How good they have it (part 1)

(I’m including here for the first time a summary of the post so it’s possible to get a glimpse of the content before… opting in… to the full text.  Also this time I’m posting the text in parts, over a few days, due to its unusual length.)

Summary: When kids resist chores, learning, and other commonly mandated tasks, it’s easy to interpret their resistance as a perception of entitlement, as laziness, or as a lack of gratitude for how good they have it.  Resistance in kids is not only more complicated than that, its roots are very often less unbecoming. If you make it your mission to really get to the bottom of kids’ resistance, setting aside the temptation to jump to conclusions about where they’re coming from, not only can you improve your relationship with them, you’re more likely to move them to get things done.

How good they have it

As a kid, I used to put up a bear of a fight about doing the dishes. I’d roll my eyes, slump into my shoulders and stalk around sighing at, apparently, the supreme imposition of it.  I’m sure it drove my mother crazy.  I don’t blame her.  It must have seemed ridiculous, given the general quality of life at my house (high) and the ratio of time I spent on chores to the time I spent on things of my choice (very low).

I’ve been trying to remember what it’s like to be the child in this scenario, because it’s clear to me that the resistance to such small and relatively minor tasks is one of the most exasperating conditions of parenthood, and also that, contrary to appearances, it is not an indication that one’s children are spoiled, lazy, or ungrateful.  At least not the way we tend to think it is when they storm around as though the sky has fallen and they’re the only ones with mean unreasonable parents, just because someone asked them to lift a finger, for once. It’s possible that kids are feeling lazy or ungrateful in the moment, and also possible that they don’t think they should have to do whatever the thing is that’s being asked of them right then.  But when we draw quick conclusions about how they are based on this behavior, we make it much more difficult to get through to them in the way we wish we could.  A small shift in interpretation can go a very, very long way.

The quick and easy interpretation – the one that has become the default for many adults and even a cliché (to the degree that we say it without really thinking it through), is of course that kids don’t know how good they have it.  If I, for example, had known how good I had it – that all I had to do was the dishes, not days of hard labor in a factory, not early mornings in the blueberry fields, not caring for younger siblings, etc., then I’d have done the dishes cheerfully, right?  Maybe, but the don’t-know-how-good-they-have-it interpretation doesn’t give kids as much credit as they deserve.  Nor, in fact, does it fairly credit parents who have worked to instill values of participation and contribution.  For those parents these moments can feel like an indication of failure: “We thought we’d taught her to be a good family and community member, that everyone pitches in to help, that you can’t expect everything to be done for you, and now look.  She’s balking at the tiniest task. So much for all that work we put into her.”

There’s much, much more to it than that.  They’re not lazy, and you haven’t failed.

To be continued tomorrow…