Thursday, 23 June 2011

Chores and Underlings: What Works


Surrender works so well in so many areas of parenting (and life) –it is when we stop struggling with reality that we find ease and peace.

One note for clarification: surrender is not sacrifice. Sacrifice is for martyrs, not people who seek happiness, effectiveness, joy, peace, connection or love. Martyrs may get admiration . . . maybe. But what they will get is resentment, avoidance, criticism (which is ironic, because they seek to avoid it) and derision.

Regarding chores, there are several aspects of surrender necessary to create a peaceful and healthy home:

Surrender to the reality of time constraints

You can do it all, just not all at once. Priorities need to be evaluated so you’re not wasting your life –or trying to waste anyone else’s—on things you don’t genuinely value

Surrender to the necessity of the task

Before enlightenment: chop wood, carry water
After enlightenment: chop wood, carry water

There will be no time in your life when feeding and cleaning does not need to be done, however much modern conveniences ease the work. Accept that it must be done, without end.

Surrender to the real equality

All people need feeding and cleaning: of all the base, common and menial drudgery, none can be less exalted than ‘voiding bladder and bowel.’ We all get to do that with part of our days – 5 cent/hour garbage pickers in Brazil and $30,000/minute superstar athletes, and everyone in between. You can value this real aspect of life or revile it, but no one else is far enough beneath you to have to do it for you.

It is deeply disrespectful of humans to hold the opinion that the work is beneath you but not them.

Surrender to the power of mindless repetition –and hard work

All the effort spent (and technology invented) just to avoid the peace and ease of simple, repetitive work…

The dedication modern folk give to avoiding some of the easiest and most instantly-gratifying work available is amazing. A cleaned plate is clean: visibly, obviously and it is ‘finished.’ So much work is never done, has no clear product or is so complex and involves so many people that our part in it is (or feels) both invisible and impersonal. A clean plate is clean. A planted garden is planted. A cooked meal is completed.

Surrender to the fleeting nature of life

Yes, the meal will be eaten and the plate will once again need cleaning, but such is the nature of life. What is it that, once done, need never be redone or will never be undone? A singer walks off the stage and the song has ended. It can be re-sung, of course, but that performance is over. Even a recording of the thing is not the thing –it was live with a live audience and now it is a recording of both. Why is that less distressing than the laundry that needs re-washing?

Find the joys in doing, not in only having done. Life is a process, not a product.

Surrender to the chaos

Unless you seek to live alone forever, chaos will always be your roommate. Other people are ‘other’ –they see things differently, they react because they have a different perspective. The desire to live in peaceful harmony forever precludes living with other humans at any age.

Even if you did not understand the deal you were signing up for, the decision to have children comes with the built-in guarantee of a life filled with chaos. Will you fight it like it’s an unwanted intruder, or accept it as the inevitability it is, like static or dust?

Surrender, finally, to your own personal preferences

Do what you will, as you will.

It is only within this freedom and self-respect that you can find worth in your work –and free others to see the worth in the work you do, and perhaps even find value in doing it themselves.

The secret of children happily cooperating in their own homes is an atmosphere of joy, worthiness and respect which cannot be found in an atmosphere of dictatorial superiority.

A parent who finds himself sneering at the idea of washing a floor cannot be surprised by a child’s distaste for the task. Equally, a man happily engaged in nurturing his family through meal preparations may well find cooperative bodies eager to share the room and help.

Joy, enthusiasm and a sense of an important job well done are all attractive, and contagious. When you feel resistance from your kids, check to see how you really feel about the work. . . and if you believe it is necessary to do at all.


  1. Linda, I love cooking and I don't mind cleaning but when I ask for help picking up toys in the common rooms of our house my five year old has zero interest in doing anything. I notice when the space is tidier she really enjoys it. I worry that she will continue to expect everything to be done for her and I don't understand her resistance. I don't usually make a big deal about it and she is free to leave her room as messy as she wants. Maybe this is just fear talking but I would love her to help me pick up her things on occasion so I could enjoy the space more without stepping on bits and pieces everywhere. Anyway, just nattering. I always enjoy your posts here and on UC.

  2. It is fear talking... or nattering. LOL

    Here's a handy checklist, when you're 'asking' for compliance:

    ~ is the child otherwise engaged in an activity you're interrupting?
    ~ are you feeling generous, loving, kind, helpful and cooperative... or something else?
    ~ are you thinking in terms of the present moment, or being dragged into some other world-- a possible future or the inside of someone else's critical mind?
    ~ do you have enough energy (well-fed, rested, hydrated) to do this work now? Does she?

    There is a tangible difference between wanting someone to cooperate with a job you're loving, and loving the idea of someone else cooperating with you getting out of a job.

    I would suggest that her 'preference' for a messy room is actually an inability to manage the volume of stuff she owns. Perhaps, as much as anything else, culling some of the multitude will make it easier for her to keep things tidier...

  3. I like your checklist. I usually pick up the living room and sweep at the end of the day or first thing in the morning before she gets up. I don't mind doing it because I'm the one who likes the environment tidy to work and live in. I can't wake up to a dirty kitchen!

    The resistance happens when I'm feeling stressed and ask her to help in the middle of the day, usually after I've stepped on something hard and painful or tripped over piles of stuff. Then I have a bit of a freak-out for five seconds and make my "request" for help. So, according to your checklist, I'm sure most of the time this happens, 1 - she is otherwise engaged, and 2 - I'm not feeling so happy (more like frustrated). I'll try and keep this in mind for next time.

    And I agree that her messy room is about volume of stuff. I know she finds it overwhelming and has no idea how to start keeping it tidy. I actually don't expect her too. I would LOVE to cull a great deal of the stuff in her room that she doesn't play with but whenever I ask her if we can donate or get rid of anything she really freaks out. I don't know where all the fear comes from but she won't let go of anything.

    I feel uncomfortable removing things behind her back but am not sure what else to do.

  4. We had a simple method, based on reality --there are certainly many other ways, but this one seemed sensible to me:

    When there is a present-coming-in event (birthdays and Christmas, usually) there was a 'Wow... there's no more room for more stuff in here. Do you want to keep this stuff, and donate your new presents, or donate some of this to make room?'

    Economics are real on several fronts: space, time, finances... when the space is filled up, nothing more can be added. Kids (and a lot of adults) need to learn that, yes?