Learning Responsibility, 1 Sock At A Time


I’ll admit it, the laundry got ahead of us.  It piled high in baskets strategically placed against the counter.  It overflowed, dumping snow pants and underwear onto the floor every time someone walked past.  It sat … silently waiting, for over a week.  I wasn’t able to do much about it because of health reasons, and our crazy busy schedule just piled on more and more.  So, laundry infested my kitchen.

Today we dealt with it.  Most of it.

I know I’m probably going to catch some flack for saying this, but my kids are old enough to help out around the house.  We’re not harsh, we don’t demand child labor from them, but we do expect them to practice responsibility.  Of course, the level of responsibility varies from child to child due to age.


We don’t ask much

There’s a long-standing rule to clean your plate off the table after eating.  The kids earn reward stars for doing various chores like dusting or cleaning up toys.  The Engineer loves helping out with food prep and has grand plans to make dinner all by himself one of these days (sure kiddo, just as soon as I trust you with the stove!)

The point is, my kids are being taught from the get-go that cleaning up after yourself is normal.  It’s not exceptional, it’s not something you do to be nice – it’s expected.  Age-appropriate expectations, of course.  With a healthy dollop of executive functioning issues added to the mix.



This isn’t normal?

After an interesting discussion in a gifted group, I realized that our expectations are not average.  Some people follow our philosophy, but a lot more people believe that kids should have time to play and not be expected to clean up.  Some even said that their kid’s job is to learn, not to clean up.  I got a lot of flack in that discussion for stating that I expected my toddler to help out as well – that surprised me.  Most toddlers love to help, and if directed in a fun way, clean-up time becomes a game.

Of course, my toddler loses interest really quickly, but that’s also age-appropriate.



Why do I insist?

I think this is one of the quirks of homeschooling, honestly.  Our kids have more time to spare, and they certainly make a lot more messes.  If your kid is at school all day, goes to extra-curricular activities after school, does homework, eats dinner, and crashes in bed: there’s no time to do clean up.  There’s no time for practically anything but the basics.

For  people with children in public school, I invite you to consider what your house is like when the kids are on summer break.  After about a month of summer break, actually.  Visualize that – hold it in your mind – and then consider what it’s like to live with that EVERY single day!  That’s homeschooling.

So for us, learning to clean up is actually no different than the requirements public school children deal with in classrooms.  Teachers leave time at the end of the class for picking up and cleaning up, right?  The children are expected to help out, put things away, and clear the mess.  It’s standard.  It is in our house too.



The other reason I insist

I’ve heard horror stories of grown children who are incapable of doing basic chores like laundry or cooking.  Like the adult son who flew home every weekend with a hamper of laundry so that mom could do it (you think I’m making this up, right?  I’m not.)  Or the adult son who dumps his laundry at mom’s and expects her to just do it for him.  And she does.

I don’t want that for my kids.  I want them to be able to function on their own.  I want them to stop and think – to put things away when they’re done with it.  To keep things uncluttered and clear so that they have room to live.   I want them to be able to do their own laundry, cook a basic few meals, know how to do basic household repairs, and be responsible, functioning adults.



The other other reason I have no choice but to insist

Some days, I just can’t.  Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t deal with all that laundry on my own.  My health is important, and the kids can learn to pull their own weight to help out.

I explained this to the Engineer once, and he had that classic light-bulb moment.  If I use all of my energy doing chores to clean up after other people, then I have no energy to go do fun things with the kids.  So kiddo, if you want to do fun things, go clean up the toys.  Simple!



Laundry day!

Today, I dumped out all of the laundry in a big pile on the floor.  I put one basket for each child, and called them over to help out.  Once we got past the “dive into the laundry mountain” stage of things, they did a great job of sorting out their clothes.  They know their own socks better than I do, apparently.

Once the laundry was sorted, then we started folding.  The Destroyer petered out at this point and I did get a little frustrated with him.  The Princess wailed it was “too hard!” and stomped her feet and screamed at me.  The Engineer decided to take up the entire floor, one folded set of underwear at a time.

I couldn’t walk away and leave them to do it, of course.  They needed guidance, reminders, and a parent to stay on top of things.  Otherwise the Destroyer would have flung laundry all over the place, the Engineer would have never made it past pants, and the Princess would have slunk off and hid somewhere.

The Princess learned she could fold pants and do a very good job at it.  The Destroyer learned he can sort clothes and do a great job!  The Engineer learned that he was really good at folding clothes, and that doing a good job was more important than doing a fast job (his stack of pants fell over.)  All sorts of good life lessons there.


Tomorrow?  We’ll have to put it all away.  Whew!

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