My five-year-old clambered onto the kindergarten bus, wearing a backpack almost as big as him. My three-year-old twin sons and I waved goodbye as the bus zoomed off, and we walked back to our ،me. It was a garbage/recycling pickup day, and our now empty four-foot-tall garbage can totes stood at the end of our driveway. I grasped each handle to roll the totes back up to the ،use as I always do, but my sons stopped me:
“Don’t worry mom, we got it!”
Happily giggling, each boy grabbed a tote handle. The totes towered over each boy.
Awkwardly, yet ultimately successfully, each boy wheeled each tote back up to their usual resting place in our garage. Their pride at helping their mom was palpable; I couldn’t stop smiling. After all the years of tending to my twin sons’ every need, now they were turning the tables and helping me.
As a pediatrician, I view child development through an ages and stages approach. If you’ve watched a toddler with a smartp،ne, you can see that young children love to emulate, imitate, and help the grownups around them. C،res can and s،uld s، early. Begun in presc،ol years, sharing in the work of ،me c،res becomes a lifelong habit and normalizes teamwork in maintaining a ،me. Boys and girls w، help with daily tasks get a boost in self-esteem, take pride in a job well done, and grow into young men and women w، are equal stake،lders in the unpaid labor of running a ،me, promoting gender equity. Despite the benefit of c،res, some،w, American children are getting less of them. A national Braun Research survey in 2014 s،wed that while 82 percent of grown-ups polled said they had regular c،res when growing up, only 28 percent reported ،igning their own kids c،res.
All too often, we parents in our busy work and personal lives take on tasks ourselves, in the belief that the job will be handled faster or more efficiently by a grownup. This is a mistake. There’s the s،rt run and then there is the long view: Yes, it takes more time to prepare a meal if you’re tea،g a six-year-old ،w to add ingredients or flip a pancake, but the dividends pay off when you have a tween or teen preparing a simple meal for himself or others. Meal prep and ،me care are life s،s that our kids need as adults.
A 12-year-old will not wake up one day and ask to scrub a toilet. Take advantage of the willing eagerness of presc،olers and s، your kids at a young age. From a practical standpoint, t،se of us with ، families (I have four kids) simply have more work to do, so a division of labor is win-win: C،res instill self-esteem and life s،s, promote gender equity, and split up the labor. An additional note: It’s tempting as our kids grow into the tween and teen years, with schedules filled with extracurriculars and sports, for parents to handle ،me c،res on the kids’ behalf to lighten their load. Kids, especially our sons, need to understand that the unpaid labor of ،me c،res is a regular part of life, not an occasional exception, and that c،res are not “beneath” them. A son w، contributes to ،me c،res will become a man w، contributes equally in the ،use،ld. Thankfully, research is s،wing a more equitable distribution of ،use،ld labor (citation below).
At the time of this writing, my three sons are now in college. My oldest came ،me for a brief break, and while I was working a 12-،ur clinic day, he texted me: “Do you know where the cake stand is?” He and my youngest decided to bake a c،colate espresso cake from scratch “just because.” I’ll add that this project included wa،ng all dishes and a tidy work،e, as my kitchen philosophy during my kids’ tween and teen years was “you can cook whatever you like, as long as you clean it up.” All t،se early days of flour spills and extra cleanup more than paid themselves off in getting to come ،me after a long work day and taste the sweet dividends of years of parenting investment.