teach your children boring crap

i have really been living up to my nom de blogge recently. i have been super-crabby. probably a mix of pregnancy hormones, not having jared around to vent to (somehow talking to the cat about how irritated i feel about the little annoyances of daily living doesn’t really make me feel any better), & seasonal allergies.

i got really grumpy the other day when yet another person expressed their ignorant perspective that children should not be taken along on errands. i swear, every time a kid has a tantrum at the grocery store or the pumpkin patch or the doctor’s office or whatever, five more people have to roll their eyes & say something like, “children don’t belong in a grocery store/pumpkin patch/doctor’s office.” i was particularly aggravated this time because the person saying it is in fact a mother herself. so you’d think she might know better. hasn’t she ever had to take care of an errand while no one was around to watch the kid at home? if not, what kind of charmed life is she leading?

i tried to make the point that children need to learn by example. if you want your kid to know how to grocery shop for itself one day, or do its own laundry, or deposit a check at the bank, maybe it’s actually a smart move to take the kid along while you do these things for yourself. she said that she agreed that outings could be educational, & that is why she only takes her child on educational outings, like to the the science museum or the petting zoo or whatever. which teaches the kid…what, exactly, about handling the more mundane aspects of leaving the house & taking care of business? someone else tried to point out that it’s good for kids to have to do boring stuff like go to the grocery store because they need to learn that the world doesn’t revolve around them. if the only time they are ever leaving the house is for a “special educational opportunity” or kid event like a soccer game or a trip to the zoo, they’re going to be ill-equipped & whiny when they have to do something that is boring but necessary, like go to the laundromat. & then when the kid is in college, it will totally be that kid who brings their laundry with them when they visit on the weekend so mom can wash it. ugh. who wants that?

this reminds me of how jared & i were hanging out with some friends a few weeks ago & we were talking about parenting strategies. i was talking about some interesting tips i’d picked up from a book about how to involve your baby is tidying & cleaning even before it is really old enough to be helpful. even a little eight-month-old baby can play with a dishtowel. so the book suggested giving the baby a towel or rag while mom &/or dad is wiping up whatever mess happened during lunchtime & the baby will mimic what its parent is doing. that way, baby feels involved & engaged, giving the parent the necessary time to straighten up (rather than rushing around trying to pry hardened banana off the table while baby is napping), & it’s learning a useful life skill at the same time.

the friends we were with were like, “oh, i think it’s cruel to make a baby clean up.” i tried to explain that it’s less cruel & more impossible to actually expect the baby to be helpful in this process, & it’s more about involving the baby in the little details of life & modeling behavior that will be helpful in the long run. i mean, if the baby is equally entertained by playing with a dish towel & watching an elmo video, i personally would prefer the dish towel approach because figuring out how to wipe up a spill is a more useful skill than being able to sing some dumb elmo song over & over, right? i told them, “i just really don’t want my kid to be one of those kids who leaves home & has no idea how to do its own laundry or wash its dishes or balance its checkbook or whatever.” (in part because i myself left home without knowing a lot of adult skills that would have been pretty useful to me. i had to teach myself.)

one of the people started laughing & said that he never learned how to do laundry. he said he was supposed to do his own starting in high school, but he figured out that if he just put it in the laundry room, his mom would eventually do it, & now his wife does it. i was kind of flabbergasted. in my house, i do my laundry & jared does his laundry. i think the only time i have ever done any of jared’s laundry was when he was sick & really needed some fresh socks or something, & i was doing my own laundry awyway. i threw some of his socks in with my wash. we have totally different laundry styles & it just works for us to take care of our own, even though we have lived together for over four years. before we had our own washer, we would often go to the laundromat together, but our laundry was still washed & dried separately. i mean, maybe we’re weird, but i would kind of feel like i’d done something wrong as a parent if my kid grew up to expect someone else to do its laundry, or accepted responsibility for doing his/her partner’s laundry. i mean, there are way worse things that could happen. i would feel like even more of a parent failure if my kid grew up to be a murderer or something. by comparison, laundry is not a big deal. i guess i just value independence & competence & i think basic skills like knowing how to pick up after yourself, or manage your basic finances, or cook a simple meal with a vegetable side are being ignored while kids are being over-indulged with trips to the science museum, karate lessons, SAT tutors, etc.

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3 responses to “teach your children boring crap

  1. I think it’s pretty cruel when parents don’t teach kids how to clean up and take care of themselves. It’s a pain in the ass to reach adulthood and live on your own when you don’t know how.

    I never realized babies would mirror activities like cleaning up, but I think that’s really neat and an awesome way to build habits that will serve them well later.

    • yeah, the cool thing about babies is that EVERYTHING is new to them, & they want to do what mom &/or dad are doing. so if you model cleaning up for them, & you make it look like something that could be fun, they will want to be involved. if you just do everything for them because it’s easier that way or because you, as an adult, can do a better job than a little kid, or because you think their time would be better used watching a video about how to read or something, they will learn that cleaning up is something they can’t do or don’t have to do. & then when you ask them to do it, they’ll resist. not that the kid won’t eventually catch on to the fact that there are a lot of things more fun than wiping down a countertop, but my hope is that if i build those kinds of daily chores into the kid’s life from the beginning, i’ll face a little less resistance down the road. or at least know that i made an effort to teach my kid some useful life skills.

  2. It’s cruel to make a baby clean up? No way! It’s a very Montessori thing to do! It’s important to teach little ones how to wash dishes and chop vegetables for soup and sweep floors. Real life activities help children with both fine and gross motor skills and to become independent. Plus chores can boost their self esteem and confidence levels. There are few toys that can do all those things at once. So give your child a dish towel – and a small bowl to wipe.

    If I had a second chance to raise my daughter, I would seriously consider following Dr. Maria Montessori’s approach to child raising. And I don’t think any educated person would look at me like I was nuts if I said that aloud.

    Hang in there. And have fun teaching your child “boring crap!” You’ll be surprised at how rewarding it will be for both of you.

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