Question about unschooling and chores - Mothering Forums
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#1 of 13 Old 03-05-2014, 09:35 AM - Thread Starter
 
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Hi all,

 

I hope nobody minds that I am posting in here, even though I'm not quite sure that we're even truly unschooling for right now, nor do I have a clue whether or not we'll continue this way once I'm fully recovered from these health challenges I'm facing. But as I mentioned in the homeschool board, I have been giving my DS a lot of freedom and choices as to what to do and when to do it. And I'm very happy to see that he's learning, and learning quite some interesting things actually. As we were shopping together yesterday and discussed prices about things, and I mentioned (as I usually do) that you have to add sales tax, he started asking questions about it, and wanted to know the "real" price of the juicer I was buying, including tax. So, when we got home, I explained how to add sales tax. It wasn't hugely challenging for him, he's done fractions, so it was a bit of review of how to find a fraction of a whole, and figuring out % of a whole, which was new. Anyway, he was able to do it. He's also still very involved with his book about planes, and one about World War II, and we're reading a book about Anne Frank together in the evening (all are children's books). And he's also catching up on answering letters from his penfriends.

 

But here comes my question. The kids are supposed to do certain chores to help out, such as putting their clean laundry away, and doing their own dishes. These days, my DS has been putting that off longer and longer. Before it was part of our set schedule, such as, from 8 am until 8:30 am you wash your dishes (yeah, he takes a long time, LOL), then it's time for math. So, now that I'm trying a more hands-off approach from my part, when I mention that he hasn't done his dishes yet, he runs off upstairs saying he's going to practice his cello first. That would be fine if he then did them at some point not too long after he finishes his first cello practice, but then he's off reading, or doing other things. He didn't do his dishes at all yesterday, so now he's got a pretty big stack left to do. I wash the pots and pans and sharp knives I use to cook his food, but he washes his plates, cups and utensils he uses to eat. We do have a dishwasher, but we can't wash his dishes in there because the little bits of food residues in there give him allergy attacks (he has some very severe food allergies, which was one of the main reasons we started on this homeschooling journey in the first place). When I mentioned to him that he'll run out of dishes at some point, he just said we can use the paper and plastic stuff then, which I have as a back-up, and use when we're dealing with too much stuff, or when I'm sick for instance. 

 

Any thoughts on how to deal with this stuff? He did finally put his clothes away yesterday, because I needed the hamper to put his next load of clean clothes in. 

 

Thanks so much in advance! These boards have been such a huge help and support for me!!! 

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#2 of 13 Old 03-05-2014, 10:40 AM
 
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For us the most productive strategy has been regular family meetings. These are a chance for anyone to bring up any issue they want to discuss, and to collaboratively come up with possible solutions. Anything goes at Family Meetings, but they're a particularly productive place to discuss the division of labour and time amongst the household.

 

With respect to the dishes issue. Possible solutions might be to buy enough extra dishes, plus a Rubbermaid tub to store them in, so that he can accrue enough dirty dishes to have an entire dishwasher load for himself, run after a sani cycle, and then not have to wash by hand. Or for him do some alternate work around the house that you normally do, so that you have extra time to devote to washing his dishes when you're washing the cooking pots and utensils. Or to revert to some sort of structure, like a rule that nothing happens and no one leaves after dinner until the kitchen is clean and tidy. You can discuss why proposed solutions might or might not work, or might or might not be ethical and just. For instance, his proposal to leave all the current dishes dirty and then use disposable dishes would almost certainly get rejected in our family on environmental grounds, and also on financial grounds. (We might do the math and ask where the extra $4.80 a week [or whatever] was going to come from.) 

 

Once you've collectively agreed on some new approach to try, give it a go for a week, then reassess. Even if someone isn't completely convinced, ask them if they'd be willing to give it a try for a week. Often I've been surprised by what does work and the same has been true for my kids. And if something clearly doesn't work, well, whoever proposed it is typically much more willing to move on and entertain alternate ideas after it has been tried and experienced as ineffective.

 

Two things I'll caution you about, though, if you decide to start family meetings to solve these sorts of problems. First, you'll have to do a lot at the beginning to ensure that they are greeted optimistically and creatively by your children. You don't want them to perceive Meetings as an opportunity for parents to complain and lecture to them about their shortcomings. Or as blame-fests and opportunities for arguing about contentious issues. Or as the starting point for a lot of nasty imposed rules and expectations. Make meetings happy collaborations by taking the time to talk about and celebrate what is working well, really listening to your children's ideas, injecting humour, being willing to step outside the box with them if that's what they want, and by giving them the sense of having a powerful voice in "making our awesome family work even better." Serve yummy food and comforting warm drinks. Play up the formality in fun ways. When you do discuss issues that have some negativity associated with them, make use of "I" statements rather than "you" statements. Not "You're leaving your dirty dishes all over the kitchen and it's making a huge mess" but "I find it hard to do my kitchen cleaning and tidying when there are dirty dishes on the counters." 

 

Second, do your best to refer to basic values as your discuss problems and solutions. For us, I'd say that the basic values we came back to most of all were that families share, that everyone who is affected by something should have their feelings considered and taken into account, and that healthy lives are balanced lives. Referring back to principles helps keep things from getting into petty arguments about fairness, or who got their way last time, or whether someone is being ganged up on.

 

We always had an agenda for our meetings, which anyone was free to add to. "My brother is always getting into my stuff without permission" is a great thing to put on a Family Meeting agenda, particularly because without the hope of having the issue taken seriously on Saturday, the petty annoyances and hard feelings experienced on Wednesday might escalate into a fight or a meltdown. But also, you want your kids to feel like they come to the table with equal voices. Any concerns they have should be treated with just as much importance at a Family Meeting as the parents' concerns. We had a general structure for our agenda which included Refreshments, Old Business (revisiting things from last week to check on progress), New Business, Balance (how are we doing at balancing active vs. sedentary activities, sleep vs. wake, social vs. solitary time, at nutritional balance, and in-home vs. out-of-home time), Sharing (of time, financial resources and work), and Yay For Us (talk about something that's going well, and try to learn lessons from that success).

 

A new job chart or gimmick or set of rules might seem like a simple and straightforward fix for problems with chores, but in my experience nothing pays as many dividends as Family Meetings. They may seem complicated, contrived and a little weird at first, but the benefit of really communicating and of working collaboratively to solve problems in your own ways ... that's a huge and lasting change. 

 

< stepping off the Family Meeting soapbox now... >

 

Miranda


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#3 of 13 Old 03-05-2014, 10:55 AM
 
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I think you'll find that unschooling folks diverge widely on the issue of chores.  I wrote a couple years ago about how I noticed that giving the girls freedom around their activities seemed to make it harder to get them to do things that needed to be done (at the time brushing teeth).  

 

Now, several years later I have discovered a few things.  One is, as you noticed, it can be difficult to sustain a routine if it's no longer centered around another need.  I managed to get bedtime teethbrushing into the routine with relative ease, because it was connected with storytime, jammies and bed.  Morning toothbrushing has been entirely different.  We don't get up for school, we don't regularly get out the door, so it's been hard to establish the habit for us.  That's been a "failure", but I have had some success with other things.  I started adding putting away their clean, folded clothes to our bedtime routine, and had almost no trouble doing it.

 

We do need to figure out something to do for regular chores.  To some extent, it will evolve and I have faith that my girls will not be entirely negligent.  I do see some potential difficulty with my youngest, who shows every sign of being exactly like me: disorganized and distractible (or entirely undistractible, depending on the moment or how one looks at it).  My oldest I see almost no difficulty in a gradual transformation into a helpmeet, and possibly she will teach me some things and keep me in line!

 

It sounds like your son is enjoying his new freedom.  A combination of reorganizing when you need him and what he needs to do, allowing him to give some input on the same, and letting this situation evolve organically until something works for everybody will all be helpful.

 

Also, I think it's more important to start the idea of helping out than it is for younger kids to make a real impact.  My oldest thinks it's so important to wipe down the bathroom faucet now and then and do some careful dusting, sometimes setting the table.  She likes being given some responsibility--or likes the idea of it anyhow-- but it's for things she sees as important, not so much my ideas.  I'm fine with that.

 

What I'm not fine with is dumping stuff on the floor, not taking wrappers to the garbage.  I don't enjoy all the toys on the floor, but the natural consequences of that are easier than not doing dishes.  I'm not finding toys until I feel good and ready to do a big cleanup.  Tough.  I think that's different than not doing a child's dishes or laundry.  I think it's a better place to start with that concept than in places that a child really needs.  I don't think parents should use that logic with younger kids for the absolute basics, IMO.  I will not let the garbage pile up.  I will not allow the dirty laundry to pile up, nor the dirty dishes.  Those I will do in the end.


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#4 of 13 Old 03-05-2014, 11:02 AM
 
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A new job chart or gimmick or set of rules might seem like a simple and straightforward fix for problems with chores, but in my experience nothing pays as many dividends as Family Meetings. They may seem complicated, contrived and a little weird at first, but the benefit of really communicating and of working collaboratively to solve problems in your own ways ... that's a huge and lasting change. 

 

< stepping off the Family Meeting soapbox now... >

 

Miranda

Oh, don't step off the soapbox!  I haven't been able to engineer family meetings, but I take your advice to heart and try to apply that attitude to when the discussions come up organically.  I love the idea of a business agenda!  I still hope one day we can do them, I haven't given it up as a lost cause.  I'm inspired by stories of your family meetings.  Just the idea in my head has been helpful for our family.


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#5 of 13 Old 03-05-2014, 12:34 PM
 
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Oh, don't step off the soapbox!  

 

Part of the soapbox effect is because I'm feeling a little nostalgic for our family meetings tradition, which has fallen by the wayside in the last four or five years. While we occasionally have family issues to discuss and always fall back on our Family Meeting principles at those times, I found that once my kids were definitively into the teenage years most of the really important problem-solving work that needed my facilitation was of the personal variety. Premenstrual moodiness, internet indiscretions, body odour and jealous girlfriend problems are not really the sorts of things my kids want to discuss in front of their siblings. :rotflmao

 

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#6 of 13 Old 03-05-2014, 01:44 PM
 
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Further thought.... I think this might be one of those times for a parent to say "Whoa, Nellie!  We never agreed to ditch this chore.  I agreed to drop math lessons at this time and let you choose but you want to do, but that doesn't mean you get to drop the chores you're expected to do in the morning.  I'm glad you are excited about how we've been doing things, but before you head off, let's talk about this, and I'll keep you company while you finish up."  Or something more succinct than that.

 

Anyway, just another thought.


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#7 of 13 Old 03-05-2014, 02:08 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Thank you for the suggestions! I love them all! I really like the idea of family meetings, although my kids are so different - opposites really - that it might be difficult practically speaking. There's also a good chance that my daughter would just run off and plain out refuse to take part of any such meeting! She has a mood disorder (we are waiting to get in with a good counselor, will be starting family counseling beginning of April), and the herbal supplements we're giving her are just barely taking the edge off of her frequent outbursts. She has refused to do any chores for quite some time now, and I'm sure that feels quite unfair to my son. But then again, she's in public school, both because she prefers being at school, and because we are basically all walking on eggshells when she's around, even though she's not 10 yet! She's very strong, and uses her physical power against both my son and me, and has hurt us badly enough a few times that it's getting scary.

Anyway, we could arrange a family meeting after lunch on a weekday while she's at school, if she doesn't want to have anything to do with them. I think my husband would go for it at this point.

As for using the dishwasher after a sani rinse, I used to do that, but recently I have been fortunate enough that my husband has stepped up (without me asking him!!) and has been taking care of all the other dishes (other than my son's), so he loads and unloads the dishwasher, and said he doesn't want to have to wait for me to do a load of my son's dishes before he can have it back for the other dishes, so that's out. And I need and appreciate the help too much to fight him on that.

 

I do like the idea of making it a routine of doing them after dinner. Wouldn't work on Monday because we all have rush off to orchestra after eating an early dinner, but I think I'd rather have one day a week when he's guaranteed to not do his dishes but does them all the other days, than it becoming something else to fight him over, so I think that could be very workable. He's really usually quite good about helping out with the few things I ask him to help with, emptying the trash can in his room, changing his bird's water. Putting his laundry away is a bit more of a struggle though, and he really seems to not like doing his dishes.

 

But I have to say that overall I really like this; I feel so much less stressed. He told me he wants to take a break from his math work book for a week or so, and my first reaction was a feeling of near panic, worrying he'll forget everything. But then after taking a couple of deep breaths, I figured that, since he hasn't forgotten all the math skills he's learned at some point and then not done for a little while (because they are not addressed in his work book), it'll be ok. In reality, if he set his mind to it, he could really be done with 4th grade math in a month or so, and not only are we not nearly close to the end of the school year, but he's a year ahead. So I told him it's ok. Then next thing I know he asked me something that is quite math related, and was doing all sorts of math computations in his head...

 

It's an interesting road we're on, I have to admit. A little unknown to me, but I like it so far. And the best thing of all is that our relationship has already hugely improved in just a few days. He's a lot less argumentative and runs upstairs to his next "project" for the day, whereas before it took forever to coax and convince him to go upstairs to start doing his work books.

 

So long as he doesn't blurt out to Daddy that he's being unschooled now!! LOL

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#8 of 13 Old 03-05-2014, 03:03 PM
 
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he doesn't want to have to wait for me to do a load of my son's dishes before he can have it back 

 

Not trying to beat a dead horse here, but if he's taken over loading and unloading the dishwasher, why wouldn't he be willing to occasionally load and unload your ds's dishes? I guess I'm feeling a bit bad for your ds who not only presumably has to deal with all the dietary restrictions resulting from his allergies but is the only kid in the family who has to wash his own dirty dishes, since they are treated as an unacceptable inconvenience by his dad, who uncomplainingly looks after getting everyone else's washed. Perhaps there are other factors playing into this that I'm not aware of. Maybe this is just the way it has to be. Maybe this would be worth examining as a family, just in case there are other solutions that haven't yet been considered.

 

Miranda

 

P.S. When we didn't have a dishwasher, there was always someone charged with reading aloud to all the dishwashers while they worked. It made it so much more enjoyable!


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#9 of 13 Old 03-05-2014, 03:24 PM - Thread Starter
 
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That is a good point you bring up, Miranda. It is a bit of a complex situation, in that my husband has never taken our son's allergies seriously enough, in spite of some very serious reactions he's had over the years. He also repeatedly announces that I'm way over reacting about it. Right now he's still recovering from exposure from somewhere (we don't know where, could be the grocery store, could be either my husband or daughter not washing their hands after eating something he reacts to) and has a nasty rash under his underlip that is finally healing with lots of coconut oil. 

Anyway, there's no way I can trust my husband with our son's dishes, as sad as that sounds, and is, really. He wouldn't care about making sure there is no chance of contamination. 

This also results in our son not letting his dad deal with anything that relates to his (son's) food! It's a very tricky situation, that causes constant stress for me, and likely my son too.

So maybe I need to just take this one on me, and do his dishes, and see if I can get him to help with something else. He truly does love to help, really, he just seems to hate this one thing.

Food for thought for me, for sure!

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#10 of 13 Old 03-05-2014, 03:56 PM
 
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It is a bit of a complex situation

 

It sure is. Thanks for being willing to explain. Sorry if I was prying. Sounds like you're figuring things out. 

 

all the best,

 

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#11 of 13 Old 03-05-2014, 10:31 PM - Thread Starter
 
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It sure is. Thanks for being willing to explain. Sorry if I was prying. Sounds like you're figuring things out. 

 

all the best,

 

Miranda

No, it didn't feel like you were prying at all! I really appreciate your input and support!! I talked to him about it tonight, asking him if it seemed unfair to him. He said he didn't see it that way, and washed his dishes without me having to bug him. And I do have a basin where I stack them in, and also rinse them right after meals. Also, DD is supposed to rinse off her dishes and stack them in the dish washer, but she hardly ever does. It's not easy for sure; I have a lot of extra work too, with all the extra separate cooking with his allergies. My husband and DD won't eat much of what DS is not allergic to, so I have to make at least 2 different meals each time, sometimes 3.

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#12 of 13 Old 03-06-2014, 01:47 AM
 
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How long has that been his chore? I've found that when my kids (12 & 5) start putting off their regular chores it helps to switch it up a bit. They can trade with me, dh, or each other or come up with whatever needs doing. As long as everyone helps out I'm happy.
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#13 of 13 Old 03-07-2014, 12:34 AM
 
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 Ewink just to chime in a bit. I have an 8 year old with quite a strong dairy intolerance. It waxes and wanes according to what she can tolerate, but certainly right now it seems quite bad.

 

What's been important to me is to twofold. First to make sure she can manage the situation and look after herself as far as possible. If she's in the house for a meal, 99% of the time the meal is ok for her and if not-say if a friend has brought cakes over-I always make sure that there is a nice alternative. We don't have any cross contamination issues, but we do have to be sure that she has certain things, lactose free milk for example, in the fridge, and I do make it her job to tell us if we need to get it. That doesn't mean I'd punish her by NOT getting it (I actually do check before going shopping) but I want it in her head to look after herself here, because I think that will give her a lot more freedom in the long run. 

 

I also do a lot of cooking with her-I do with all the kids, as its important to me that that they can cook for themselves,( I think that makes living cheaply infinitely easier-and I  actually think the option of living cheaply, yet enjoyably, is one of the most important things to give kids). In her case, its important to me that she has a range of delicious, dairy free options. She can't really even just eat most biscuits off the shelf in the shop (this does vary-it depends how bad it is) so she needs to be able to make herself alternatives that she likes. I don't want food to be a misery, or just functional, for her. 

 

 

Its a personal thing, but I have to say that I'm not prepared to make 2 or 3 different meals. For a few reasons, actually. One is that I think that dairy free meals are perfectly healthy, probably more so than high dairy, and also, depending on what you actually cook, potentially less environmentally damaging. I'm also always happy for someone to fix themselves a meal, but I would not be happy to make several different meals. I guess I don't love cooking that much! The thing that occurs to me here is that-could your husband not take over cooking for himself and your daughter, if they really don't like your son's food? Another thing-this might be contentious but although my daughter can't eat everything that doesn't mean she gets to choose what we eat, if that makes sense. I make something everyone can eat, but I just cannot make something everyone will like! I put a lot of effort, for example, into finding dairy free, delicious, recipes for EVERYONE'S favourite meals.  I don't love family cooking, the endless need to make another filling-yet-nutritious meal is probably my least favourite part of parenting. But I will teach/mentor anyone to make food, I will make sure we have ingredients so that they can make them (or give them the money to go down to the shop). I also-and again this is very personal-absolutely do not see it as my job to make my partner special meals. He's a grown man! I'm also quite enthusiastic about sitting down together to a family meal and that's hard to do, IMO, if everyone has fixed different foods. What we often do, especially at lunch, is to have several small dishes for people to make their own sandwiches, couscous, etc. Normally then I'd be just putting the stuff out there with minimal preparation. 

 

Bit of a ramble. I think my feeling is that allergies are a pain, and they do, IMO, require something of the whole family, because being a family is about that. It sounds like the crux of your problem are really that your husband doesn't take the intolerances seriously. I'm wondering, might it help for him to have a chat with your doctor about this? It sounds like something that could, long term, be quite unhelpful to your husband and son's relationship. 

 

I also think that Miranda's family meetings always sound like a splendid idea. I keep meaning to try them. Ewink, it just seems like a heck of a lot-emotionally and practically-is falling to you, and that doesn't seem right. I would very quickly burn out in this situation :-) 


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