled the value of treating others as we would be treated, a constant inventory of ego vs. a higher power, i.e., that we were not the center of the universe and that the world did not revolve around us. We were important as a part of a family and important as individuals, however, the family always came first. We were not smarter than, better than or deserved more than the other children in our school or in our neighborhood.
Too many diversions.When I hear that children are not doing homework, expected chores, I ask what is missing in this equation? The parents are after all in charge of the amount of diversion provided by electronic devices (Aren’t they?) Only the parents can decide if the family, homework, respect for the home and its care is important enough to limit the use of some of the items that are diverting the attention of their children. So, what appears to be missing is the person who is in charge being willing to limit the diversions and send the message that school, chores, and the home are more important than a chat with a friend on the phone or facebook. Electronic games, internet chat and tv are powerful and addicting elements for all of us. Corporate marketing is behind the selling of these modes of entertainment. Sometimes parents have to face their own addiction to tv, internet, facebook, etc. in order to be able to structure the time they allow their children to use.
Chores – Children are a part of a family and the entire family lives in the house and creates the environment they live in. Are Mothers and Fathers slaves to their children. . Are your children all going to be so wealthy as to have their own personal maids do their work for them? Do you actually “pay” your children to do chores around the house? Does anyone pay you to clean up after yourself?
Spiritual Training: When a child begins to think he/she is the center of the world we create arrogance and eventual downfall. The more this fantasy is reinforced the harder will be the fall when they are faced with the real world. Children are a part of the family and their individual personalities are important to be considered, however, we do not live alone we live with families and in communities and our own needs sometimes have to be set aside for the needs of the group. How safe children feel is directly linked to how important their role in the family.
My mother has been gone now for more than 10 years. My brother and I both graduated from college with graduate degrees. I have always been grateful for the discipline and structure that I grew up with and for a mother who always kept her word. There were many times that I did not like her, however, I always knew who was in charge and felt secure and loved as a result. She was my safe container.