Little less talk, a lot more action

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Summertime and the living is easy? Think again.

Exactly one month into summer vacation, my ears are abuzz with the lament of parents across the land united in one, puzzled cry: “I can’t make my kids do anything around here!”

Adrift in a sea of popsicle sticks and snack plates, wet towels, sandy shoes, and general summertime mayhem, parents assign chores, explain chores, prod and nag and sigh over chores.

They make lists and charts (with colors and stars and rewards – oh my!) and they apparently go over (and over and over and over) it only to find that their kids don’t really dig doing chores.

Don’t do anything

Worse, I hear friends lament how they “can’t” make their kids clean up. These pesky kids just won’t do it. Or they do it, but with an alarming lack of attention to detail.

The same children who can spend hours working on outwitting video warlords just can’t seem to find their way to the laundry room or dog’s bowl without extreme effort.

They half-heartedly skate through their tasks, complaining all the while. According to their parents — caught hook, line, and sinker — “it’s just easier to do it myself.”

You are in charge

Hey fellow parents, here’s a newsflash. When it comes to your kids, you really ARE the boss of them. Tired of being not only the chief cook and bottle-washer but scullery maid too, I decided that our offspring were more than ready to start pulling their own weight — and some of mine — around here.

I started with chore charts and to-do lists and heard many heart-felt promises to do a chore “later” (a time, by the way, which I have yet to locate on any clock or calendar in this house).

I tried timeouts and suspension of privileges and a garden variety of contrived punishments to make them more responsible.

The only way I achieved significant change, however, was to make the consequences of not doing the chore promptly and properly “hurt.” Not physically but in later — greater — effort.

Because we have to. In adulthood, we do things because we have to. We know that if we don’t, no one else will. To not do them will cause us considerable effort, inconvenience and even heartache later. This applies to pretty much everything from laundry to paying your bills.

Think about it, you’ll see I’m right. You don’t pay the mortgage or load the washer because someone is going to take away your video games for a week if you don’t. You do so because you’ll lose your shirt — and possibly your house, if you don’t.

Thus, I became the queen of the do-over. I actually made my children walk the walk of all the chore talk (and walk the dishes to the dishwasher too!) Not in a “nothing you will ever do for me will be good enough and you’ll share this with your therapist someday” way.

But rather in a “hey I think you missed a spot (or wet towel, or feeding the dog). Fortunately, you still have time to drop what you are doing right now and see to this properly thanks!” way.

Granted, it’s way more work at the beginning making them come back, get out of bed, leave their friends, the fun, and go upstairs, downstairs, or outside to clean up their messes, put things back where they belong, and see to their duties. It is also so completely worth it.

Trained them right

In short order, I had an 8-year-old who could tidy a kitchen to a standard that exceeds her father’s. She takes actual pride in her work. Our son, for his part, is better at remembering to pick up the living room and brings down his laundry than I am. They also pick up popsicle sticks, pool toys, wet towels and spills.

We are far from perfect and very much a work in progress around here. Yet, it’s a load off — both figuratively and literally — when children become fully involved members of the household.

Honestly? I think modern parents spend too much time ‘relating’ to their kids. Believing if we just ‘reason” with the little darlings long enough they will come around to our way of thinking. Ha!

I think actions speak louder than words. You must not only lead that horse to water, but also insist through repetitive effort that he’s not leaving that water until he’s wiped down the sink.

So go ahead and have a deep heart-to-heart with your children about your hopes, dreams, and the state of the world.

Less talk, more action

But when it comes to making our kids productive members of society — both in-house and out — in the words of immortal country star Toby Keith, I suggest a little less talk and a lot more action.

(Kymberly Foster Seabolt is the meanest mom ever. But she has a very tidy house. She welcomes comments c/o lifeoutloud@comcast.net; P.O. Box 38, Salem, OH 44460; or http://kymberly.typepad.com/life.)

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Warm, witty and just a wee bit warped, Kymberly Foster Seabolt is a native of Kent, Ohio, who survived childhood exposure to disco and grew up to marry and move to the country. Her column weaves her special brand of humor with poignant, entertaining, and honest portrayals of parenting, marriage, and real life. She currently lives in northeastern Ohio with her husband, two children, two dogs, two cats, and numerous dust bunnies who wish to remain nameless.

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