A long long time ago, in very different times, a little girl had a beautiful dress with the words – ‘mama’s little helper’. She loved that dress because of what those words meant. She felt great joy in helping her mama.
Cut to 2017 and that little girl is now mother to two and she has her own 2 little helpers! Her helpers also feel joy in helping their mother (most of the times or so the mother believes and hopes ;)).
What that little girl didn’t realize is that it’s not entirely an innate need to help, not when children are toddlers or little children! Children, the toddlers at the least are centered in their world and this helping hand can be brought out with simple, everyday consistent tasks, till it becomes second nature, till the little children become big enough to consider other’s feelings!
Helping around the house even for toddlers, gives them a sense of purpose, a sense of achievement, a joy at being part of the family’s success, a feeling of responsibility, self-reliance, makes them good problem solvers and the benefits go on.
Very very inadvertently, my children came to becoming ‘mama’s little helpers’.
It all started with a full time house help (maid) that rendered all the inhabitants of our house quite useless, lazy and spoilt. From the little things (making beds, watering plants, laying the table, clearing up rooms) to the big things (making meals, tidying the house) were all looked after by the full time maid that we had. The children would play with their toys, only to be called for dinner and they would leave things in a disarray and join us at a table that was well laid and full of warm food. We, the adults would eat a hearty meal and then walkaway from the table. And voila the table would be cleared and set when it came for the next meal. Magically even the beds were made in the morning and we had a nice turn down service in the evenings. When the children went back to their rooms, the toys were neatly put away. Life was good!
But that life ended quite abruptly for us when we were left with no full time maid and we decided to try a run at doing it on our own with no maid. Not because we wanted to, but simply because we were fed up with all the drama and the resultant tension of having a house help, even though life was good with them. A ‘cant live with them, cant live without them’ story. We decided to try a ‘CAN live without them’ story. 🙂
As our family of 4 embarked on this journey, there were many a bickering between husband-wife, parent-child and siblings! From not lifting a finger to suddenly doing everything, it was going to cause quite an uproar and it did! Many a times we contemplated getting back the full-time-maid stress just to avoid intra family stress. But thank god we didn’t get a maid (not because we didn’t want them but we just didn’t find anyone! Imagine our luck!).
As my elder child often says ‘ So what happened is?’ , we slowly ( very slowly) fell into a pattern of helping around the house. And this meant every single member of the house had to pitch in. Actions do speak louder than words and the easiest way to convince a child is to show a child! The father became the most critical person to help in the household chores. The children naturally assumed the mother to do everything or at the very least didn’t find it odd that she worked around the house. But the children didn’t pitch in, not really and not seriously till they saw their father help. And no words were necessary to convince Peanut, once the father started to take his plates back to the kitchen on his own.
The other thing that didn’t work for us when we decided to do away with full time maid was that we, the parents were not consistent in sharing tasks with our children. Sometimes we asked them to lay the table, sometimes they cleared their toys, sometimes they watered the plants etc. Inconsistency led to struggles and unwillingness to do the work, each time that they were called to do it and lots of cajoling on our parts. Finally, we would give up and just do it ourselves. Then hubby and self, took a decision that certain small tasks had to be everyday tasks without fail!When things fall into a rhythm then it becomes second nature.
We also learnt that if we are going to allow the children to help us with the household chores, then we have to remember that they are children and we have to allow for mistakes and let it be. The worst thing would be to constantly go and correct it for them. That’s introducing another downward parent spiral of dependency when mistakes happen! Guilty as charged on this account. But what’s parenting if not a learning curve.:) It is super tough when I see mismatched socks put away or cutlery set wrong, one can only imagine what happens with the big things. But I let it be (even though every part of my body wanted to lunge forward and correct the mistake, I somehow restrained myself) and that’s when things become interesting. Suddenly Peanut would realise that he’s holding the fork in the wrong hand or Buttercup would realize that her princess elsa is paired with mickey mouse (that is socks) and then they would sheepishly smile and correct it! No parent interference and lots of innate learning.
Having read that toddlers can make their own bed, I decided to try it out with our kiddos (Peanut is far from being a toddler now). There was lots of discouraging noise about how hard it is or how big the blanket is but I simply mustered up enough calm ( learning to let go is so not easy- firstly it’s just faster if the adults do it, there are lesser mistakes and definitely no whining) and guided Peanut a little. When I got back to their room a while later ( when I know I’m likely to interefere and not allow them the chance to do it themselves, then I just walk away from that scene!), the kids were jumping with joy at having made their beds. Yes the sheets corners were not aligned, yes the blanket looked more like a pile and less like it was folded BUT they had made their own beds!
So now Peanut waters the plants (he always enjoyed it luckily), one or both of the kids lay the table and clean it up too, dirty clothes are put in the laundry basket, clean clothes are folded and put away, the rooms are fairly organized and cleaned by them, they help with the cooking too sometimes. We all sit on the floor and peel peas and then attempt to count who has got more peas! Chores can be fun too! Often when they are cleaning their room, I can hear Peanut and Buttercup singing away. And there are many such little things that they are called on to do daily, till it becomes a rhythm for them.
The resistance to partake in household duties is definitely lesser and in fact recently there was a voluntary helping hand extended to me. My younger child – Buttercup, walked into the kitchen and saw me washing the tomatoes and promptly she got a stool for herself and emphatically told me that she would do the washing. Thereafter she proceeded to help me wash ALL the dishes, with a smile on her face and no complaining!!
I was beaming with pride and thanking the absence of a full time help.
Mama’s little helper had arrived!