Raising children is a big job making demands of parents in different ways at different stages of their development. When they are little the physical care they need can be exhausting – often accompanied by lack of sleep. As they grow and begin to become people in their own right, with their own ideas about what they want, the potential for conflict requires a different kind of care – sometimes stressful and time consuming.
Mothers sometimes have mixed feelings for various reasons about asking for the help they need – from mates or others – even from their children. One mother, pregnant and having a toddler to care for, expressed the feeling that as a stay-at-home mother, quite apart from any financial consideration she should be able to handle everything herself. On one hand she feels disapproved of for giving up her professional work, on the other having made that decision she now should be a total full-time mother.
Another mother who was recovering from a debilitating illness, felt compelled to do certain things with her child she was not capable of doing to compensate for not being available at other times. She, too, was using total availability to her child as her measure of herself as a mother. In both instances an unrealistic standard for motherhood was at work involving as well, unrealistic ideas about children’s needs.
Despite the many changes that have been made in women’s lives as they pursue careers and work outside the home, old cultural ideas about motherhood are still strong. Also, women feel strongly about their children and are vulnerable to their demands and seeming need for attention. In fact, in both the instances cited the children were actually being disadvantaged by their mothers’ feelings rather than their own needs. There are times when the care needed does not have to be provided by the mother.
The issue of asking for help also relates to expectations of children. At times, parents complain that their children are not helpful – in fact children not helping is often a source of conflict. While in some families children have definite chores, in others, parents do not ask for their help. The question is often raised as to whether children should be paid for certain jobs they are asked to do, which suggests that such jobs are outside their responsibility and should be rewarded as such.
When they are little children love to help and this is when the pattern of their helping can be established. Observing young children in school it is interesting to see how they consider it an honor to be given certain jobs. Clean-up time after an activity is a given, and most of the time children participate readily. When a child does resist teachers take note of that in order to understand and address what that resistance is about.
Of course, in a school setting the influence of peers plays a role and participating as a member of the group is expected. The difference at home comes when children are criticized for what is perceived as a failure in their behavior. At school they are not expected to do the job alone while at home they may be scolded for making a mess and told to clean it up. This at times seems daunting to a child. If parents initially offer to participate they can create a different attitude.
In the busy and pressured life that families live these days, time is often the obstacle to involving children in helping. At first, it takes more time – and even work – to ask for children’s help. They may not set the table the way you would like, or clear the dishes quickly. Helping getting dressed takes more time than you doing it for them. Parents may resist children’s help because they just want to get the job done.
As in many aspects of development the long way around may be the short way home. This means it takes time and patience to help children learn, and when they do we, as well as they, reap the benefit. As a parent, you need all the help you can get!