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Train the Kids to Be Self-Sufficient

May 28, 2012 by 25hoursadaymom


There are two schools of thought regarding how much help to expect from your kids around the home front. There is somebody in my life, Exhibit A, who believes the children have their “work”: Do well in school and their extracurriculars. Exhibit A believes that the parents’ jobs are to provide the environment necessary for the children to eat and remain in clean surroundings, while also bringing in the literal and figurative bacon to sustain the operation. The children are freed from the burden of maintaining household cleanliness as well as from creating food for themselves or the family, so they can focus all their efforts and energy on their own “work” of getting a 4.0 at school and doing well on swim team.

Then there is the other school of thought, where the parents believe that all members of the family contribute according to their ability to keep the household in order, secure food and prepare it, bring in an income if possible and still do their best in whatever their occupational “work” happens to be – school, employment, infant care, homeschooling, college or other.

I subscribe to the later. I guess that makes me Exhibit B. There are 3 main reasons why I believe children must do some of the work around the home:

1) It trains them to be self-sufficient

2) It trains them to consider the needs of others

3) More skills are always preferable to fewer skills

First, it trains them to be self-sufficient. It is never far from my mind that I’m not just raising a bunch of babies, I’m growing the future adults of the world. I think any typical 13-year-old should be able to competently make a complete meal from scratch and with a fair amount of complexity.  But I don’t expect them to wake up the day they turn 13 and be magically able to do so.  They learn first, when they are 11 and 12 (or younger) how to make cookies, how to make a salad, how to prepare vegetables, how to assemble a sandwich.  By the time they’re 12, they are on their way to being able to make an easier meal – say, spaghetti dinner – with little help and advising. I keep helping them until they can comfortably make a main meal with a couple of sides with little more than a cursory glance from me from time to time, or a suggestion from the wings on how to chop more efficiently, or how much olive oil to use, say.

I don’t want my kids to enter adulthood with no idea how to put together a meal or make a thing in the world that doesn’t pour out of a can or come in a microwavable tray. By the same token, I want them to have good skills for cleaning up the same kitchen efficiently and well. (Although the “treat” in my house is that if you make the meal, you are excused from clean-up duties.)

Second, it trains them to consider the needs of others. In my opinion, Exhibit A is training the kids to grow up thinking that their work is all that matters, that what keeps them busy excuses them from extending a helping hand to a spouse or a roommate who might be doing quite a lot to keep the household running. Now, I will grant you, it’s entirely possible that kids growing up with Exhibit A’s school of thought will still manage to get a clue as adults and will in fact, not turn into self-centered loafs. Human behavior is never simple. They might marry straight-shooter spouses who will tell them to get their two good legs in the kitchen and help clean up. Or maybe they’ll find God or Buddha or a Cosmic Being who reinvents their mind and makes them want to help out because they’re just so full of loving philanthropism. One never knows. But – generally speaking, you are training them when they’re little in what to expect when they’re big. If the message they hear for 18 years is, “Gee, Johnny, your Algebra and European History and All Star game is so much more important than anything I’m doing to put clean clothes on your back and provide edible meals for you every day that I’ll just manage all the grunt work of life so your way will be clear to do spectacular things,” how are they likely to think when they’re grown? As Stephen Covey says, Begin with the End in Mind.

Third, aren’t more skills better than fewer skills? I mean, wouldn’t you prefer to be confidently able to clean a bathroom, whip up some French Toast, and mop the kitchen quickly and well, rather than sitting helplessly by, hoping you can stretch your meager budget to cover pizza and a cleaning lady because you’re inept? Hey, in a perfect scenario, sure, I’d probably like to be so wealthy that cooking and cleaning are completely moot. I’d have a personal chef who makes me awesome dairy-free, healthy dinners at a moment’s notice, and a stout British nanny who slips soundlessly into the bathroom before I wake, such that there are fresh roses by my vanity and a fluffy organic cotton towel hanging on a heated robe rack, ready for me to shower whenever the thought happens into my mind…sigh. Yes, that would all be very well and good, but here on my regular-people street, all the cooking and cleaning happens (or doesn’t) on my own watch. Fortunately, my childhood left me with no illusions that I was the center of any universe. I’m giving my children the gift of many skills; should they not need them eventually, well, bully for them, but since there’s a good chance they will, I’m happy to equip them.

So, I say, equip the little buggers. They’re probably going to need it when they leave the nest and in the meantime, it gives you 30 minutes to put up a blog post.



  1. Doug Brewer says:

    I have two girls. Which means I not only have to contend with the normal childhood “I don’t wanna”, but I must also contend with the prissyness factor. “Dirt! On my new clothes!? You must be kidding!” To which I reply, “Your ass is gonna know I’m not kidding if you don’t pick up a shovel and follow me.”

    Striving to grow my own food, cut my own wood to provide heat, and raise poultry…while working a full time job with a 2 hour (each way) commute, and only having the kids on weekends…means we spend a lot of our visitation in the yard. But I take the old school approach. Which usually means, if I am working so are they.

    To me it is even more important because I have girls. I want them to know how to jump start the car (or bike), how to operate tools, and that a splinter or blister is not the end of the world. I don’t want them to grow up helpless and dependent on some boy/man to come do things for them. And I don’t want them to think that anyone will, or should, do things for them.

    They don’t like it now. I am hoping as the get older it will dawn on them that I am trying to help. There is a line in a DMX song that my oldest has learned, I mentioned it to her as an illustration of why I do what I do.

    “There’s somethin I gotta tell you and I hope you can take it. Gotta leave you in the desert and I hope that you make it. Gotta put you on your ass to see what it does to you. When you stand up you’ll see that I’m just showin love to you.”

    It’s a remake of In The Air Tonight. Good tune. Look it up. 😉 In fact… Ill post it on my own blog. Since some of the lyrics may be…er…out of place here.

  2. 25hoursadaymom says:

    Doug, I like how you think. My Blue Collar Guy husband grew up on a farm. I love that ethic. My mother-in-law says she mostly bought the cow to teach the kids the value of work. “Builds character,” she’s fond of saying. Milking a cow at 5:00 am before you go to school when it’s 35 degrees out isn’t for sissies! Even as a grandmother, her idea of “playing” with the kids is having them help dig potatoes or shell peas. I really love that!

    My guy chops wood every day, too. We have a wood-burning furnace outside that’s tied into the basement. Watching a guy chop wood to keep the literal home fires burning – natural aphrodisiac! 😉


  3. Sharon says:

    Danielle – just reading through all your blog posts (really fun to read btw). Now I know how to get my kids off the couch more! I never really had the boys help with the cooking because I am just too lazy to teach them. They do know how to do most of the chores around the house but I feel like I’m always telling them to do something. I think cooking might be fun for them and definitely beneficial for the life they will have outside of my house (hopefully).

  4. 25hoursadaymom says:

    @Sharon – It is somewhat annoying to have them learn to cook. My introverted self way prefers just doing the cooking myself and not have to talk and chatter the whole time. 😀 But I do think it’s worth it. Collin will be cooking at least one meal a week all summer. Kyla will as well.

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