Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The New Deal

In our house we've always had a system. There are 'Chores' that are assigned to each person, which allow for the smooth running of the household. It's my husbands 'Chore' to go to work and earn a paycheck. It's my 'Chore', along with numerous others, to grocery shop and assure there's plenty of healthy food in the house. My sons 'Chore' is trash management (emptying bins when needed and getting the barrels out to the curb twice a week) and my daughters 'Chore' is taking care of the dog (food, water, taking her out.) I tell you all this because as of Friday all of this 'Chore' stuff was done away with... Allow me to explain:

I forget why I approached my son last week. It was probably to have a talk with him over something he did or didn't do (my little talks nearly always come about in this manner.) Among many other things, I told him how I was jealous at just how easy his life was. So little is asked of him, whereas when I was his age I carried so much responsibility on my back. I HAD to work, I HAD to pay for all my clothes and essentials, I HAD to pay rent to my family and worst of all, I HAD to appease my step-mother in every way that I could to avoid her wrath. It's difficult not to look at your kids and think, "Man, I wish I'd had it this good." It's also difficult for me not to sometimes feel resentment towards them for it. But how can they know? How can they understand my circumstances, when all they've ever known is there own?... But I digress.

As my son and I discussed issues and expectations he stopped, looked hard at me and then crumpled. He was emotional and fighting back tears. I asked him, "What?" He said he couldn't say. I said, "I'll wait." And I waited. After a couple of minutes he collected himself and said. "People say that now I'm 18 I don't have to do what my parents tell me to anymore.... *pause*.... But that's all I ever do, is everything I'm told." Now some parents might laugh or mock and I admit that was my first impulse. However, the more I thought about it, I realized he was right.

Allow me to share some insight. My son is, and always has been, what we refer to as 'The Absent-Minded Professor'... He's there but he's not always THERE, if you know what I mean. His mind is usually busy processing facts, figures and ideas. He's usually so engrossed with what's swirling around in his head, he's often half alert. For instance, the time he went to heat something in the microwave and typed in our phone number... Fortunately you can't microwave a hot dog for 8 months, the machine won't allow it. So what happens is this... We're always pointing things out to him that he needs to do, like, hold the door open for Grandma when we go to visit her or offer to take her trash out for her. The problem is, whenever we point these things out he hates doing them because Quote: "Now that you've told me to do it, it becomes an order and not a genuine favor from me." He DOES want to notice these things and DO them and he gets very frustrated with himself for NOT noticing them. I tell him he needs us to remind him so it becomes a practice that gets cemented in his psyche. He disagrees and feels belittled every time it occurs.

Which leads me back to our discussion. When he said, "
People say that now I'm 18 I don't have to do what my parents tell me to anymore but that's all I ever do, is everything I'm told." I knew exactly what he meant and I said, "I understand, and from here on out, I absolve you from any and all chores." By making this deal he will either feel immense relief at the idea of not having to do ANYTHING or he could feel the burden of having to be responsible for genuine generosity.

Friday night we told my husband. At first he didn't seem happy at all with the idea of my son being absolved from chores. Eventually he asked, "If he doesn't have any chores than why should our daughter have any chores? Why should any of us have chores? Why should any of us have to be told what to do." Further discussion allowed us to iron out that from now on, No one in the house would be allowed to ask anyone to do anything. I know, ANARCHY right? Well, the idea is that each family member shows their generosity by taking notice and doing things that need to be done. Following our family meeting, it was an amazing thing to watch everyone pop up and begin attending to things. My son immediately checked the kitchen trash and took it out. My daughter took care of dishes in the sink and loaded them into the dishwasher. I saw the dog needed to go out and took her. Everyone in the family was glowing with the reward of taking care of each other without it feeling like a chore, for doing something simply because they wanted to be generous.

Enter Sunday morning... When my husband found in the hallway a single dog turd, pointing like a compass directly at my sons room, where the dog sleeps. DUH! DUh! Duh!... Nobody took the dog out on Saturday night. Since it wasn't anyones chore, no one attended to it. The New Deal needed to be reworked. Over Sunday Morning Family Breakfast we discussed the new problem we were facing. How could we know if things were getting accomplished if no one was in charge of them? Initially my daughter thought up a Sign-Up sheet. Much like the ones you find in public restrooms that are signed off to show the time and date the bathroom was attended to. I could easily see this going the way of the wind and family members forgetting to sign off, or even locate a pen, needless to say locate the sign off sheet itself. So we came up with the 'Responsibility List'... This is a list of things that MUST be attended to, or our home as we know it could collapse into utter chaos.

The things that needed managing are:
Trash to the curb (2 days a week)
The dog (food, water, potty)
Secure the house at night (doors locked, garage door closed)
Dinners (the family can fend for themselves breakfast & lunch)
Exterior Maintenance (lawn care)
and one more my daughter came up with:
Health Manager

After we made this list each person in the family offered to take on the different tasks that needed to be managed. With the assurance that just because they were managing the task it didn't mean they had sole responsibility of it, they were just the person who insured it was taken care of. So, if I remember it's trash night, I can take the trash to the curb and inform the manager it got done... If the manager notices the trash hasn't gone out he'll take care of it. Keeping in mind that this involves a group of people who wish to be generous to one another and not just trying to keep from doing work. Each family member gladly took on the management of the different tasks.

Trash - Son (he's used to the job so he decided to manage it)
Dog - Daughter (same deal)
Lock-Up - Son (he's awake the latest so he'll secure the parameter)
Dinners - Mom (I do the shopping but I'm always open to suggestions)
Lawn Care - Dad (Doesn't mean he has to do it, he just has to notice when it needs attention.)
Health Manager/Nazi - Daughter (she wants to ensure we're all exercising and eating properly.)

We decided to revisit this in a week and see how it's going but last night I revisited it... DUH! DUh! duh!... Things seem to be going great, my daughter is pitching in and helping everywhere she sees the need. My son however, who spends most of his time at his computer in the basement, is never around to see where he might be generous. I informed him at dinner that my generosity has a limit that can cross over and feel like indentured servitude. I should reiterate, it's not that he doesn't want to help, he just doesn't know how to take notice. I realize this is where we're going to have to help him along. After being chastised at dinner he moped around as my daughter and I took over clean-up. He offered to take the dog out, but the dog didn't want to go. He played with the dog while we worked, I guess thinking that if he was in the same room with us it would imply he was somehow involved in the process of clean-up.... WRONG! I began to get frustrated and angry until I realized something... He doesn't know what to do! That's when I said, "Son, you need to learn something... It's a little phrase that goes, Is there anything I can do to help?" So he looked at me and said, "Is there anything I can do to help?" I said, "Um, Yes! Would you put the rest of the salad away in the fridge." He had to ask me what to put it in but I knew he'd be able to figure it out if I pointed him in the right direction. After he finished the task the kitchen was clean and he said, "Tomorrow Mom, I'd like to help you with dinner, I'd really like to learn how to make the noodle salad dish you have planned." With both of us smiling, I hugged him and told him, "You've got yourself a date!"

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Blogger Stacie said...

I love how your family works together to not only fix the problem, but to properly identify it first. My son turned 19 this spring and I gotta tell you...I'm reallly *REALLY* sick and tired of his selfishness and self centeredness...he knows full well what needs to be done, has responsibilities etc and unless he's told, it doesn't get done. Period. It's so frustrating...I might have to try your approach and see how it works out..this is fascinating to me. Though I have to say the main difference between our boys is that yours genuinely wants to help, just forgets or doesn't think about it, while my son feels he shouldn't have to do anything because he goes to school and works a full time job therefore he shouldn't have to pitch in around the house.....grrrrr..

9:53 PM, July 22, 2008  
Blogger EmBee said...

Stacie, thanks for your comment... It is a struggle isn't it? We haven't found the perfect solution, we're still working out kinks but we continue to discuss our concerns together as a family, reasonably and logically. We're also trying to let go of this notion that we, my husband and I are not authority figures who mete out chores and talk down to our kids because they're younger, but try to treat them like the fellow human beings that they are.

Coming from the upbringing I had it's difficult to slay those old demons from my past that tell me everything everyone around me does or doesn't do, has some sort of ill meaning attached to it.

May we both find peace and harmony in our homes.

12:55 PM, July 23, 2008  
Blogger Katrina :) said...

Wow! Absolutely unbelievable! That was the sweetest blog I have read. It made me so happy. Now, my family would never go for that, but I throughly enjoyed reading that story. And, it makes me want to at least try it. :)

7:47 PM, July 25, 2008  
Blogger EmBee said...

Katrina, thank you so much for the comment. But I have to ask, why wouldn't your family go for it?

I'm off to check out your blog.

8:04 PM, July 26, 2008  
Blogger Katy said...

I am so impressed with your ability to be creative and flexible! Your son sounds a lot like my 12 year old boys and I am always learning that discussion and flexibility make the house, family and life flow more smoothly. My husband and I have had to learn new "boss" type techniques to parent our boys in the best way for them - which is not the way either of us were parented!!

Now I have to check out the rest of your blog, I found it by accident and am so glad I did!! Love to find another Mom I can learn from.

11:12 AM, July 27, 2008  

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