Recently, The New Yorker magazine published a piece called, Spoiled Rotten: Why Do Kids Rule the Roost? The title pretty much sums up the article—writer Elizabeth Kolbert examines why so many American parents do just about everything for their children from household chores to tying their shoes. The result? By indulging our children and expecting so little of them when they’re young, she speculates, we’re creating a nation of future incompetent grown ups stuck in “adultescence.”
Kolbert is a great writer, comparing our culture with others that parent differently to us. For instance, tribes in the Peruvian Amazon not only encourage but expect their children to be helpful. (Kolbert introduces us to Yanira, a six-year-old child from the Matsigenka tribe who not only fishes in the evening for crustaceans but also cleans, cooks, and serves them to the others in the tribe. Nice.) Even the French have one up on us believing that ignoring their kids (as opposed to indulging them) is not only good for them but also a crucial component to helping them evolve into altruistic adults, ones that can better cope with the frustrations of life.
Yet Kolbert herself admits to doing too much for her own kids. In a bold move she decided to give her sons a “new” chore—taking in the groceries from the car. When one son dropped a bag and the contents splattered across her driveway, she gave him another “new” task—taking out the garbage. But when he didn’t do well with that assignment either failing to properly close the trash can lid attracting a hungry bear, Kolbert gave up deciding that it’s better to do it all herself. Talk about ironic.
But that’s where she lost me as I honestly couldn’t relate.
Although my husband and I know our kids have it good, I mean really good (i.e. they are not lacking for free time or the latest electronics by any means although they would argue otherwise), they also pull their weight around here. Big time. They have to because I won’t do it all. Call me spoiled! Carrying the groceries into the house and taking out the garbage are a given—they’re just one of many chores that my twins and their younger, singleton brother perform each week. Don’t get me wrong—I can hover with the best of them but I consciously fight the urge to do it all for my kids and instead prefer to teach them to do for themselves.
When twins are your first-born, you quickly realize that if you don’t get help, you’ll sink. It’s a matter of survival. But once family and friends stop coming around regularly, usually after that first month, you have to come up with another way of coping. That’s when I personally turned to my own kids. They needed to buck up—and quick! Like most parents of twins, I never felt the need to constantly entertain my toddlers, the bane of modern-day parenting. They were happy to play with each other for hours.
But it was around the time that my boys reached first grade that it hit me—if I had to make just one more peanut butter and jelly sandwich, I would lose it. So one day when one son asked for another, I looked at him and said, “Why don’t you make it?” He smiled and pulled a chair over to our kitchen island and popped a piece of bread into the toaster. It wasn’t a perfect sandwich and my kitchen took a bit longer to clean that afternoon but we were off and running. I was free! Yes, they still make their own lunches as well as their own breakfast (except on Sunday when my husband makes pancakes for everyone). My boys cook dinner for us, sort laundry, vacuum, and even clean bathrooms.
Yes, we’re trying to teach our boys to be independent, self-sufficient adults but when my kids help out around the house, I like them better. Without playing the martyr and doing it all myself, I’m not resentful and I can actually enjoy being a parent to my kids. I like showing them how to make homemade tomato sauce or the best way to iron a dress shirt. It’s how we bond and connect.
So if you’re expecting twins, do yourself (and your kids) a huge favor and give your dynamic duo chores early and often.