Teaching responsibility is not random or finite. And as much as we wish, it is not even tangible. It is the evolution of the building of the character and the guiding of the being that is your child. Perhaps “teaching” is the wrong word to begin with. It starts with that first spark of interest in the toddler mimicking what you do. He or she sees you sweep and wants to do the same…or to wipe the table or to fold the laundry. The child wants to do it because he / she loves you and wants to be more like you. From this viewpoint it is logical that we should then make “chores” a natural progression for the child like learning to walk, talk and hold a spoon. We should not impose our desires on that child because we are overworked and need the house perfect 24 hours a day. It is more logical to say, my child although 18 months, wants to clean the kitchen floor after I cook. So I will show him how I do that when I cook. My child, although 2 years old, wants to sweep. So I will show him how I do that. In this way when that child is five or six years old and you are a little tired, they will offer,” Mom you don’t have to clean the floor after you cook. Remember when I was a baby, you showed me how. I can do that for you.” And they will be so very proud of themselves and you will enjoy a mixture of relief and relaxation.
I have tried charts and rewards but I have found that all the “work” I did encouraging their musings as toddlers and infants is what really shines through. This is my fifth pregnancy and I am neither miserable nor very sick but my two oldest, now seven and nine, recognize that sometimes I need to nap. Daily without coercion, I hear, “Mom you go rest now while I do the dishes.” Or,”I will watch my little brother so that you can relax.” Or, “Mom I will make the lunches so we can go to the playground”. My home as a whole is not perfect, but they offer to help and try their best to clean up after themselves and split the responsibility or encourage their five year old sister to help out.
And with that I had an epiphany, you can not teach responsibility. You have to encourage the sparks of light throughout your child’s existence from their earliest show of interest in “helping out” and continue that tempered and enjoyable expression. You will see it progress as they evolve into their own and it will be natural…in harmony with their character and the flow of your lives together.
Cordelia Gaffar is a mom for peace, justice and honor amongst humanity. She is blessed with two boys and two girls and lives outside Shenandoah Valley in West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle.