From the archives: First published in Taking Children Seriously 20, 1996
Our homeschooling support group meeting was last night and we had a lovely couple there who have home schooled all four of their children, three of whom have gone on to college, the other of whom is in high school. We broke into smaller groups of five to six people, in which we discussed our different methods and ideas, then our group spokesperson shared the general ones with the whole group.
It was great until we reached two areas. Before I touch on those, I’d like to ask a few questions that are related.
Suppose that your household chores are to make your bed (spouse is up before you so it’s your job), clean the house, do laundry and dishes, feed the kids breakfast and lunch – whatever your list looks like. Now, suppose come dinner time, the laundry isn’t done yet. Maybe you got a call from your sister/neighbour/friend and you got side-tracked, or just flat out didn’t feel like it. Now, suppose you were told that because you didn’t finish your chores for the day, you don’t get dinner. Your spouse says, “Forget it, you get to eat when it’s done.” Excuse me, but mine better start running and ducking cause this girl eats dinner despite her chores being incomplete. What about you? Do you have to go without your meal because of this?
What about the other things maybe the other spouse is responsible for, like mowing the lawn, taking out the trash, working on the car, weeding the flower bed, going to work? Now suppose for a minute the yard is only half mowed at dinner time and the trash is still sitting by the door to go out. Okay, do we tell them they can’t eat dinner until it’s done (who cares if it’s dinner time and they are hungry)? Mine would probably tell me that if I really thought I could keep him from his plate to go ahead and stand there in front of the stove and watch him reach around me or pick me up and move me.
Now, suppose your husband decides one day that the answer to the clutter in the bedroom is to dispose of some of your things. Suppose mine just didn’t understand that I have three pairs of black shoes because one pair is flat, one low heeled and one high. In his eyes it’s only necessary for one pair of black shoes. Or maybe your spouse decides you have too many pairs of gym shoes so he disposes of all but one. Never mind that one is for yard work (you know the pair), one for walking and so on and he just disposes of them?
Or maybe he thinks you have too many books, magazines, pairs of frillies, or whatever. He decides that you are too messy and disposes of your ‘mess’. Or maybe you decide he has too many ties in his closet, or too many pairs of dress shoes, or too many white shirts, or whatever it is of his, and you dispose of it.
Well, I know at my house, the bananas are falling off the palm trees in paradise about now because those things are mine and I decide what I keep and what I throw away. Same with his. That is ordinary respect for someone else’s things. Now, why is it any different then for children?
We were discussing keeping our homes clean and motivating our kids to their school work. Nearly everyone said the same thing: if the kids don’t finish their chores or school work, they don’t eat!
Excuse me, but isn’t food and drink a necessity for sustaining life? Going to the bathroom and breathing are necessary too, but we wouldn’t dream of saying, “Here, put this plastic bag over your head till your chores are done,” or “No you can’t go potty till your school work is done.” So why in the world would we deny them meals if they aren’t cooperating? Like I asked, how many of us go without meals because we didn’t finish something? Just let Pete try to stop me from eating because I didn’t finish the laundry and I’ll be serving him steamed sweat socks for his next meal.
These same people dispose of their children’s toys to avoid clutter. They’ve made their children decide what thing they like most, Barbie dolls, Hot Wheels, or whatever, and that is all they get to keep, the rest being thrown away.
I’m no pack rat but I have a lot of things that while they are not important to others (figures my sister gave me, little trinkets etc.), they are mine. They take up space but they belong to me, and I expect that no one will throw them away. They are to respect that those are my things.
These same parents would not allow their spouse or anyone else to decide suddenly that they are too clutter-minded and pitch their precious things. How can they do this to their kids? My children have toys, and while we aren’t a toy store or anything, they do have a lot of things. They have lots of uncles, aunts, and grandparents who buy them things. Some are really important to them, some so-so. But those belong to them.
Don’t we learn respect by having respect shown to us? How could anyone do these things to a child? I believe in discipline, but not denying basic necessities of life or taking what doesn’t belong to me because I think it should be. There are better ways.
It all seemed rather cruel to me when I put myself into their little shoes and imagined my reactions to Pete denying me dinner for not finishing laundry, or taking my things and throwing them away because I’m a bit messy.
I’d like to take back to my group some alternatives to denying food and throwing things away. Got any?
DISCLAIMER: yes, I feel strongly about this. No, I’m not saying anyone who does this is a horrible child abuser. But would anyone be willing to have someone treat them this way? I’m really shocked at this sort of treatment.
Marti Gardner, 1996, ‘How would you like it?’, Taking Children Seriously 20, ISSN 1351-5381, p. 9, https://www.takingchildrenseriously.com/how-would-you-like-it/