“‘Give,’ Said the Little Stream” and chores

“‘Give,’ Said the Little Stream” is one of my favorite primary songs. In the back of my mind I have this thought that my mom doesn’t like it, but I don’t remember why. Regardless, I love the simple way that it teaches important principles, in particular the idea that you should make your surroundings better.

I’ve been thinking about it because it connects to a conversation I had with Bonnie a few days ago about chores. Philosophically I’m having some issues with chores the way I usually see them implemented. Frequently people give their child a responsibility which they have to take care of at a specified time (i.e. clean the kitchen on Saturdays).

Here’s my issue: I worry that it might encourage a sense that once you’ve done your chores then you’re done with helping out around the house. Or more broadly, once you take care of yourself then your job is done. I can remember lots of times as a kid when one sibling or another was still working on their Saturday job while the others were already done. There was never any inclination (at least on my part) to help that personĀ out with their job. I’m admittedly not the most compassionate person, but even my siblings who are nicer than me (all of them) didn’t usually help that I can remember.

I’d rather that my kids develop a habit of always helping out with everything. If there are dirty dishes, then we all do them, since we’re all part of the family and we all try to contribute. When we’re cleaning the house, I rather that we all just clean until it’s done. Like in the song, I think the kids should adopt an attitude of “wherever I go the grass grows greener still.”

On the other hand, I also want them to learn to take care of their own responsibilities and not be a burden on others. I think traditional chores actually do a decent job of giving kids a sense of responsibility and a sense of taking care of a job. The two ideas compete with each other a little bit. Is it better to teach a kid about their independence or their interdependence? I’m leaning toward the latter, but most people I know seem to (most likely unconsciously) choose the former.

Bonnie suggested that instead of specific responsibilities we just have everyone work for a certain amount of time. I think that’s moving in the right direction, but I worry that it just substitutes one problem for another. Instead of feeling “done” when you finish your room, you’ll just feel “done” when the timer runs out.

Clearly I don’t have any right answers, but I’m really interested in developing this habit in my kids (and myself to be honest–I could probably walk into the house and step over a dead body and not notice or think twice if I didn’t put it there). How do you teach someone to just be aware of their surroundings and to act to improve them without being asked? That habit has a much broader application than just simple chores, and I’d really love for my kids to learn it. Any suggestions, O wise internet people?

10 thoughts on ““‘Give,’ Said the Little Stream” and chores

  1. First, I really love your “wherever I go” insight. Second, my parents assigned our chores in doubles. So for the week, Steven and I were in charge of loading/unloading the dishwasher. The next week my Dad and I were in charge of vacuuming the house. Etc. Etc. There were LOTS of benefits to this system, but to your point, chores were a shared responsibility.

  2. What worked the best (and obviously we did not do this well or maybe did it when you were too young) was when we all got to go the rec center or something fun when all of the work was done. Then everyone did their part and helped everyone else.

    • I see that my comment moderation got you a little confused. :^) Basically nothing will post to the site until you have a previously approved comment from me. I think the group reward is a nice way to approach it, but I seriously have no memory of ever doing that. To be fair though, I have like no memory of most of my childhood. It was probably too traumatic or something.

  3. I love the video clip. What seemed to work the best was when there was a fun family activity when all of the work was done–like we all went swimming at the rec center when everyone was done with their jobs. Then we all worked hard and helped each other so we could go.

    • This was not a post to make you and Mom feel guilty. Bonnie and I frequently ask ourselves “What would Adam’s parents do?”, but I also think this quote from Ali Bin Abi applies here, “Do not raise your children the way [your] parents raised you, they were born for a different time.”

  4. We don’t feel guilty. We did our best and loved all of you very much. Being a parent is hard and wonderful at the same time. It is exciting to see our children as parents. Some things we tried to teach and felt like failures about, we now see our children do well as parents.

    I like Brittney’s idea, but could see that sometimes the one who was more willing to work might end up resentful. Everyone did better when they had help, at least until they learned all of the ins and outs of the job.

  5. That is an awesome video, Adam. I have always loved that song, too, and now I want to learn the other verses! We have been sort-of experimenting/failing with chores lately at our house. I think your questions about whether assigning chores actually instills a take-care-of-my-own-chores-only mentality is interesting. The buddy system seems cool and so does the reward-when-everyone-is-done system. I do have fond memories of a time in my family growing up when every night we all did the dinner dishes together until they were all done. It was cozy to all be working together and I learned a lot about how to clean a kitchen. And the kids monitored each other for any sign of slacking off–I’m sure much to my parents’ delight. Anyway, you guys figure it out and teach us, please :)

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