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April 13, 2010

If This is Her "Golden Year," Should I Be Rocking the Boat?

San Diego 12

After attending a recent "tweens" parenting class at my fourth-grader's school, I came away with some serious doubts about my abilities in that department, as well as questions about how we as a society parent today.

Not that I think I'm the perfect mother -- not by any stretch! But I left with a list from the of what their "experts" say fourth- and fifth-graders ought to be able to do for themselves.

I have to tell you, I was a little shocked.

The checklist started out this way:

1. Is fairly competent cook (i.e., can make several simple meals)

2. Can clean and organize his/her own room as well as other common areas of the house

3. Can do laundry competently (sort, wash, fold)

4. Can shop independently using comparison pricing and make generally sounds choices

The list went on at length about other tasks and subjects including discussing puberty, understanding consequences and other household responsibilities.  It only took a moment of scanning that list to make me feel like I've been falling down on the job. 

PunditGirl can make herself a sandwich or get a bowl of cereal, but that's about where her culinary skills end. Getting her to organize or straighten up her bedroom is a losing battle at this point, and she can't reach the knobs on the washing machine. As for comparison shopping? Well, let's just say everyone in my family is in a better mood if I go for the groceries alone.

So as I tried to look at the faces around the room for signs of struggle or self-satisfaction, I wondered whether I'm letting her down?  Am I laying the groundwork for a child who can't fend for herself later?  I thought we were making age-appropriate progress on these things, but apparently I was wrong, at least by someone's standards.  I know there came a point in my own childhood when I was expected to do some of these things -- during high school, my mother went back to work, leaving me, as the oldest of three, to get dinner started and throw in a load of towels or sheets.  But I'm pretty sure I was in high school, not in my elementary years.

The good news from that session was that the presenter reminded us that age ten is considered to be "The Golden Year" of childhood -- you've made it through the baby and toddler years and you're enjoying the calm before the storm of those notorious teen years.

So if things are all calm and pleasant, why should I be rocking to boat now to get my ten-year-old to do her laundry and embrace her inner Jamie Oliver?  She's shown some signs of interest in various task, but then I stop myself and ask, is it safe to let my ten-year-old stand at the gas range and stir the pasta noodles?  Do I want to take the chance of the white load of laundry turning out all pink?

As one of the moms there piped up, her brothers weren't exactly pulling their weight in the household chore department when she was growing up, and they went off to college knowing how to fold laundry and feed themselves.  Heck, she says they even do the wash for their own families today, for which I'm sure their wives are grateful.

All of this is good food for thought and I'm trying to take it with a grain of salt, to be adjusted to the taste of our individual family.  But I'm wondering whether classes like this help put things in perspective for today's harried parents or only serve us up another nice, hot helping of guilt?

When Joanne isn't hyper-ventilating about whether she should be getting her fourth-grader to do more of the housework, you can find her at her place, PunditMom, where she writes about the intersection of motherhood and politics.  Her book about the increasing political involvement of mothers will be published this fall.

Original 50-something Moms blog post.

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