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Being Helpful

September 29, 2008

I let my children help me with domestic chores like washing dishes and clothes.  They are so used to being helpful that they get really upset if I ever attempt to do something by myself.  I have to breathe deeply and remind myself that I want independent and confident children, and remind myself that it was my idea to let them help in the first place.

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washing dishes

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When they hear me start filling up the sink with bubbles and warm water, they drag a chair over and say, “I want to help!” And when they hear the water in the washing machine they run over with a stool and say, “I want to do the detergent!”  I let them dump the scoop of powder into the washing machine and throw all the clothes in.  If they are both there wanting to help, we have to divide the responsibility in half.  Then they race to push each other out of the way and shout, “I wanna do half!”  Each child can dump in half of a scoop of detergent.  It’s so important that, if done incorrectly, tears and gnashing of teeth will result.

When I am making coffee, they like to dump the coffee grounds into the filter and pour the water from the pitcher into the chamber.  (My son says, “I want to water it!”)  They also like to put the teaspoons of sugar into the coffee mugs.  They make mistakes and spill and then we have to clean it up.  They are probably glad when the towels get dirty because that can only mean another load of laundry in our future!  I’m writing this down to remind myself not to worry about it, not to lose my temper.  I want my children to learn to do these domestic chores and help me.

My daughter is at a Montessori preschool and this is their philosophy.  She is really responding to their teaching style since it is what she is used to at home.  She has gotten lots of praise from her teachers about how quickly she learns and how independent she is.  Last week I sent her some lima beans in her lunchbox and told her to warm them up for 15 seconds in the microwave.  She had to put them on a glass plate and carry the plate to the microwave.  At some point they fell on the floor.  She told me that the teacher helped her wash them off and together they heated them up.  I said, “Oh, I’m sorry.  You must have washed all the butter and salt off.”  And she said, “It doesn’t matter.  They were yummy anyway.”  The lesson could be that life is delicious when you feel empowered.

Are you also into this style of parenting?  What frustrations are you experiencing?  For me, the biggest frustration is trying to avoid saying, “You’re in my way.”

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12 Comments
  1. September 29, 2008 4:11 pm

    I was just planning on posting about this, but got sidetracked last night. I have pictures of Zoe loading our front-loader washing machine. She loves doing it, but tries to lay every towel perfectly flat inside the washer, so it takes about 20 minutes to load. She also is always wanting to help us stir when we’re cooking, or push the button on the blender and coffee grinder. She’s also relatively good at picking things up and putting them away, as long as she doesn’t get distracted (hmm, like mother like daughter, apparently).

    Like you, my biggest challenge is to be patient and let her take her time to look at what we’re doing, and do things at her own pace. Chris is really good at explaining exactly what we’re doing and finding ways to help. I’m not as good.

  2. September 29, 2008 4:16 pm

    Oh yes… I have two good little helpers too. They used to fight over the vacuum cleaner! They will help put the clothes in the washer, fold the wash clothes and help take the dishes out of the dishwasher.

    They always want to stir whatever is cooking on the stove. Depending on what I’m making, I can either move it to a cooler burner and have them help or else I’ll have to tell them no. 😦

  3. September 29, 2008 9:56 pm

    Well, I don’t have kids, but I remember my boss at my last job talking about this. He was so pleased, his son was so determined to be helpful, and my boss would laugh because everything took ten times as long with “help”.

    I remember being told as a young child, when asking to help with the vacuuming, that if I started helping with the chores, I’d always have to do them from then on. That was daunting, and I then refused to touch the vacuum. I think it was just an adult perspective – who would *want* to vacuum, right? – but to this day I have to force myself to do the vacuuming!

    These everyday life-maintenance things are so important, and if kids can grow up not thinking of them as a horrible hated chore, I wonder what a difference it makes to them later. I know some of it is just personality or inclination, but I so so so wish I didn’t put off all the little chores until they become big chores. It is such a conflict, because I love my place when it is nice and neat, and it is such a struggle to keep it/make it that way.

    Anyway, I think that losing patience is natural – who wants to spend extra time doing these chores? lol – but at the same time I think that what you’re teaching your kids, this gift of joy in helping and getting stuff done, it is really awesome.

  4. September 30, 2008 6:52 am

    Although bearing a minimal relation to the post topic (independence and confidence), did you see RP’s discussion on the failed house bailout vote? He cites the Campaign for Liberty and the incredible e-mail responses as the reason. Thanks again for motivating me to voice my opposition.

  5. September 30, 2008 11:09 am

    My kids love to help out around the home. Washing dishes is a big favorite. So is helping prepare dinner. They less enthusiastically help put away their clothes after I wash and fold them. You’re so right that empowerment makes life all the sweeter. My daughter also attends a Montessori school 🙂

  6. October 1, 2008 12:13 pm

    i’m all about this style of learning. i confess that sometimes i sneak and do something V would like to help with just to be able to move on to something else. but i try to make sure before i go to bed that i can think of enough things to have her help me with and enough things she will want to do on her own so that i can get most of it done.

  7. October 2, 2008 12:43 am

    It’s always easier to just “do it yourself”, but as a mom whose kids are pretty much grown, I can tell you that you will never regret time spent letting your kids “help” you. You will look back on these times fondly.

  8. October 2, 2008 5:58 pm

    When I saw him opening a string cheese wrapper, I said to my son, “Let me help you.” He said, “No! Let me help me.” He has a finely tuned sense of logic.

  9. October 2, 2008 6:47 pm

    Oh I wish I had your patience….but don’t. My kids are good with chores and help when asked or ask to help but if it is something I must do myself then I do it. That makes much less friction around here! I admire your parenting style!

  10. Liza permalink
    October 2, 2008 9:00 pm

    Oh, that’s right! I forgot we both had kids at a Montessori school! Loved reading this post!

  11. October 4, 2008 5:48 pm

    Haha… that makes me laugh “Let me help me”.

    Well, I make my kids clean their own rooms. Emma has no problem with helping. She asks to help all the time. But Gerrit is another story. It’s almost as if saying the words ‘help me’ to Gerrit make him NOT want to. I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’a a boy thing.

    They like to help me unload the dishwasher and bake. But since I only bake about 2 times a year, that’s not a lot. I’m sure if I thought about it more, they would want to help me more. I forget to involve them in daily chores. They would love to be able to help me vaccuum and mop. They get out their fake ones when I start to do that. They really love feeding the fish.

  12. October 5, 2008 9:12 pm

    Thanks, CG. My patience waxes and wanes, just like any other mother’s. 🙂

    Liza, great! Thanks for reading.

    Chris, how long have you had fish? We are thinking about getting some. Your children are really sweet. Gerrit will probably get with the program eventually.

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