We have so many conveniences today that weren’t around when I was a kid and before I declared this, my mom said the same. As did her mom. Each generation since the Industrial Revolution has seen the advent of yet another gizmo or gadget designed to make the business of life more convenient.
iPads, iPhones, remote controls, clothes dryers, coffee grinders, automatic transmissions, GPS (thank you, Garmin, from the most directionally-challenged individual on the planet)…the list is endless.
I pay special homage to the inventors of the dishwasher. This nifty little rectangular miracle saves hours every day (no more dishpan hands, Madge!). It’s a simple matter of stacking the dishes (don’t nest the spoons – they won’t get clean), dropping in some detergent and pushing start. And it doubles as an extra storage cabinet when you don’t feel like emptying it. Washing the dishes is foolproof!
Unless you ask one of your kids to do it.
Picture this: we’ve just finished eating dinner. I feel triumphant (got a meal on the table that didn’t involve take-out containers or pasta…and it involved chopping vegetables). Our kitchen looks like it’s been ransacked because when I cook I am a culinary artist and artists don’t stop to put things away as they go – it disrupts the creative process (or maybe I’m just a tiny bit disorganized…it was kind of a one pot meal).
After dinner there was much left to do outside the kitchen. Laundry, floating around picking up clutter, watching the football game (mostly that); so the kitchen mess, although I could feel it taunting me, started looking like my next procrastination victim. There were other things to do. After one last furtive glance at the crime scene, I trudged upstairs to the next exciting household adventure (are you wondering what joy awaited? Nagging my kids to put their laundry away).
Meanwhile, my husband was on the couch dozing and watching football (this is rare…no, really…no, really) and casually asked one of the girls to clean up the kitchen. He has a tendency to dole out chores and then forget about it; meaning no one is supervised and the work doesn’t usually get inspected, which leaves the chore-doer plenty of room for defining what that chore should look like when completed. As if he set out to prove what could go wrong with this approach, forty minutes later I came downstairs to discover this:
Now, these mishaps will happen on occasion. Look at poor Alice in the Brady Bunch when someone (Bobby) put too much laundry soap in the washer. Ultimately Bobby learned the right way to do it and they all had a good laugh in the end, but what a mess! In defense of my child, she did a marvelous job with the stacking, and the Dawn bottle did say “dish soap”.
Regardless, a confession here on the blog felt appropriate. Here I am espousing the importance of independence and responsibility in today’s kids and as it turns out, mine can’t even distinguish between dish soap and dishwasher soap. The real problem? They lacked proper supervision (What? Football was on…he was busy), but any way you slice it, these kids should possess some basic household skill by middle school. The dishwasher melee was horrifying for me, not because of the bubbles everywhere, but because of what it told me about my kids (husband).
Someone commented on my recent blog post about household chores – she wrote that her elementary school-aged child was doing her own laundry. I read it and smiled, thinking ‘good for her’ and promptly forgot. In the wake of last night’s imitation of the Lawrence Welk show in my kitchen, however, it has gotten me thinking that there is a second step to this independence quest that some of us may be overlooking (not you, commenter – I am so impressed!).
We are actually responsible to be present for our kids’ first few forays into uncharted territory. It’s not as simple as ordering them to “clean the kitchen”. If they don’t have the tools or knowledge and they screw up, it’s on us the first few times. Think back to the 1800s (my pop culture go-to if you’re having trouble picturing it? Little House on the Prairie). Kids as young as 8 and 9 years old were working in lumber mills, operating dangerous equipment and putting themselves at risk for bodily harm. I am sure many were hurt or even killed, but the thing is, they learned their trade from someone that was probably older and more experienced so most of them did just fine. They didn’t just walk into the mill and start hauling lumber all over the place. It was literally a matter of life and death for them to learn the right way to accomplish a task (and all the while they were calling their elders ‘sir’ and ‘ma’am’…LOVE THAT!).
Look at us today! Surrounded by modern conveniences! It has never been easier to run a household, get food on the table and entertain ourselves. In fact, our convenience mentality is swinging us too far to the other side of the spectrum. Since we don’t have to work as hard, we’re all obese. We take our easy lives for granted and come up with all kinds of ailments and complaints (depression, Seasonal Affective Disorder, the line at Starbucks is SO long) to fill up all the time we’re saving by not having to milk the cow and feed the chickens every morning. Our predecessors had no time to worry about how their nails looked or whether their birthday parties would be cool. They performed back-breaking work from sunup to sundown, got a solid 7 hours then woke up and did it all over again. Every Day. Of Every Year. The kids were right there helping – alongside their parents.
Once again, moms and dads, it really boils down to us. How willing are we to put in the time to teach our kids true independence and responsibility? It’s always going to be easier to do it ourselves or bark out an order from the couch, but if we want to shape them into successful independent and responsible adults, handing them the keys, so to speak, is just the first step. Keeping with the key analogy, when your kid gets his permit do you let him take the car and ‘figure it out’? Of course not. You have to sit next to them in the passenger seat and help them. Actively.
If they screw up (and they will – see photo), our job is to help them course-correct, not give up on them or yell at them when they were never given the tools for success in the first place.
We laughed about the bubbles later that night (after dragging the Shop Vac out and pouring half a bottle of olive oil into the dishwasher to break them up) and the funniest part? I was the one that ended up learning a lesson.