As a child, I remember squatting at my grandmother's laundry area every Friday afternoon and scrubbing my school shoes. That was my responsibility. If I didn't wash my shoes on Friday, they wouldn't have the weekend to dry, and I would have to go to school with dirty shoes on Monday. Which would result in punishment of some sort. At school.
Of course, sometimes I'd be too engrossed in play that I'd forget. Then I'd simply rub white chalk on them on Monday morning, and leave big clouds of dust whenever I ran.
Poppy is 5, and I confess, we have never washed her shoes. Here are our excuses:
1) Her school shoes don't really get dirty since all her classes are all held indoors. The only time the shoes meet with real ground (apart from the corridors and classrooms of her school) are from our house to the bus pick up point, a 3 minute walk away).
2) She outgrows them so quickly that we change them every couple of months
But I just happened to see one of those scrubbing brushes one day, and parted with the hefty sum of $1 and got it for her.
Here I have to emphasise that I'm not making her do "my job" and I never ever scold her for "not doing a good job".
She first saw the brush and then got really excited when I told her we'd be washing her school shoes. Yup, that's my girl. Excited about things like these. Figured I should strike while the iron is hot; get her involved now in these things like mopping and sweeping that she really enjoys, and then as she grows older, she will hopefully automatically help me out at home.
So anyway, here was her expression when we scrutinised her shoes:
Yeah. They were rather grey. But more like a 10% shade than a 60% tone.
One thing I've realised about school shoes these days is that they're made of different materials. Ours used to be that rough canvasy kind of thing, where we'd have to scrub and scrub for all the dirt to come off. This was somehow easier to wash. Thankfully.
So I showed her how to do it and boy did it bring back memories. Soap, brush, water, that's all we needed. And we spent a good half hour just scrubbing and scrubbing and chatting away. She was so into her task that she even wanted to wash the soles of the shoes. That's a perfectionist for you!
Ewww. Look at the colour of that water! Grey, in case you were wondering. Ew-ish grey.
So I told her that this was her responsibility. That she would have to take pride in her things (my father told me the same thing when I was a kid) and take care of her own things.
Now, I believe in a carefree childhood because there will be no other time in a person's life that he can be as carefree as a child, but I also believe in growing responsible people and not people who expect to be waited on hand and foot, and need to depend on others for everything.
So we start small. If Poppy wants to bring a bag when we go out, she can. But she has to take care of it. She carries it all the time, and if she forgets about it, it gets lost. No, it's never happened because we recognise that she's a child and children sometimes get carried away when they play. So we ask "Poppy have you forgotten something?" and she goes "Oh! My bag!" and runs back for it. That works for us.
She is in charge of bringing her dirty laundry to the washing area instead of leaving heaps of socks around the house. When she comes home from school, she has to unpack her schoolbag and put her empty snack container in the sink.
She is responsible for setting the table and giving it a wipe before meals. She helps to clear the toys and return books to the shelves even if it's her sister that messed the place up. In the beginning she resisted. "Not fair!" she sulked. But we all live in the same house and if we should all help each other. Besides is it me who plays with the toys or messes the books or leaves crayons lying around? Nuh uh! Yes we help. We sing the Clean Up song and do it together.
Here are our guidelines when setting up responsibilities for Poppy:
1 - The tasks must be achievable (we don't say "Poppy, you must vacuum the floor everyday when she can't even lift the vacuum cleaner or "Ok Poppy, you're responsible for tonight's dinner")
2 - Don't expect perfection - she's our child, not our slave (I never tell her that she's missed a spot when she mops)
3 - Always praise ("Thank you for helping to sweep the floor, that's very nice of you, and now we can all enjoy the clean floor!")
4 - Be flexible (some days we just let it slide if she wants to melt into the sofa instead of helping to pick up books. As adults, we have days like that too)
5 - Explain the reasons behind the tasks ("You are responsible for keeping your toys because then you will know where to find them when you want to play with them" and "We must take care of our things because we love them, like your shoes, you want to take care of them because having clean shoes feels really nice") instead of "This is your job because you're old enough now")
Are we overly strict parents? I seriously doubt it. But are we strict parents? To a certain extent, yes. But it is for a reason, and the reason is the kids, and that we want the best for them.
Should babies have responsibilities too? Calla doesn't :) But she does help us keep folded laundry. She totally rocks at it :) and by that I mean all our drawers are really messy.
Do you remember what kind of responsibilities you had as a child? Are you giving your kids the same responsibilities?