If I could do it all again, I would make my kids do more chores.
By Carol Band
My son Lewis is at the kitchen table eating Froot Loops and reading the back of the milk carton. It's organic milk, the carton explains, produced by cows whose blissful days on the farm are described like a spa vacation.
"Why can't we live on a farm?" Lewis asks with a newfound interest in the agrarian life.
"It's not all grazing in the grass and chewing your cud," I say. "For people, farms are hard work. There are lots of chores to do on a farm."
"I know, but it would be fun," he counters. "I could feed the chickens."
This from a kid whose goldfish, in a desperate act of self-preservation, jumped out of the bowl and tried to flop its way to the kitchen for a meal. This from a kid who promised, swore and crossed his heart that he would feed, walk and scoop the poop of a dog if we could pleeeeeeease just get one. Thinking that a dog would help teach responsibility, we went to the pound and adopted a shaggy mongrel. Now, the dog is slavishly devoted to me because, you guessed it, I feed him, I walk him and I scoop his poop.
I remind Lewis of his promises regarding dog maintenance.
"But on a farm the chores would be more interesting," Lewis points out. "I could pick crops and stuff when they were ripe."
"Why don't you pick up your dirty soccer socks and put them in the washing machine?" I suggest. "They're ripe."
If I had the chance to raise my kids all over again, with the wealth of knowledge that I have gleaned in two decades of parenting, I would do things differently. I would have sprung for the expensive wooden Brio train set as soon as my EPT turned pink, instead of waiting until my third child was 3. I would have used the baby book I got as a shower gift to immediately record when each child took a first step or uttered "dada" because now, when they say "Tell me about when I was little," I have to make stuff up. I would have resisted the pleas for hamsters, hermit crabs, geckos and goldfish. Right now, my freezer holds a zip-lock bag with the frozen carcass of a small rodent who, while awaiting a proper burial, is in real danger of being misidentified as a pork chop. But mostly, if I could do it all again, I would make my kids do more chores.
It's not like I didn't try. We've had job charts and task wheels and incentive programs involving stickers, prizes and threats. I've offered money and taken away privileges. But my kids are a wily bunch.
"Nathan, can you bring in the trash cans?" I ask my oldest son after the garbage truck rumbles by in the morning.
"In a minute," he replies without looking up from the comics.
An hour later, I remind him that the empty cans are still on the curb.
"I'll get them as soon as I figure out my ride to the concert," he says as he taps instant messages into his laptop.
Before you can say "The Flaming Lips," he is rocking in the first row and the trash cans are rolling in the middle of our suburban street.
I must have done something terribly wrong.
Other moms brag that their 4-year-olds clean the kitchen every night after dinner and make their own beds. I hear tales of toddlers who wash and fold all of the family laundry, cook gourmet meals and scrub the bathroom grout with their toothbrushes.
My three hardly lift a finger, and when they do, they want money.
"Will you give me $20 to walk the dog?" Lewis asks.
"Not unless you walk him to Vegas and win," I say.
"If we lived on a farm," says Lew, "we wouldn't have to walk the dog. We could just let him out and he would herd the sheep and cows."
Lewis has a point. Maybe I can let the dog out and ask him to bring in the trash cans.