Thursday, 31 August 2017

Do chores ruin a happy childhood?

This is the extended* article, first published in the York Press on Tuesday, August 8th, 2017.

I was reading an article about large families and how working mothers manage their time. In three of the four families mentioned, the children did ‘chores’. Sometimes the children were paid and sometimes they were unpaid and the chores were just part of family routine. In one family the children did not do any chores and the mother’s reason for this was, “I want my children to have a happy childhood.” 

*I despaired. So often this and other variations comes from a parent's own childhood when they were made to do something they didn't like. However 'rosy' we may wish to make childrens' childhood, one day they will be faced with a real life with domestic responsibilities. Grown-ups having tantrums is not life or relationship enhancing for anyone.

Fortunately society has moved a long way from children being sent up chimneys and down mines, but reading the article, I did wonder how realistic it is to allow a child to grow up without taking their turn with chores, paid or unpaid. I was reminded of someone who told me that the reason they were unable to cope with some challenging life events was that, “my parents made my childhood too happy.” My grandchildren are staying with us again. They have happy times, but their stays always include chores. Some are paid, some are done with love.

* I recall hearing about the problem being a too happy childhood and knew then that if we wants to find blame, we can find it in anything. By that time I'd heard every variety of reasons for blaming others in the past for a present predicament. For as long as we puts the blame on something or someone else, which isn't going to change, it makes changing our own attitude more challenging and extends any healing time.

Taking workshops, I used to ask the participants to recall a time when they were up against it, but didn’t give up. The example I loved was a woman describing her altercation with a jammed photocopier, “I wasn’t going to let it beat me.” I then suggested that her attitude could be used in other situations where she may feel beaten. It can be helpful if we look at past experiences for ideas as to how we can manage present challenges.

No-one has an easy ride through life and no-one knows exactly what goes on behind closed doors. My school friends certainly didn’t know about my life anymore than I knew about theirs and it’s only much later that we discovered that it wasn’t all fun.  I don’t wish difficulties on anyone, but on reflection it’s the harder and challenging life events that gave me life-saving resilience, as well as hope. Is making childhood too comfortable and without responsibilities, leading to having unrealistic expectations in adulthood? If chores are part of growing up, as well as playing, then I believe children should learn that life is about helping each other and that, certainly, ‘life isn’t fair’. 


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