Saturday, November 24, 2007

Optional Chores?

For most of a decade now, my husband and I have had a policy of letting the housework go to the one who is the most bothered by it. Unless you have tried this, you have no idea how liberating this is. There is a huge difference between "I have to clean the kitchen" and "This messy kitchen bothers me so I am choosing to clean it." The key distinction is choice. I am free to clean or not clean as I see fit. However, there is a caveat. As we both have this choice, we must both respect the other person's choice. This means there is no complaining when something is not done, and there is no grumbling from the person who chooses to do the work. Once both parties accept that there truly is a choice in this matter and learn not to resent the other person's choice, there is room for true helpfulness and consideration.

How does all this relate to our educational journey? A few weeks ago, I started thinking about this level of respect in terms of my children and their education. They already have the freedom to choose their educational path. I started thinking about what would happen if I gave them the same freedom to make choices about housework. I became more consistent about asking them to do things instead of telling them. I made sure they understood that I really didn't care if their room was clean. I also assured them if they decided to clean something I would be more than happy to help. Then I proceeded to take care of the work that was bothering me.

At this point you may be thinking, "Whoa, hold on here! How are those kids ever going to learn responsibility if you don't force them to do chores?" To this I respond, how will they learn self-discipline if I am always telling them what to do? So bear with me while I tell you how my little experiment turned out.

When I asked the question "Will you do...?" I received one of three responses: no, sure, or later (worded in various ways) which I accepted with no strings attached. I discovered that when allowed to choose, my kids responded positively more often than negatively, and when they did a task, they did it joyfully. Those who have had to deal with a kid grumbling and slamming the cabinets as he puts the dishes away can appreciate the impact of this.

As for the messy bedroom. . . Therein lies the greatest victory. It turns out my older ds has discovered the benefits of a clean room. He wanted a friend to come over to play, but he realized there was nowhere to play. He had trouble finding a few things. He stepped on a few toys. He had a few overdue fines at the library. He came to me one evening and said, "Mom, will you help me clean my room?" Inside I was doing a very enthusiastic victory dance. On the outside, I calmly replied "Of course I will." Thus, he cleaned his room with out being told because it was his choice, and he did it joyfully.

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