Last night the fire was lit and the children were all in the kitchen chatting as I worked. Lyddie announced that she was going to dry things as I washed them. She got a little chair to stand on and a tea towel for drying and started with the cutlery.
Last time she offered to 'help', a few weeks ago, it all needed doing again and took twice as long as it would have done otherwise. But she must have matured quite a lot since because she could do it properly this time.
I just asked her to dry both sides of everything (we were on cutlery) and I explained that we'd have wet things on this side and dry things on that side. She did a perfect job! So carefully and properly, but quite slowly so when I ran out of space to put the wet things I grabbed a towel to dry some too.
But she said, "Mum, if you don't mind I want to do the drying by my self," with which I was bound to sympathise because I like to 'own' my own tasks too.
So - progress again - I asked Tom to put away the ones she'd dried. I usually have problems asking people to do things and he never normally goes near the washing-up (he'll do any other job in the world but that one) but apparently putting dry cutlery away is OK for him - it's wetness and gunk he objects to.
Lyddie tolerated his assistance for a while then decided putting away looked like more fun than drying and asked me to do drying while she put the cutlery away, having relieved Tom of the job. She loved putting it away, grabbing handfuls and posting everything into the right section in the drawer.
Left to my own devices I'd have chosen to do the whole lot on my own as usual, but somehow when she's in charge everyone co-operates and it feels OK to me. And to a 4-year old washing-up is a treat, not a chore - even the ubiquitous task of drying cutlery and putting it away.
I've always thought playing with toys looked like a poor substitute for actually doing things that need doing around the house: 'cooking' with plastic toy food being the ultimate nonsense (although someone once gave Zara one of those toy ovens and some plastic food and it was her favourite thing for ages.)
I do have a problem with asking for help with things that need doing, on the basis that:
- I don't want to interfere with the other person's autonomy;
- I like to do things MY way and accepting help means yielding some control of how the thing is done;
- I figure that the person who thinks a job needs doing should be the person who sets to and does it, because this saves a lot of unnecessary manipulation and arguments and allows people to more easily achieve their best environment in which they can live comfortably and contentedly; and
- Being constantly reminded of what 'needs' doing, besides being a matter of subjective opinion, strips the person of the motivation and eventually the ability to think for themselves in this respect. So they'll just sit and wait to be told what to do instead of working it out for themselves.
This is all fine but it does mean I'm quite often left with the daily chores. But that's usually OK because I choose to live that way with other people. Sometimes Ali takes on the washing up - it's how he spent last Saturday night! And he seems to enjoy it when he does it.
Autonomous learning can't be separated from autonomous living, in my opinion. Everyone should establish their own level of comfort and work to achieve it themselves.
It's also important to me to try to remove the delineation between 'work' and 'play'. I don't see why some tasks are sometimes 'fun' and sometimes 'work', depending on the context. If the person is free to choose their activity then it can't be classed as 'work' - in fact, as society has become more hierarchically structured I think our definition of the word 'work' has changed, from being something pleasant but industrious that you choose to do to being something odious that's forced on you. This is the result of the stick-and-carrot mentality our government cheerfully admits to having.
I've also learned through parenting in such a full-time way that children NEED to be needed. It's necessary for their healthy mental development to be allowed to contribute towards the running of the house in their own way - even financially, as they get older. The plans to raise compulsory school leaving age to 18 are especially damaging for this reason.
There's no magical transformation that takes place in a person on the night before their 18th birthday. Everyone grows, learns and develops their skills and abilities constantly from birth until death. Children are young people, not some kind of inferior beings like dogs or pet rabbits. They need to be allowed to make decisions about what they do and how they live in the same way as adults do: this is the best method of parenting and education.
Tragically, all the guidance and new 'parenting strategies' being put forward at the moment by the powers that be are moves in the opposite direction towards increasing dependance and imposing authority.