I was visiting an old friend and her thirteen-year-old daughter had just returned from school. The atmosphere in the house was kind of thick. Well, you could cut the air with a knife, it was so palpable. My friend settled down next to me with a cup of coffee and obviously, she looked a bit worried. I asked her if everything was fine.
“Not really, you see! My daughter is expecting friends this evening and she had hoped I would tidy up the mess around her room. But I’ve begun to feel that she is grown up enough to do her own things. I’m just trying to teach her these things and she is indignant.”
“And why did you have to wait all these years to get the ball rolling?” I blurted.
Well, to cut the long story short, I felt that my friend had unknowingly led her daughter to live a life of entitlement for thirteen long years and now, all of a sudden, she was chasing her to become responsible!
This is not just one stray case. Mostly, as parents, we ask very little of our children in terms of responsibility. Another acquaintance was proudly discussing once, how she needs to pack the school bag of her twelve-year-old son, who is very forgetful and who can’t be trusted with the task at all!
This happens to be a primary reason why this constant nagging about children not being responsible doesn’t end. Parents feel that it is much easier to do a job themselves and save the trouble of getting it done in the wrong manner or not near perfect. Hence, our children feel they are entitled to all that they get- cooked food perfectly laid on tables, washes clothes, clean rooms, packed bags and even HW!! No wonder they feel the world is here to serve them.
That is exactly where the problem lies. When we solve any kind of problem for our children or do their regular chores, we send across a message to them that they aren’t capable of doing the task themselves! In fact, we land up treating them like guests of the house. If they have too much work from school, we jump into offering assistance rather than letting them learn that sometimes it is difficult and you still have to learn to deal with it.
I remember a student of mine, who once opened her school bag in class and was flabbergasted to see her dirty and stinky socks in there! It almost became a joke for the others and this girl was naturally furious. It so happened that her mother had instructed her to put her socks for laundry but the teenager had chosen to leave them right where she took them off. The mother, in turn, decided to give her a stink (taste!) of her own medicine. It took a bit of counselling to make the girl understand that she wasn’t entitled to getting clean and laundered pair of socks every morning and that she must take responsibility around the house.
I also recall my very own case. My son has always been very clumsy and spilling water, juice, milk or tea comes naturally to him. When he was little, about two or three years old I would go crazy every time he spilled something. There would be a lot of yelling around the house and I would land up mopping and cleaning after him. It became a never-ending ordeal of sorts. Then one day, when he was about four-years-old and as usual had spilled something, I tried to keep calm. I simply told him to get the mop and clean. Everyone looked at me with amazement. But I was nonchalant. Soon it became a norm in the house and every time anybody happened to spill something, they wiped it without being asked to do so.
So, where does all of this lead us? One, there is no need to wait until your child becomes an adult to pass on responsibility to them. That eighteen-year thing you know… that only applies to their voting rights. Giving children responsibility for their belongings and their home and school helps fight this disease of entitlement that seeps in so easily into them.
It is okay to hold children accountable for their actions. It may mean a kind of tug-of-war at home, but that is fine too. As parents, we need to make an intentional effort if we wish our children to be more responsible. I suggest a few handy situations that can assist in this-
1. How about hanging up the towel after a bath!
2. Those toys strewn around the room- they can easily be put away by a four-year-old. It may not be done very well, but who needs perfection!
3. Finished a meal? How about putting the plate away in the sink? It would be even better if they can help clear the table.
4. When a spill happens, you already know what to do!!!
5. Can your child just dust the books in the shelf and place them back neatly? Not much to ask for.
6. My thirteen-year-old does the laundry. It isn’t much of a task with the automated machines.
7. Can I ask them to polish/wash their shoes? Of Course!
8. Who is responsible for their home-work? Not me.
9. Basic cooking for grown up boys and girls- yes, yes, yes. Survival needs!
10. Change the bulb- they need to know how.
We often feel that by putting down rules or asking young children to work, we are somehow setting the bar very high. And it is okay to take the guilt trip at times because you are a parent. But then, keep the guilt to yourself. Because somewhere you have underestimated your child. If you raise standards to make your child responsible, believe me, nine out of ten times, they will make it. Allow them to be a part of the solution to every problem rather than lay out the solution on a platter for them. I am sure they will surprise you but be rest assured, it will be a pleasant surprise!