Wednesday, September 06, 2023

We Never Gave Our Daughter Chores

We never gave our daughter chores to do around the house when she still lived with us. 

This runs against the current of most of the parenting counsel out there. Her school officially recommended it for all families. Even our pediatrician suggested, when she was still a baby, that we would want her to do chores. "It's good for them." "It teaches them about responsibility." "It's how they pull their weight in the family."

But I couldn't assign her tasks any more than I can assign tasks to my wife. Our family is not a business, nor a system of government. It is a relationship between fully-formed, autonomous people.

Our culture grants parents the right to command particular children based upon the accident of their birth. We have the right to yoke them to work that they didn't choose and to saddle them with rules in which they had no voice in making. We can, if we are cruel or angry enough, beat them with our hands, imprison them, and rob them of every freedom. Stripped down like this, exposing the raw authoritarian power of it, isn't something we often do, and I've learned that when I do it makes many people quite angry.

Please know that I'm not writing to tell you what to do. I'm sharing what we've done.

In refusing to exercise these parental "rights," I understand that I am, in this, outside the mainstream. People assure me that they can exercise their parental rights with love, and I'm sure they do, but we must have very different ideas about love. Love, for me, cannot exist within structures of hierarchy and control. Love, if it is to mean anything, is a relationship between fully-formed, autonomous humans. It is a relationship of choice, one that we must continually reaffirm or it stops being love and becomes something else.

Our child did not ask to be born. That decision was made on her behalf, one that places all the weight of responsibility on me, not her. It's a responsibility I assumed. I do not own my child, but I am responsible for her. She was born not owing me anything, not even gratitude. Indeed, I don't own anyone, nor does anyone owe me anything except when it is an obligation or relationship we've both entered into willingly. 

I don't buy this idea that children can be taught to be responsible through the coercive assignment of tasks, although many, many people seem to believe this. Indeed, for the better part of the first two decades of their lives, we assign children responsibilities "for their own good," at home and throughout their schooling. But that is simply not how responsibility works in the real world. Responsibility outside of childhood is always something we assume of our own accord. In the workplace we agree to assume certain responsibilities in exchange for money. In our relationships we make agreements about who is to do what. We might, at times feel as if we have no choice in the matter, but as autonomous humans we have a choice and if we truly don't then we are not autonomous which means we come to resent it, to rebel against it, to stew and anguish and despair. Is that what we feel we must teach children? To simply do what others tell them to do and call it being responsible?

Our child is an adult now. She is a valued employee. She cooks and shops and tidies up. She pays her bills. If being assigned chores is the path to these little virtues, then she managed to get there by another means. And whenever there was real work to be done, as opposed to the "make work" that comprises most chores we assign to children, she always pitched in because that's what fully-formed, autonomous humans usually do.

Utah Philips sang, "I will not obey, but I'm always ready to agree." That is the larger virtue that I choose for myself, even when it comes to the fully-formed, autonomous humans we call children.


Registration for this course was meant to close on Saturday, but due to the holiday weekend many of you requested a couple more days, so we've extended enrollment until Thursday (9/7). In other words, it's not too late! If you're interested in learning more about how the language we use with children impacts not just our relationships with them, but also their entire learning environment, please consider registering for my 6-week course The Technology of Speaking With Children So They Can Think. Join the 2023 cohort as we examine how the language we use with children creates reality. We will explore how the way we speak with children becomes an environment in which cooperation and peacefulness are the norm, where children take the initiative, solve their own problems, and, most importantly, think for themselves. Click here for more information and to register.

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