I read Little House On the Prairie to the girls when they were in 2nd grade & Kindergarten. In it, Ma left the girls (I think they were preteens) with the baby and the house for a week! They knew how to do all the work AND did the spring cleaning to surprise Ma.
When I first read that, I thought "HOW could Ma leave them like that? There were soooo many dangers in those days!" Then I started re-rethinking what I thought of childhood. I honestly believe we have an artificial infancy concept of childhood. Rather than considering that childhood as the training ground for adulthood, our society thinks children are to be coddled, entertained and considered unable to be functioning, contributing members of society even while they're children. Hmmm.... So if God made children capable of more responsibility, are we DISabling them to not let them live to that potential? Hmmm....
So I made it a pie-in-the-sky goal that each of my children would know how to do every job in the house that I could teach them by the time they were 13. Then at 13 I would teach them to juggle. I wasn't taught how to multi-task or juggle and it's taken me YEARS of motherhood before I felt like I was doing anything but failing. I would like my girls to be a little better off than that.
Each year, each child switches jobs to become proficient in a job for the year. This is the rough schedule of chores as the children progress in maturity:
Age 4 - Set the table
5 - Sweep the floor
6 - Wash the table / Mop the floor
7 - Take out the trash
8 - Empty the dishwasher (each time, and YES I lost alot of dishes on the ceramic floor this way and we ended up switching to plastic for our main dishes)
9 - Laundry (yes, all the laundry in the house)
10 - Mow the lawn - we end up having a "catch-up" year in here somewhere - a kid will prefer a job and ask for an extra year on it before going to the next harder job -OR- they need more practice on a job and get stuck on it for another year until they've mastered it.
11 - Dishes (keeping the kitchen clean after every meal)
12 - Dinner (I plan and they learn to cook dinner each night. I feel like it's such a challenging task to get all the dishes to come out at the same time and on the table hot (or cold) that it takes a lot of practice)
13 - Since Dd#1 has taken over the cooking / list making / and shopping (although I am the driver and looker-overer) I tried to make it as easy on her as possible.
- I consolidated all my recipes in one book that office depot printed and bound for ~$5
- made a master grocery list
- lists for each kinds of meal (breakfast, weekday lunch, dinner & weekend lunch - we add extra servings & sides when Dave is home)
- I have a system in place for meal planning that I can teach her
- I made an excel spreadsheet of the meals I make, how much they cost and the approximate ingredients. She inputs the number of meals into one column and it calculates how much she'll be spending for the month. This is just automating meal planning for her benefit - I did it for years without a spreadsheet. When I put in the approximate ingredients, I didn't put it in the way you cook (4 Cups of milk) but the way you shop (1/8 gallon of milk)
Here are the steps
- Make a list of which meals she'd like from each category (breakfast, weekday lunch, dinner & weekend lunch )
- Plug those meals into an actual calendar to make sure she isn't making 3 chicken meals in a week (Dave's allergic to chicken).
- Compare that list to the actual recipes to make a list of ingredients you'll need at the store.
- Make a grocery list. (I have her consolidating step 3 & 4 by using the spreadsheet above.)
Besides the blank stares of disbelief, here are the answers to some questions I've gotten about my 13yr old doing this job --
Q: Isn't that too big of a job for a 13 yr old.
A: I don't throw a 13 yr old into this. They want to help stir cookies when they're 3. They learn to use the microwave under supervision when they're 7. They learn to make eggs & pancakes and breakfast stuff when they're 8. They learn to take things out of the oven when they're 10ish (depends on the kid). Doing the laundry for a family of 7 is no slacker's job and it's a big responsibility at 9 years old. For the kids who don't handle responsibility well, I provide consequences, rewards, reminders, timers, threats, encouragement -- and anything I can think of to help them shoulder the responsibility. Not including swiching laundry loads, it takes about 10 hrs/wk for a kid to fold all the laundry. These gradual responsibilities help train them to carry the next set so they're not overwhelmed when they have to run their own lives.
Q: Don't you feel like it interferes with your own spirituality not to serve your family in love?
A: It's much harder for me to let her do it than to do it myself. Yes, she's burned some meals. Yes, some haven't turned out. Yes, I'm taking a risk with our family's budget to have her do this. These are things that cause me to die to self in love of my children to help them become the people God means them to be. I'd rather her take these risks when she's under my tutelage than when she's broke and out on her own with no one to help her when she makes a mistake.
Q: Does she have any time to do anything but work?
A: It does take her quite a while to make meals (2 1/2 hours for a dinner I could do in 30-45 minutes) but she'll get faster. Meal planning takes about 5 hrs for the month using the tools above. Shopping takes about 4 hours for 1 month's worth. Yes, she gets more free time than I do, but less than the little kids. I'm not worried about overloading her with work. I definitely keep that in mind and check with her to see how she's doing with this much responsibility. With responsibility comes privileges (and she's happy for those).
After 13? I have a Life Skills for Teen list we'll be tweaking for each child.