Diversity of preference

The other day I wrote about inquiring into kids’ resistance in a new way. Here are some follow-up thoughts about why we tend to stay in a rut about how we think about what kids will and won’t do.

We seem convinced that the reason kids don’t want to do the things they don’t want to do is that no one wants to do those things, and therefore the only way to get them done is to force them.  But very often it turns out that if we’re willing to hear what kids are actually objecting to, we’ll find that it’s not that they’re summarily opposed to studying, or summarily opposed to helping, or summarily opposed to anything we ask, but rather that particular tasks don’t suit them.  Not because they’re spoiled and they’re turning up their noses.  Because different people are compatible with different tasks and pursuits.

Words like “chore” are subjectively assigned.  There are tasks that tend to get thrown under the heading of chore which to many people do not feel like chores.  And then there are other tasks that do feel like chores to those people.  Likewise, some people are entirely at ease, happy, even, in professions that others would wince at the thought of.  I’ve met lots of people who love reading, love writing, love things that keep them immersed in stillness and indoor quiet.  And I’ve met just as many who cannot stand to be indoors and still.  They’d rather do most anything (often many things often considered chores) outside.  I’ve seen people in careers we’d call good (usually the white collar ones) who love their work, and get up early every day to be at their offices early so they can get started, and I’ve seen others in the same kind of work counting down the days until their next weekend, until vacation, until retirement.  And there are people in what might often be considered lousy careers who are actually full of vitality; happy to be where they are, and even earning the income they need to support their chosen lifestyles.

So there’s evidence, it seems to me, that it’s misleading to teach children that they just have to suck it up and deal with the things that don’t suit them, the things that make them scrunch up their faces, and make excuses, and stall.  Teaching them to just submit to the you-just-have-to ethic perpetuates our commitment to embedded suffering.  And it doesn’t even really seem to serve anyone.  It sometimes gets chores and math done, but it doesn’t instill any of the pride, satisfaction, or long-term commitment to excellence that we say we intend to instill with our teaching.  And very often, it doesn’t actually get the chores and math done.  Or it gets them done in such a way that they have to be redone.  And always, the whole process is exhausting for the adults involved.  I’m not talking about relieving kids of responsibility, or somehow protecting them from it at the expense of adults.  I’m talking about striving for a collaboration between kids and parents which can benefit both.  Just as we think kids just have to do whatever we tell them, whatever we think they should, we think we just have to tolerate the exhausting battles generated by that approach.  We think that it’s just a necessary part of raising and shepherding children through life.  But it’s not.  We don’t have to keep engaging in this battle with kids day in and day out.  And if we let it go, think how much less tired we’ll be, how much energy we’ll save.  How much energy we’ll have for actually being with, supporting, and enjoying kids.

What if there actually exists enough diversity of preference, motivation, and need to get everything done that needs to get done?  What if we don’t actually have to force people to do things that make them miserable?  What might happen if we let go of our conceptions of good work and lousy work, hard work and easy work, chores and not chores, work and play?  I’m willing to bet we’ll get a lot more done, with a lot less struggle, strain, resistance, fatigue. And have a much better time in the course of it.

[It bears mentioning that in any given household on any given day, there is of course a reasonable chance that multiple children will have equal distaste for particular chores.  I’m not suggesting that negotiation and collective agreement aren’t necessary for the operation of families and other small communities. Only that a great deal more diversity of preference exists than we tend to acknowledge and make room for.  When the diversity of preference is acknowledged, it makes the negotiation a lot easier. (And further, in many cases the bickering over particular household chores could be eliminated by the recognition of strengths and preferences.  Many disagreements are born of competition and questions of fairness rather than actual preference; I’ve seen households in which tasks have been successfully distributed such that each family member is mostly if not entirely unopposed to his or her chore load.)]


One Response

  1. This comes at a particularly relevant time in the search for a balance in our home school endeavor to learn when what we ask of the student is so alien to the child’s inate learning style and curriculum administration. We are making the move from a strict, rigid traditional style of delivery and trying to discover a compromise in learning how to make the most of our home school program. This will take a while as I as the grandmother/teacher am used to the “old” way of the traditional school setting and philosophy. I am working on it and appreciate your messages. Little by little I am able to incorporate your teachings into my daily home school program. Thank you, Meredith.

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