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growing up

Guess What? Kids Actually Like to Be Useful

kitchen

In response to posts I’ve written about my kids doing chores but not receiving an allowance, and about them needing to get jobs if they actually want to earn some money, I’ve been accused of everything from exploiting them to robbing them of their childhood. (There was also the person who commented, “Way to enforce Jewish stereotypes).

I’ll admit, despite having a general case of ridiculously over-inflated self-confidence, I was starting to doubt my decisions. What if the naysayers were right? What if I was putting too much pressure on my kids? What if my standards were too high and I was doing long-term damage to their self-esteem, not to mention putting them in physical danger by asking them to do tasks they weren’t developmentally ready for?

But then two things happened that snapped everything into perspective for me.

First, both my husband and I had previous commitments that made it impossible for either of us to pick up our 10-year-old daughter from gymnastics. I asked her 14-year-old brother to do it. He didn’t want to do it; he was afraid he’d have trouble finding the location. He was afraid he’d be late or wouldn’t be able to find her. I made him do it anyway.

I’m not saying it wasn’t genuinely stressful for him. It was. But he did it. And when I came home, they were both in the kitchen.

“I didn’t know if I was supposed to feed her dinner,” he said, indicating the can of chicken he’d dumped on a piece of bread.

I’d been planning to get home in time to cook for them both, so hadn’t given any instructions, but he took his own initiative.

Soon after, I needed to film a video for Instagram. I don’t use Instagram. I don’t even have a cell phone that can shoot video, and thus I have no idea how said video would then make its way to the nice people at Instagram.

I put my daughter in charge. I told her she could produce, direct, and stage the whole thing. She was delighted. Not only did she pick out my wardrobe, makeup and hairstyle, she even set up her camera — using a doll as my stand-in — in front of various locations to test the angle and light.

And then disaster struck. As I was writing my script (the one thing I would not let her do), the screw holding my glasses slipped out. The turnaround for the video was already tight, and now this.

Do you know how hard it is to find a tiny screw on a hardwood floor — when you’re not wearing your glasses?

My daughter sprang into action and found the screw. But then it had to he inserted back in. Do you know how hard it is to insert a tiny screw into your glasses — when you’re not wearing your glasses?!

My daughter tried, but she couldn’t do it. So we improvised. Still more or less blind, I directed her to get a paper-clip, insert it into the gap, then twist-tie it, and remove the excess metal with a pair of pliers. It wasn’t the most elegant solution, but thankfully, you couldn’t tell in the video. (Though feel free to click the link above and see if you can.)

We shot the 60-second spot on her phone, and then my daughter uploaded it as per instructions. I literally couldn’t have done it without her.

Was the situation stressful for my daughter? Yes, it was. We were under a time-crunch, and I’d assigned her the responsibility of, well, an adult, to make the video happen. The snafu with the glasses was something neither of us had planned for, and we had to cobble together a viable product on the fly. That would be stressful for anyone. And I used to work in live TV!

But my daughter was so proud of herself afterwards. She couldn’t wait for her brother and father to get home so she could tell them all about it. And she kept asking me if the video had been posted yet, so she could revel in her handiwork, now available for the entire world to see.

When I told my husband about what a trooper and helper my daughter had been, my praise was real, not something manufactured for Everybody Gets a Trophy Day. Kids can tell when they’ve actually done something impressive, versus when an adult just wants them to believe they have. Kids can feel when the accolades are earned.

Maybe I’m not giving my kids what, these days, is considered an appropriately responsibility-free childhood. But I hope that I’m setting them up for a productive and happy adulthood down the line.

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