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I drove into the garage, turned off the engine and digested the condition of our car after a week of school runs, extra curricular activities and errands.  Judging by the state condition of things, there was no doubt that it was Friday afternoon.  Despite having told my boys to bring in their things from the car when we’d arrived home each afternoon, there were snack containers, clothes, Pokemon cards and other forgotten items strewn over the back seat and floor.  So, instead of simply telling my boys to bring it all inside as I climbed out of the car, I policed the operation to make sure it actually got done this time.

One of my sons clearly felt resistant to tidying up but he knew my expectations wouldn’t budge so he quietly got on with it and headed into the house.  My other son was a different story, perhaps because most of the mess was his.  You’d have thought I’d asked him to tidy the whole house, not just his compact one square metre of real estate in the family car.  His cheerful Friday afternoon demeanor quickly vanished and the complaining, moaning and half-crying began.

“I’ve got a thousand things to carry!  My arms are full!  I can’t carry any more!” my son burst out.  Very unreasonably, I pointed out that he might have to come back and make a second trip for the rest of his things.  The whining quickly escalated to red-faced outrage.

“Why can’t you do some of it?!  It’s not just my job!” he barked at me.  Simmering, but managing not to boil over, I showed him all of my own items on the front passenger seat that I would be taking inside and reminded him that, if he’d brought his things in each afternoon, he wouldn’t have so much to do now.  He was furious that I was right.  I gathered my things and headed inside the house, leaving him to stomp and slam doors and, hopefully, clean up.  

TIME TO RETIRE CHORE CHARTS?

As I put things away inside the house, I wondered, “why are my boys so often resistant to helping or even just taking responsibility for their own things?”  No answers came to me but I got thinking about the culture around chores in our family. Since moving house in February, we haven’t quite managed to resurrect the system we had for our boys’ chores.  The charts I had made for each son, showing their responsibilities with cute clip art images  – laminated, even –  had been lost in the move.  They were probably a little out-dated now, anyway, my boys being capable of more than setting the table and checking the mail.  I’ve been meaning to sit down and have a think about new, age-appropriate jobs and to create an updated chart for them each.

But, as I tidied my things away that afternoon, I thought to myself, “why should we need a system just to get our boys helping out around the house?”  It’s their home, their family, their things.  Part of belonging to our family team is sharing the responsibilities and work for everyone’s benefit. The limitation of a system like the charts we had is that, if a task isn’t on the chart, my boys don’t believe they should have to do it.  (Read about how our pocket money system also backfired on us here).  Although the charts served us well for quite a long time, my boys seem to have outgrown them in a certain way.  At 5 and 8 years of age now, I’d like to progress beyond charts and rules to helping my boys develop a genuine sense of responsibility and caring for our home, our belongings & our family.

Let me dream a little here.  Ideally, my husband or I would notice something that needs doing, ask one of our sons to do it and they would just do it.  No complaining that it’s their brother’s turn to do a job and why do they always have to be the one to do the work.  No pleading to do it later, which we all know never comes (at least, not without consistent nagging).  No using up my own time and energy getting them to do a job that I could’ve done myself with less effort than I was using trying to get them to do it.
 

WHAT TO DO INSTEAD OF CHORE CHARTS

Honestly, I don’t know how I’m going to make the shift from resistance to willingness around chores.  I really am just thinking out loud about this for the first time here.  But here are some initial ideas –

  1. Talk with my boys about the need to do chores and our values around them. Through these discussions, my boys can understand that our home works better for us all when there is a degree of organisation & tidiness and that everyone can help to maintain that order.  We can integrate our values into these conversations.  For example, gratitude is one of our family’s values and we already talk about how caring for our things shows our appreciation for them.  Other values might include, contribution, respect and helping others.
  2. Be flexible with the terms. It’s not reasonable to spring a time-consuming job on our child unexpectedly so, when appropriate, I would be willing to negotiate the terms.  This reflects some of the give-and-take I’m wanting to nurture in our family.  For example, if my son is in the middle of something, I could agree to letting him do the job when he has finished what he’s doing.  But this flexibility would only remain as long as he proves to be reliable, taking responsibility for getting jobs done under the agreed conditions.
  3. Include my boys in chores that I do. Whenever I do a job, I can ask myself, “would one of my sons be capable of helping in some way?” and, if so,  include them.  When they do chores with me, it is more fun and it gives them a greater sense of teamwork. By experiencing some of what my husband and I do, they may also develop a better appreciation for all the work we put in to making things work smoothly for our family.
  4. Appreciate contributions they make. If I show appreciation and thanks for the work they do, they will feel good for having made a contribution and may be more motivated to keep helping out.  As they develop a greater sense of responsibility for our home and our things, they may start taking initiative and doing small jobs without being asked, which I’d definitely want to acknowledge. (Imagine that!)

 

IN SUMMARY: FROM SYSTEMS TO VALUES

As I’ve written this essay, I’ve realised that the shift I am trying to make is from an extrinsic, systems-based approach to chores to an intrinsic, values-based approach.  I want the focus to be more on our family’s culture around chores than the processes we have. I haven’t figured it all out, I’ve just painted a picture of where I want us to go. 

Practically, I suspect the answer might lie somewhere in the middle – as it usually does.  Perhaps we will create a chart for essential daily chores that my boys can take responsibility for independently.  Then, I can get them involved in other jobs as needed in a more collaborative way that honours our family’s values and motivates my boys to pitch in. 

And, for the record, my son did clean out his part of the car that afternoon.  He left the door and the boot wide open in a display of resistance – but it got done.  

 

Much love,

 

 

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I met a group of friends for coffee last week.  Our gang of 7 year-old boys go to school together and, after dropping them off one morning, we met at a local cafe.  Conversation turned to the dreaded teenage years.
“Isn’t there a part of their brain that kind of shuts down and renovates itself in adolescence?” I asked.  “Reasoning or impulse control or something?  If that part of their brain isn’t really functioning, what hope do we have?” I said, only half joking.
We all exchanged despairing looks, imagining the trouble our teens might get themselves into, remembering some of the trouble we got ourselves into as teens.  After a while, another mum suggested that perhaps the best thing we could do to help our future teens stay “on track” was to teach values to our children.

Our theory was that, if our children are raised to have kindness, respect and value for life, for example, these things will be ingrained in their way of thinking and making decisions for life.  Brainwashing – for the good!

And the interesting thing I’ve realised is that we don’t even have to teach these values to our children.

 

THE REASON WE DON’T NEED TO TEACH VALUES TO OUR CHILDREN

If we look at the values listed above, they are all expressions of Love.  Since we have each been created by a loving Universe, Love is already in us, it doesn’t need to be taught to us – including our mischievous 7 year-old boys and impulsive teens.  Good news, right?!

This, of course, does not mean that our children will always behave in loving ways!  But what it does mean is that we don’t have to judge, punish and lecture them when they stray from their natural state of Love.  Because they already know, in the instant that they do the apparently unloving thing, that what they did wasn’t right.  As much as they may argue with us or justify their actions, there’s a part of them that immediately feels the discomfort of having strayed from their true nature.  I suspect that the more extensive their efforts to defend their behaviour, the louder that voice inside of them is crying, “I wish I hadn’t done that”.

My experience is that our children have an internal sense of right and wrong (or Love and fear, as A Course in Miracles would say).  They don’t need to be told that what they did was wrong, they already know.  If this is the case, how should we respond when they do cross over to the dark side?  Here’s what I’m practising…

Without judgement, I direct them inwards to that uneasy feeling of having strayed from Love.  For example, instead of saying, “It’s not right to hit your brother”, I might say, “How do you feel after hitting your brother?” or “How does hitting your brother make you feel?”  In these moments, I often get a silent thumbs down in response, but that’s enough.  He gets it. I don’t need to launch into a sermon, punish him or force him to apologise (you can read more on not making our children apologise here).

As Jake is getting older (he’s 7 now), I’ve also started talking to him about how he felt in the moment before he hits.  For example, “when you knew you were going to hit him, how did you feel about what you were about to do?”  Here I’m helping him to recognise that he always has that voice inside him that knows what he should do, telling him quietly how best to respond to a situation.

 

OTHER WAYS WE CAN EMPHASIZE VALUES TO OUR CHILDREN WITHOUT TEACHING THEM

There are things we can do to create a Love-based culture in our homes, to marinade our children in Love so that it seeps into their being from the outside as well as nurturing it from the inside.

As always, we can be examples of Love ourselves, exhibiting it in our own behaviour.  Our children’s eyes are on us all the time and there will inevitably be times when our example is far less than exemplary but there will also be many times when we are able to show our children what Love looks like in powerful ways.  Most powerfully is how well we show love to our children, including when their behaviour rubs up against our own sense of right and wrong.

We can talk about Love-based values, keeping them explicit and alive in our homes through conversation.  In our house, we often refer to The Golden Rule and talk about the “ripple effect” of our behaviour on those around us.  “What kind of ripple effect do you want to have?” I asked Jake the other day.  We rarely use words like right/wrong or good/bad in these conversations.  We talk more about making decisions that help everyone involved to feel good.

 

IN SUMMARY – A NEW METHOD FOR VALUES EDUCATION

So, instead of teaching values like we might capital cities of the world, trying to drum into our children “knowledge” of right from wrong,  we can trust that our children already know.  The most helpful response we can have to their behaviour is to help them tune into that knowing.  But doing this is not simply a strategy to make the teenage years easier for us or to put our minds at ease.  Ultimately it is to empower our children to be a force for Love in the world.  Our children and teens will still make decisions we wish they hadn’t but they will feel that pull of Love within and learn through their decisions.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

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When Jake was 4 years old, he enjoyed looking at bargain shops, especially perusing the toy aisles and all their strangely fascinating plastic junk.  Inevitably, each time we went into a bargain shop, he would want me to buy something for him.  I never did.  He had enough toys.  Also, I wanted to teach him that we can’t buy everything we want and happiness isn’t found in our material things. I figured it was time for Jake to have some pocket money both so that he would stop pestering me to buy him junky toys and to learn that “money doesn’t grow on trees”.

It seemed logical that he should have to earn his money by doing jobs because that’s how things generally roll in the “real world”.  So, I would give Jake a job to do each weekend to earn a little pocket money, such as helping to clean the car or wiping down the bathroom vanities.  There were also chores I expected him to do purely as a contribution to the family, such as emptying the cutlery rack of the dishwasher and taking his plate to the kitchen bench after eating.

When I first told Jake that he’d be getting pocket money, his eyes lit up.  And, at first, he enjoyed the responsibility of doing jobs that, until then, he’d only seen adults do.  You can probably predict what happened over time, though.  He started refusing to do jobs unless he was paid for them and, eventually, any jobs at all as he decided that not having to work was even more favourable than having money to spend.

It was time to reconsider our system.  I asked other families how they approached chores and pocket money with their kids.  It seemed few had settled on a system that they were really happy with and many had experienced the kinds of bumps I had.  Then I realised that the point was this – what did I want doing chores and having pocket money to teach Jake?

There are many different concepts we can teach our children through chores and pocket money but it gets confused when we try to teach all of them through one system.  When we narrow the outcomes down and get specific about know what our intentions are, it becomes a lot clearer how to go forward.  Here’s what I decided –

I wanted Jake to do chores to develop a sense of his capacity to make a contribution and to learn practical life skills.

I wanted Jake to have money to learn how to manage it.

I was willing to forgo trying to teach him that money is earned or to develop a work ethic through chores and pocket money in order to focus on contribution, life skills and money management.  There are plenty of other ways he can learn about earning money and having a good work ethic, such as through the example my husband & I set and through the discipline he needs for his school work and sports practices.

So, I realised that, to achieve the aims we’d settled, on, I had to separate the money from the chores.  Now, just as Jake does jobs to share in the family’s workload, he also shares in our family income.  While the money and chores are no longer linked to each other, they are both linked to his position as an equal member of our family.  This reflects one of my essential spiritual values – that everyone, regardless of age or any other factor, is equal and must be treated as such.

Now that he is 4, Thomas is old enough to also be involved in our system.  I have recently made Jake and Thomas each a visual “Helping Chart”. We’ve scrapped the terms “chores” and “jobs” to make it explicit that the tasks they do are to help our family.  On the chart are the ways they help in the mornings, the ways the help in the afternoons and the ways they help ocassionally, as needed.  Thomas does tasks likes feeding the cat and getting the mail from the letter box.  Jake vacuums and empties the bottom rack of the dishwasher.

One new addition to our routine is that Jake and Thomas each help me to make a meal once a week.  I let them choose what they’re going to make (I fear we may be eating more pasta than I can take!).  One side effect of giving them this responsibility has been that it gives me a little extra one-to-one time with each of them.  And, all going well, in a few years, my husband and I will be able to sit back with a glass of wine while our boys take care of dinner.

 

HOW MUCH MONEY SHOULD KIDS GET & WHAT DO THEY SPEND IT ON?

Then there’s the question of how children spend their money.  I’ve always been quite fond of the 3 jar system in which a child is given 3 jars, labelled “Save”, “Spend” and “Give”.  They put a third of their money in each and use it accordingly.  I guess I thought the jars were cute (particularly when you’re looking at Pinterest)  But, when it comes to saving and giving, I think life will teach them better about this than being forced to save or to give.

Having a jar for giving makes it an obligation, not a genuine act of kindness.  I prefer to invite my boys to share their money when opportunities naturally occur rather than to insist on it.  Our local hospital has been appealing to the public to donate new Winter pyjamas for children who arrive at the hospital without them.  So, last weekend, I took Jake and Thomas shopping to each choose a couple of pairs of pyjamas which we then delivered to the hospital.  The day before we went, I explained to them what we would be doing and why and I suggested that, if they wanted to, they could use some of their own money to help pay for the pyjamas.  I left it for them to think about.  The next day, before we left to go shopping, I asked them each what they had decided.  They were both adamant about their decisions.  Jake wanted to give some of his money.  Thomas didn’t.  I acknowledged Jake’s generosity but I didn’t praise him or judge Thomas for not contributing.

As for saving, already, Jake and Thomas have both found themselves in the position of having spent one week’s worth of money on something small and later wished they had saved it so they could buy something more satisfying.  Equally, last year Jake had his eye on a small Lego set.  We put a picture of it by his money box and he saved up until he was able to buy it for himself.  He learned about delayed gratification and prioritising how he spends his money.

Most of me believes that it is their money to spend as they choose.  However, I have put my foot down when they’ve wanted to buy really unhealthy food.  I couldn’t bear to watch them consume a whole chocolate bar after the efforts I go to give them a nutritious diet.  I’m unsure if I should be restricting their spending in any way so I’m still mulling that one over.

How much pocket money they get isn’t, I think, too important.  We’ve chosen to start small.  4 year-old Thomas gets $1 a week.  7 year-old Jake gets $2 a week.  They have no need for more money and they can learn just as much about handling money at the bargain shop as they can at a department store.  Making mistakes and learning lessons when the stakes are low is good practice for when the stakes are higher.

I can imagine that our system will have many reincarnations as the boys get older. Thomas will not be happy if he’s still only getting $1 a week when he’s 13!  And that wouldn’t be enough to teach him what I’ll be wanting him to learn at that stage. Certainly, by the time they’re in their teens, I anticipate that we’ll be giving them quite a significant amount of money with which to budget in order to learn money handling skills.  Perhaps they’ll have to use it to buy their own clothes and entertainment, really having to separate their needs from their wants.

 

CONCLUSION

I don’t think that there is one right way to manage chores and pocket money.  My lesson has been to let our values guide me and get clear about what are the most important things I want to teach my boys.   I have chosen to use it to pass on spiritual values such as their sense of belonging and contribution and to develop some early money handling and practical life skills.  As my boys get older, my intentions may well change and the system itself definitely will to make it age-appropriate.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

PS – There are a number of books available about how to manage money and chores with kids.  There are many also that about values that relate to money, such as gratitude and non-materialism.  I am hoping to read some of them and have just started reading The Opposite of Spoiled by Ron Lieber which is great food for thought. (I am not an affiliate for Ron’s products)

 

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HYPOTHESIS: THERE’S A BETTER WAY TO NURTURE VALUES IN OUR CHILDREN

My values have always been important to me.  When I first had children, I intended to instil “good values” into them so that they could be positive citizens of the world.  Our family would be honest, hard-working, kind… But I’ve been thinking lately about how to respond to my boys’ behaviour when it feels in opposition to my values.  It occurred to me that, more important and effective than teaching them specific values, would be to grow my boys’ spiritual strength.  I know that when I’m feeling tuned into God, my behaviour is naturally more loving.  With spiritual strength, I have the wisdom, power and confidence to make good choices.  Ultimately, spiritual strength gives us the ability to really Love.

Following this line of thought, I concluded that Love is the over-arching value, perhaps the only universal value.  Other values are subjective.  Take determination and hard work, for instance.  They are valuable in the service of Love (eg. creating a support group for people in need) but destructive in the service of fear (eg. weapon-building).  Applying other values depends on the people and the circumstances of a situation.  The wisdom of Love is required to know how to apply them.
THE DIFFICULTY WITH TEACHING VALUES

Teaching values without nurturing spiritual strength is teaching judgement – judgement of self and judgement of others.  It requires the mind to divide behaviour into “good” and “bad”.  From there, we fall into the trap of fear-based parenting.  (See The Real Purpose of Parenting)  Our fears, for example, that our children will not become positive adult citizens of the world or that their behaviour won’t reflect well on us creates judgement within us. Before we know it, we’re lecturing our children with lines like “where is your respect?” and “in this house we tell the truth” and “you don’t know what hard work is!”  I imagine most parents have said these kinds of things to their children at times, I’ve said them too.  On hearing such reprimands as a child, I believed that I was a terrible person and there was no hope for me.  Reduced to my smallest, most fearful self, I was powerless to truly consider whatever I had done “wrong” from Love.  The opportunity to grow was lost.  In my childhood, I was actually more often told that I was a “good girl” but that shrinking feeling was vivid in my memory.   By being a good girl, I was trying to gain approval and, more so, avoid disapproval.  My behaviour wasn’t guided by my own compass, my own wisdom (Love).  I didn’t even know I had any.

I’m not saying values aren’t important.  I’m saying that there may be a better way to encourage them in our children than to constantly judge their behaviour by our particular values.  A way that respects them and makes them more likely to live “morally”.  We can point them towards the Love that has always been there inside them instead of towards mind-made judgement.

 

WHAT IS SPIRITUAL STRENGTH?

I have been asking myself “what helps me to extend the reach of God’s Love in the world?”  For me, all loving thought & action seems to come from one of three practices – gratitude, compassion and faith.  These words are verbs, not just ideas.  If I can focus on deepening my boys’ understanding of gratitude, compassion & faith and show them how to put them into action, I think they will know how to live with “good values” and have the courage to do so.  Each of these three components needs a blog post of its own but I will briefly share how I think they might enable us to live with Love.

Gratitude – Gratitude has so many facets beyond it’s obvious (and wonderful) ability to lift us when struggling in some way.  When gratitude becomes a spiritual practice, we realise the abundance available to us.  With a heart full of gratitude, we have more to give and we honour what we have, including the people we encounter in our lives.  Our capacity, for example, to be generous, creative and humorous – to live in accordance with many of our values – expands.

Compassion – Compassion combines understanding, non-judgement and desire to serve.  To practice it is embodied in The Golden Rule: treat others the way we would like to be treated.  I introduced The Golden Rule to Jake a number of months ago and have started using it as a point of reference. For example, when his behaviour isn’t kind or respectful.   We talk specifically about how he would feel if he were the other person and he usually suggest himself how he’s going to show the other person that he cares and, if possible, fix the situation.  I try not to lecture, put my hands on my hips or raise my voice.  I just ask Jake questions that encourage him to draw on his compassion.  Compassion goes far deeper than “would you like it if he did that to you?” but this is a starting point upon which we can build.  (I’ve been thinking of displaying the words “The Golden Rule” in golden lettering somewhere in our home as a reminder to us all.)  Growing our compassion grows our commitment to values such as justice, peace and responsibility.

Faith – Faith is trust that, when we allow God to be our guide, the best will happen.  It doesn’t mean we will always get what we want, it means we will allow God to get what He wants and it’ll be even better than we imagined for ourselves.  As my faith grows, it has become a source of strength, especially in the face of fear.  I am slowly becoming more adventurous and willing to take on a challenge, including the challenge of being authentic.  I have enough trust to step out and live by values that haven’t previously been expressed in my life because of fear.

This summary of practices to develop spiritual strength (gratitude, compassion and faith) is a very personal one, based on what resonates with me.  Perhaps your experiences point to a different set of practices that grow your spiritual strength.  And it’s likely that, as we come to really know our children, we will realise that they have different spiritual practices than we do.  Every soul practices and grows its spirituality differently but it all enables us to Love.

 

CHILDREN NATURALLY HAVE GOOD VALUES

I’d like to add a short but important point.   We need to trust and our children need to know that they have infinite Love inside them, ready to be put to work at any and every moment.  Essentially, growing their spiritual strength is nurturing who they really are, servants of Love.

“Service will come naturally, as part of who we are, when we allow ourselves to truly express our authenticity from the centre of our being” – Anita Moorjani, “What if This is Heaven”.

I said recently to Jake, “I know you have lots of kindness in you but you’re not using it right now”.  I was trying to show him that I have no doubt in his ability to be kind but that he has to choose to exercise it.  When he’s older, I might just be able to say, “Choose compassion”, not as an instruction, just a simple reminder to use it.

 

IN SUMMARY: LOVE & VALUES

I’ve struggled a little to write this post, to make my meanings clear and bring it to life.  This idea of focussing more on spiritual strength than explicit teaching of values is new for me.  While I felt compelled to write about it, I have a lot more wondering and wandering to do.  But, to reduce this post to one idea that you might be able to work with, I leave you with this: Nurturing our children’s spiritual strength is nurturing their ability to Love.

As I shift away from judgement in my parenting, my hope is that my boys will live with “good values” because they care, not because they fear.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

julie_signature

 

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