Love to Help, Hate to Be Told

My kids know absolutely everything already.

Even when I tell them something, that I know they don’t know, they say ‘I knew that!’ ‘I was going to say that!’ ‘I know, Dad’, bored shrug, cocked head and emphasis on the long vowel sound, ‘I knoooowh Dad’.

My kids are five and seven, but I imagine it will only get worse as they grow older, and more annoying. Now it is still kind of cute. Once they can pilot a rocket ship to the moon for our family holidays and I am dribbling in a car seat in the back asking for snacks, it will actually be true.

This started shortly after they were able to speak, or perhaps before and they just couldn’t vocalize it yet. Maybe that wasn’t her ‘I need to do a poo, but I’m slightly constipated’ face after all, maybe it was her really early ‘I knoooowh Dad’ face and I just didn’t know it yet.

This all goes to say that my kids don’t like being told anything. Especially, being told what to do. Truthfully, no one does. I don’t. My wife doesn’t. Certainly not when I tell her to do something mundane, like picking up the wet towels post-bath, that I could have taken care of myself, but don’t, because I’m feeling over-burdened, so I take it out on her.

Our girls hate being told what to do because, like their mother (and father) they are obstinate, self-serving creatures that already know everything. They’re humans.

That is not to say that my girls don’t love to help. They love to help! They just don’t want to be told to help. So how do you create an environment in which they can contribute and get all of the self-satisfaction that comes with being a productive member of our little society of four without ever telling them what to do? That is the rub.

I have lots of little techniques, like making it a game or a challenge, doing it together as a group, or using a reward system or a tit for tat ‘you do this and I’ll do that’ system. But I am in no way saying I have figured out the cure-all solution that gets my girls helping every time. Far from it.

In fact, the girls have started their latest exciting developmental stage, the-oft reported but never before witnessed, ‘making their own breakfast on a Saturday’ stage, without any cajoling from us at all. In the last few weeks, there has been a slightly noisy, giggling gaggle of girls sneaking around ‘oh so cautiously’ getting themselves dressed and pouring cereal and then triumphantly bursting into our room to surprise us with milk mustaches and leggings. If we happen to get up in the midst of this process, to put the coffee on or do an early morning wee, we get admonished for ruining the ‘surprise’ and sent back to our room.

All I am saying, is that when the effort is made to have them do things around the house, I am astonished by how helpful they can be, even at this young age, how much pride they take in doing a good job, and how much personal satisfaction they get when it is done.

Or at least when it is almost done. It is almost impossible to get them to completely finish a task yet. I doubt there are very many five or seven year olds that don’t leave a bowl-shaped milk splatter and actually put the carton back in the fridge. But we are working on it.

This goes on into adult life as well. My wife always complains how few ‘completer-finishers’ there are in her workplace. People that you can trust to hand-off a job to, with specific instructions, and then have them take it to fruition. So this is a good skill to try to instill in them from the off.

My mother-in-law says that if she could change one thing about raising her kids, she would have gotten them to be in the habit of cleaning up after them-selves more often. And you know, when it’s Friday morning, and I am picking up the pile of my wife’s dirty clothes from where she took them off the night before I have to I agree, I wish she would have too! But then again, I need job security and I get job satisfaction, and I am the ‘completer-finisher’ in this house, the rest of them are just passengers, along for the bumpy ride.


Author: StayathomeDadabroad

I came about being a stay-at-home dad unexpectedly, as I’m sure a lot of us do, just like I came about living in Europe unexpectedly. But it is a good fit, and after a few years, I feel more at home, being at home, than I did in an office.

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