The dishes of mastery


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The dishes are still dirty, but we might be getting somewhere.

Not long ago I wrote Dirty dishes, about the lovely and I and our household conundrum. We have four kids living with us and we are trying to get them to help out around the house.

We drew up a list of jobs and asked them to self direct to complete them. They had choices about when over the three day period they completed the task. The first two weeks we reminded them to check the list, and if a job was sitting there, we asked who might be doing it.

The third week we let them completely self direct with no reminders.

Result: the oldest one did quite well but the 14.5, 12.5 and the almost 10 year old failed miserably. While the Y11 student asked what she could do and did a bit off her own bat, the others were too busy playing Agario and Minecraft on their devices. Despite some quite obvious washing up and dishwasher emptying by their mother and I, they never looked up.

Disappointing to be sure. Was it to be expected? Well, we aren’t sure about that.

Meanwhile, now we need to review and see how we can get it to work.

Our aim is for them to appreciate all the things that it takes to run a household, and for us not to have to ask them fifty times to empty the dishwasher. We would like a peaceful, happy house for everyone – which means that everyone does their fair share gracefully.

Jane Martino, founder of Smiling Mind, agrees that kids should be contributing to the household and learning to be independent. Talking on Mumma Mia, Jane notes because of her busy schedule with three young children, she and her husband needed to get their kids helping from an early age. It’s called Mastery and it includes getting kids doing things like helping to make their own lunch and buttering their own bread.

And the lovely and I always had jobs (chores back then) to help our parents. Washing up, making our beds daily, ironing.

I struggle to get my daughter to put her clothes in the wash on a weekly basis!

And none of them make their beds, which is why it’s on the list for once a week (with the suggestion it is before they go off to their other parent’s place so the cats don’t make a little bed out of it for themselves!).

Mastery is about being able to tackle challenges and keep learning.

In particular, mastery is considered part of an individual’s array of personal resources that enables a person to weather negative life events and other stressful conditions, such as job loss, economic pressure, and relationship problems (Conger and Conger 2002; Mirowsky and Ross 2003; Pearlin et al. 1981; Wheaton 1985).

It’s a really critical skill for everyone and obviously it doesn’t just cover household jobs.

But learning and doing household jobs, including cooking a meal as a team (as we’ve now fairly successfully implemented with them) is an important arena for them to achieve and practice mastery.

So this week we have decided to give them another chance to get the self directed jobs list done. They will have some extra, unpalatable jobs to do as a bit of an emotional prompt to perhaps not be so complacent next time. Nothing like cleaning the toilet to make you think about how easy and quick making your bed is!

We will talk through what we expect from them and see what happens both this week and next before the next review.

Part of it is those devices! We just didn’t have them when we were growing up (at least not to the extent that they are part of everything now). The kids get cranky when we ask them to put them down to do a job, which pushes all sorts of buttons for us! We’ve now instituted a devices down by 8pm on school nights and none in their rooms on those nights either. It’s likely we will have to make some more rules around them (we’ve also restricted them on the weekends during the day).

So wish us luck as we continue to navigate this blended family experience!

Wishing you all the happiness the Universe can bring


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