Saturday, December 1, 2012

Parenting Challenge: Community

As with most modern parents, our children have always had assigned chores, starting with setting the table and going all the way up to preparing meals or doing the entire household's laundry. Assigning each of them these responsibilities was often more work than simply doing the chore ourselves, but we felt it important to teach our kids responsibility and skills for independent living.

One of the aspects of teaching the sense of responsibility - owning the chore - was that we did not step in and do the chore for them, unless there was an extenuating circumstance. Ordinarily, we would stand back and just . . . nag, until the chore got done. Or dock allowance or come up with other consequences if we finally had to step in and do it ourselves.

But, while this approach worked with younger children, what we've failed to inculcate as our children have become young adults, I think, is a sense of communal responsibility.

Let me explain.

A couple of months ago, we had a staffing change at work; one of the long-term employees retired and another one left. Shortly after that, I noticed that people were leaving their dishes in the sink, rather than putting them right in the dishwasher. Worse, they refused neglected to empty the clean dishwasher.

After talking with another colleague, it came out that people used to think that it was the former employees' responsibility to see to the kitchen. But it was not; it was a communal responsibility (as I had always assumed).

Ideally, a strong team would recognize a gap and - like ants working synergistically - someone would step forward without being told.

As I pondered the challenge at work, I realized that my own children were not learning to think communally. We had developed a habit of leaving our own dirty dishes on the counter if the chore owner had not yet emptied the dishwasher.

It was no one's assigned chore to wipe the counters or walls, so it didn't get done (except by me or Steve).

In fact, there were many, many tasks that our kids were just blind to.

My new challenge to the kids is to be more of a community of adults: people who see something that needs doing and just . . . do it. It's a lot to ask of them, and it requires trust.

It occurs to me that it also demands a new approach to "positive reinforcement." Rather than Steve and I being the only ones to acknowledge or thank someone else's contribution, it should, perhaps be the "owner" of that chore to acknowledge that someone helped out, find that person and thank him or her.

Still not sure how this would apply to the non-assigned tasks.

I'm honestly not sure how well it will work, but it is something that I'm going to strive for. I hope that, ultimately, our kids will be better partners, roommates, co-workers, and people because of it.

Wish me luck.

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