Men of the house: an experiment

I do a lot around here. I won’t list all I do for the household in any given day or week, because you all already know. You know how early you have to get up every morning to get lunches packed, homework checked, and the kids up and ready if you also have to get yourself ready for work. You know how much time it takes to plan, shop for, and prepare three meals a day. You know how many loads of laundry must be done in any given week to keep a family of four or five looking (semi) decent. You know how many car pools you drive, how many errands you run, how many tiny details need attention every. blessed. day. You know how tired you can feel at the end of the week.

You know who doesn’t know? Your kids. At least mine don’t. Last Friday, I spent a weary half-hour after work picking up gift cards for the kids’ three (THREE!) birthday parties they were attending over the weekend. You know what I wanted to do? Go home. Take the dog for a walk in the April sunshine with Toby. Maybe watch Modern Family on the DVR. But I didn’t. We shagged around Target.

When Nate and Calvin got home from school, Nate took one look at the gift cards ($15 each to Coldstone Creamery, by the way) and said, “Eh, I wanted to get them the new Nerf daggers. And why didn’t you get funny cards?”

And in my head, I was thinking, Screw you, kid! But what came out of my mouth was, “I guess we have time to stop by Fred Meyer after dropping Calvin off at karate this afternoon.” Because just as it’s second-nature to Nate that I’ll fulfill all his needs (and most of his wants), it’s become second-nature to me to stretch myself thin for ridiculous requests.

And it gets better. When we get to Fred Meyer, he steps into the toy section and says, “Oh wait! It wasn’t Fred Meyer that has the Nerf daggers. It’s Walmart. Let’s go there.”

And then I did say screw you, kid! if only under my breath, because no, most definitely no, I was not going to now drive all the way across town to the crowded Walmart on Friday evening. This was it. End of the line. Pick something out. And we both proceeded to have a mini-breakdown in the toy isle.

He sulked. I felt myself get more and more angry. Where was the gratitude? Where was the appreciation that I’d gone out of my way to drive to a second store, forget a third, for his precious daggers? Finally, as he whined in front of the sporting goods, I told him I was counting to three and then either buying a basketball instead of a dagger or leaving the store. On three, he was saying, “I just don’t see why–”

And I left. I walked right out of Fred Meyer, got into the car, and waited. He was right behind me, shock masking his face. “You can’t just leave!” But oh yes, I could. And we did. What followed was a long lecture of the all I do around here variety. He listened, because he’s not a bad kid, just a kid used to having a servant for too long. When I told Charlie about the incident later, he pointed out the obvious: the kids were never going to realize how much I do for them unless I stopped doing it.

What’s that? Stop doing it? Just…stop? This is one thing I love about Charlie’s parenting style. He’s not afraid to mix it up. So here’s what’s going to happen in our household: this entire week, the kids are in charge. Not in charge of the fun stuff, as we’ve done in the past, but in charge in charge. It will be their responsibility to:

1. pack their lunches

2. make their dinners

3. do their laundry

4. keep the house clean

5. do all the dishes and empty the dishwasher daily

I’ve stocked the kitchen with enough ingredients for five basic meals they can make themselves (think hot dogs, burritos, and mac and cheese). I’ll drive them to all their practices and events, but they’ll have to keep track of when they are, figure out how to plan and cook dinner around the confusing matrix that is the multi-kid practice schedule, and ensure they have clean uniforms and school clothes. Someone can’t find their shin guards when we all need to be in the car? They’ll see how irritating it is. Hot dogs are getting cold because someone’s car pool is late? Welcome to my world. Someone remembers at 7:01 am that they needed to make a diorama of the night sky for school that day? Have fun with that. Dogs run in the house with muddy paw prints, then do it again within 15 seconds because someone left the door open? They’re see why I always yell like a maniac.

I’m convinced this is either the best idea ever or the worst idea ever. Will it work? I’ll let you know.

Continue to the mid-week update!

27 thoughts on “Men of the house: an experiment

  1. I hope it works for you!
    I did something similar a few year back. I work full time, my husband was working 80 hours a week at the time, so I was doing most of the running at home as well. I’d had enough. They could do it, for a change. They could entertain themselves, do their own homework without prompting, fix their own snacks and wash their own clothes.
    It didn’t work exactly as I had planned, but the good news is that my kids know how to do laundry, dishes, make beds, etc. They also ask now, instead of demand. Their future wives will thank me, I know it.

    • I’d call that success! I’ll let you know how this goes. So far, we’re on Day 1, and two of the three kids are sick with colds, so they’re seeing how hard it is to have to muster through instead of lying on the couch for eight hours.

  2. Totally get it, except that I’m not as nice as you are :). I’m sure it’ll make an impact. Our kids (11 and 12) each have a pretty long list of chores that they do each week, including dishes 6 nights a week (3 each), cleaning bathrooms, pet care, clearing the table, cleaning rooms, mowing the lawn, and they both are getting to be pretty good cooks. We only do a few after school activities, including karate 2 nights a week where we drop them off, leave and enjoy an hour of kid free time at the local brew pub!! We may be the worst parents in the world, but we also stopped having kid birthday parties for our kids long ago. They still get some invites, which we take them to, but it’s a “cycle” that we refuse to participate in.

    • I can only hope my boys become half as helpful and self reliant as yours seem to be by the end of this! They don’t know it yet, but they’ll be retaining some of these chores after the week is up.

      • Totally recommend it (retaining chores). It kind of sucks at first, because it takes 100 times the effort to get them to do it than to do it yourself, but in the end, it sure is nice that they help do so much. They actually thank me now when I do dishes (I try really hard to thank them each time).

  3. Hmmm…maybe this runs in the family? I seem to remember trying to figure out how to work a washing machine for the first time in college… (By the way, I love the line about how Charlie’s not afraid to “mix it up”!)

    • Definitely. We come from a long line of martyrs, but dammit, I think I might just be lazy and selfish enough to stop the pattern right here!

  4. This is great. My son is only 2 so we’re several years away from this sort of self-sufficiency, but I love the idea. When I was a kid I was responsible for my laundry starting at age 8. We had other chores throughout the week, too, but the laundry is the one I remember best. My husband came from a family where the kids were much more “waited on” and thinks that my intended approach of everyone pulling their weight is a little extreme. Nevertheless, I think you’re really on the right track. Can’t wait to hear how it goes!

    • I hope that by the end of this week, they’ll be ready to tackle one or two of these chores on a weekly basis, like you describe. I definitely come from the ‘waited on’ type of family, my husband not so much. We’ll see how it goes!

  5. I love it that you are trying this out. I think it takes a lot of courage to let our kids step up and do things for themselves knowing they might make mistakes or fail completely at some tasks. Kudos! Can’t wait to see how it turns out.

    • It’s been interesting already, and it’s only Day 1! As I type this, the kids made dinner successfully, but all seem to have scattered without a thought to the dishes. I’ll go remedy that…

  6. Okay – it’s been a few days. How’s it going? I must be “mean ol’ mom” because my kids are all responsible to pack their lunches every single day. The 7yo has to gather the laundry. The 12 and 15yo have to do the dishes every night. That and pack up all the leftover food and wipe down all the counters. Sometimes they even cook (if it’s fend-for-yourself night). My latest protest came in the form of refusing to pick up the 15yo’s laundry off the floor. If it doesn’t make it into the hamper, then it doesn’t get washed. Period. And, he’s been burned with having to do his own laundry so that doesn’t happen often anymore. I tell ya, it’s all about the follow through.

    But seriously though, the gratitude is lacking at times. It’s so frustrating. My boys are good about saying “thanks for dinner Mom”, but other than that it’s just groans when I ask them to put their (clean) clothes away or pick up their rooms. For my 7yo, I’ve finally reached the point that if I ask him to pick up all his legos and it’s not done by a certain time, I just go through and throw them out. He has too many anyway. I only had to do it once and now it sure gets him to respond quickly. Why do they make us be “mean”? I don’t want to be mean.

    • I’m tired of being mean mom all the time too. I can only hope my boys can reach the level of cooperation you describe here! I’d be happy with half of it on a regular basis!

  7. I was totally blown away when I read this,later on had a heated discussion with my husband on why he couldn’t have pointed out the obvious when our kids were that age. Coming back for updates..

  8. I really love this idea and the 5 core areas of responsibility. I’m thinking about trying this with my 3 over the summer vacation, but I’m not sure if it will be as effective since everyone’s schedule is lighter during the summer. On the other hand, my kids are a little younger, so it might be a more manageable way to begin.

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