Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Responsibility, Privilege and Accountability

This is the parenting dilemma: it is far easier to do everything for your children than it is to teach them or get them to do things for themselves. But if you do so, your children will grow to be irresponsible, incapable and not very nice. Of course, leading them down the right road might well make the parent into a person who's not very nice...

We have chores here for our nearly 7- and 9-year old daughters (oh snap---how can THAT be?). There are the daily things that never change: make your bed, keep the bedroom tidy, rinse your toothpaste out of the sink kinds of things. Then there's the almost-daily stuff that rotates by week: empty all the wastebaskets, keep the potties stocked with toilet paper, that kind of stuff. Finally there's the Saturday chore which is really mostly me teaching them some of the more heavy household cleaning---one of them will vaccuum the upstairs hallway, one dusts the living room furniture, some kitchen floor sweeping, that kind of stuff.

We make a big deal of the relationship between privilege and responsibility here. They're a matched set. No big kid privileges if you're not accountable for your big kid responsibilities. I think I'm about blue in the face over saying that. And I have one kid, she'll be the attorney, who always wants to negotiate just one extra little treat for performing what I believe is just the minimum contribution to the family and household.

Parenting is not for the faint of heart. With obligations for daily cleaning of bedrooms and near daily inspection of said rooms, this is what Anna's room looks like tonight:


OK, let's break it down: that's a kid-sized rocker on its side, just right about where she'll land when she plops out bed tomorrow. At the end of her bed is a white bear that's about 4 feet tall and weighs about 25 pounds. At the head of her bed is a horse of about the same size (her companion from the days when she re-invented herself as "Tina the cowgirl" and refused to acknowledge any other identity...). You can see her foot hanging off the middle of the bed---she couldn't possibly lie in the usual manner given the fact that in between the horse and the bear, she has no fewer than 20 other stuffed toys of varying species. I see also a wicker basket on top of the horse (perhaps full of oats?). Every single one of her dresser drawers hanging open with clothes strung everywhere. A public library's worth of books on the floor, in addition to trash, laundry, clean clothes, every single scrap of paper she's ever come across in her life. I see her empty Easter basket (makes me very worried about where the straw is...), her lunchbox, her sleeping bag kind of in the middle there. I see two lovingly-hand-quilted blankets on the floor. Also an overturned bowl that undoubtedly once held contraband bedroom food... and is perhaps soiling the carpet.

I'll be brutally honest at the risk of everyone thinking I must not be paying any attention to my children: the room is actually worse than it looks in this photograph. You can't see what's stuffed under the bed, or all the hundreds of things just beyond the knocked-over rocking chair. You've no idea how much clothing is on the floor, draped on pieces of furniture I couldn't even fit in the frame.

What do you think? Has she been accountable for her responsibilities today? What kinds of privileges are due to a child at this stage of life? How in the world can I possibly convince her that not only is keeping your room this way just maddening and disgusting and ugly, its also probably unsafe. Seriously, when I went in there to give my sleeping beauty a smooch, I damn near couldn't find her! And I'm not making this up: yesterday her room was almost reasonably presentable.

Take a deep breath, square my shoulders; tomorrow I'm going in. With 13-gallon trash bags and no remorse. And Anna, that lucky duck---tomorrow she won't have to clean her room when she comes home from school.

She only keeps house like Oscar the Grouch. In every other way she's much more like ... someone much more adorable and impossibly charming.

5 comments:

Melissa said...

At least I know when I read your blog, I will get a good laugh for the day!!

I have to admit, when I was Annas's age, my room looked an awful lot like that! Something to look forward too....

Kathy said...

Thanks! I desperately need for someone to tell me how normal this is. I'm on my way in now; if you don't hear from me in a couple of hours, send out the National Guard...

Special K said...

OMG! That picture is hilarious! Oh, that takes me back. The best part is her tiny little foot sticking out, although it took me a minute to find it! (btw, your daughter's wall color is v. similar to the color I just painted my bathroom!)

Kathy said...

Wow---and your kitchen looks to be just about the color of Lindsay's room, just across the hall!

I love the foot sticking out, too. Its dirty. She is such a great kid.

Special K said...

Yes, it seems our families are on the same wavelength. If you saw my bedroom, you might want to attack it with garbage bags too! (: