Labour Day …. Welcome to the unofficial Canadian start to the New Year. Summer holidays are over for most people and many are back to the routines that create a sense of structure for us. It’s not just children that need that structure, adults also need it.
While we are 3 days into this New Year and new routines, are there also new expectations for each family member? New grade in school? New responsibilities at home? Is it time to re-examine who is responsible for what in order to keep the home running well?
While Canada might be one of the top 20 countries in the world for mothers, and even one of the best countries in the world to be a woman, but when it comes to taking care of our homes, Canadian women are getting the short end of the stick. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development “Better Life Index,” released in 2014, Canadian women on average spend 254 minutes a day cooking, for children, whereas men spend 160 minutes on the same tasks. However, let’s be fair here, there are no criteria that was identified regarding what constitutes “housework”. I do wonder whether they also include other necessities that keep a home running smoothly, such as checking the oil in the car, windshield washer fluid, transmission fluid, rotating tires, unclogging the toilet, cleaning the gutters or yard maintenance.
Frequently, adults are not the only ones living in these homes or contributing to the problem. However, in homes with children, are they also responsible for an appropriate share of the chores? Yes, I realize that even the word “chores” has become almost a swear word in many homes but should it be? I think we need to ask ourselves “what is the purpose of chores?” Is it just to get something done? Or are chores intended to teach life skills and offer a way for children to contribute in a meaningful way to their home?
How old should someone be when they are expected to “contribute” to their home? Perhaps another question ought to be, how young is too young for a child to feel a sense of pride in their accomplishments in keeping their home looking presentable? John Drescher in his book Seven Things Children Need (1976), identified crucial elements that must be included in the lives of successful children. These include the need for: significance, security, acceptance, love and to be loved, praise, discipline and God. When Drescher speaks of significance, that is best recognized as making a difference. When a child has a task that they are responsible for and can feel pride in doing it well, they develop that sense of significance or importance within their family.
Young children are quite capable of folding facecloths, hand towels, dish towels, bringing in the recycle bins or compost bins and when they do, they learn to take pride in a job well done, provided we as adults notice what they are doing right and praise them for that.
School age children are quite capable of making lunches, setting or clearing the table, helping with dishes, folding clothing, washing fruits and vegetables, dusting and being responsible for their bedrooms.
Teens are quite capable of washing windows, cooking, loading and unloading the dishwasher, doing laundry, cutting the lawn, vacuuming, washing floors and cleaning the bathroom. In fact, teens have the “right” to live independently from the family if they choose so by that definition they must also be capable of doing all the jobs that are necessary to run a home.
Often I have parents who come to me struggling with the question, what are age appropriate tasks for children and teens to be responsible for and what are not. I frequently encourage people to check out the Girl Guide program requirements and Boy Scout program requirements for badge work. Please remember that both of these organizations have been in existence for over 100 years and have age-appropriate activities that children are encouraged to learn in order to earn a badge; but, more importantly to become independent, competent and caring members of our communities and our homes.
While it does not appear to matter though what the gender of the person is who heads up the household because in same-sex households, the individual in the more feminine role still contributes more than individuals who assume the more masculine role. Also, in families where one individual is transgendered, the same patterns of responsibilities still exist. Perhaps what we ought to be looking at and discussing is not which person does more work but how can the distribution of labour within the home be more equitable so we can all feel good about our contribution to our homes.