I've noticed, in the last almost-two decades that I've been a parent, that most kids of our generation lack for nothing. It's great - our being able to provide our kids with whatever it is they want, whenever they want. And why shouldn't we? They're still kids and their focus should be on school, on their extra-cirricular activities and their social activities. They shouldn't have to vacuum their own room, learn how to do their laundry, make themselves anything other than a sandwich or - G-d forbid - take a bus. And when they come to us with their hands outstretched, palms up asking for money, we pull those hard-earned bills out of our pockets and hand them over.
We used to have cleaning help. We had a lovely girl from a neighboring town come once a week to do the heavy cleaning: bathrooms, floors, dusting, linen, etc. Other than having to sweep the floor and straighten up, I didn't have to get on my hands and knees and do the dirty work. It's not that I didn't know how - when we were first married and up until we had our fourth child, both Yisrael and I cleaned the house together. But having four kids within six years made it difficult to get everything done and we decided at a some point that it was time to hire cleaning help. Circumstances have changed and as of about three years ago, we stopped having help and have been flying solo ever since. At first, I did most of the work. Bathrooms and linens on Thursdays, vacuuming and the rest of the floors on Fridays. The kids pitched in with minor stuff - emptying the dishwashers, washing and drying other dishes and dusting the piano - that sort of thing. At some point it dawned on me that they were capable of much more.
I introduced the now-infamous "job jar" which I will outline in a separate post, but in short, the kids got a list of chores every Friday that they were responsible for and we were off and running. It wasn't always smooth sailing and it still isn't. There are infinitely more hurricanes to battle than clear skies and calm waters, but that's to be expected. The bathrooms aren't always done to my standard and there are always a few dishes that end up going back in the sink to be rewashed - this time with soap - but by the time Shabbat comes around, the house looks more or less ok. I extended the help to the kitchen as well and now I expect them to help out with preparing the food in some way - perhaps a salad, roasted vegetables, meatballs or a cake. Sometimes they just act as my sous-chef or are on BBQ duty but I'm usually not in the kitchen slaving away alone anymore.
My friends are skeptical. Why would I let them clean if the bathroom isn't sparkling? Why let them make a cake when it looks like a bag of flour exploded across the kitchen counters? Why let them wash the floors when afterwards there are always a couple of odd streaks crossing the dining room floor? The answer is simple - you've got to start somewhere. And the proof is in the pudding - they have improved - slowly but surely. And some of the kids are better at some things than others, but that's ok. In the end, they all know, more or less, how to clean a bathroom, how to wash the floor and how to make something other than a peanut butter sandwich. They are learning how to bake a cake and clean up after themselves and I've got one kid who cleans a bathroom so well that it shines. I've got a kid who does the floors professionally and another kid that is an organizational wizard. All my kids are proficient in the kitchen, and whereas once they viewed kitchen duty as just that - a duty, they now ask (without being asked) if they could experiment with a new salad or dessert. Having said that, they still hate doing bathrooms....but don't we all?
I know someone whose daughter got married a few years ago and she doesn't cook. She just doesn't. Her mother will make food for them to take back to their apartment and her husband does most of the cooking, but she just simply does not cook. She never cooked at home - no one ever made her be responsible for her share of the cooking and as a result, she just does not cook. (I know I've said that more than once, but it still shocks me...) I know of someone else who grew up in a wealthy home where they had full time cleaning help - she's married now too, but does not clean. I suspect that she thinks it's beneath her but that's just my take on it.
Truth be told, I wonder if these kids realize that when they get married and leave their childhood home, they will not be moving into a 4000 square foot home complete with a full-time cook, cleaning lady, a luxury vehicle and a goose that just happens to lay golden eggs. Chances are they will be moving into a small rented apartment that they will have to clean on their own. They will likely not own a car at the beginning, but if they do, it will be some used rusted putt-putt held together with some duct tape that they will have to share. And if they get hungry at some point, they will have to figure out how to fire that oven up...
First things first - getting your children to clean a bathroom, wash a floor or help prepare a meal gives them important life skills that they will need in the future. Yes, maybe someday, they will become highly successful professionals and will be able to hire others to do those jobs, but if anything, it will teach them that there is dignity in ANY job they do, as long as they give it their all and take pride in what they've accomplished. It also teaches them not to take anything for granted and teaches them to give respect to those who do those jobs on a regular basis. Not everyone is a lawyer, or a doctor or a businessman but regardless of what they do for a living, they deserve to be treated with respect.
And the same goes with money. Encouraging your child to discover how their own skills and capabilities can generate money is the best gift you can give you child. And let them be creative about it. Babysitting - although a great money generator - is not the only way to earn a buck. Let them discover on their own or with your guidance whatever talents they already have - or can learn - so they can turn that into a business. You'll see that when your kids are forced to spend their own hard-earned money on the things they want, they'll think twice before buying whatever it is they thought they so desperately needed.