I was just reading this article about a 6-year-old girl who sweeps, fishes, cleans what she fishes, and cooks for her family -- without being asked, ever. Guess what? An anthropologist had to travel all the way to the Peruvian Amazon to find her. Carolina Izqierdo met this girl, and dozens like her, while living with the Matsigenka tribe.
Meanwhile in America, her fellow anthropologist Elinor Oachs filmed 32 families in the Los Angeles area and witnessed the most jaw-dropping laziness. Kids who won't tie their shoes. Who won't get their own forks out of the drawer. Who expect to be waited on like royalty.
Embarrassing! The article asks that shaming question, "Why Are American Kids So Spoiled?" Yeah ... why the hell are WE spoiling our kids?
The article goes on making me, as a parent, squirm, describing the decadent lives of American kids. Not only do we NOT require them to lift a finger, even to help themselves (forget helping the rest of the family), we also buy them too much shit and we let said shit clutter up our homes. Writer Elizabeth Kolbert asks:
What values do we convey by turning our homes into warehouses for dolls? By assigning our kids chores and then rewarding them when they screw up? By untying and then retying their shoes for them? It almost seems as if we’re actively trying to raise a nation of “adultescents.” And, perhaps without realizing it, we are.
Like many of you, I was not raised this way. I cleaned my room and our bathroom. We did chores. I had to spend time weeding the garden before I could go out to play. I had to babysit my younger siblings and I don't remember getting paid for it.
Compare to this, life for my 8-year-old looks cushy. He does a few things for himself: He pours his own glass of milk (and mops up if he spills), he sometimes helps put away his laundry, with a lot of nagging, he'll clean up his room.
And then when you look at how independent those Matsigenka kids are -- oy, the shame. We really should be teaching our kids to be more self-sufficient, sooner.
But is it really fair to compare American kids to a community in the middle of the Amazonian rain forest? Our kids face totally different challenges in life. We subject our kids to relentless high-stakes testing and mountains of homework. We're driving them to lessons and practice and games. Maybe kids are just ... tired! Maybe we're tired.
It would be really easy to just let myself get sucked into a shame spiral after reading this -- and you know what that leads to. Drastic changes in the home that don't work and that you give up on after a week or so.
But I think I can still learn something here. In the U.S. we tend to value perfection and jumping through hoops over the satisfaction of a job well done (even if it's not perfectly done). We're focused on the destination -- I think the Matsigenka are more focused on the journey.
So maybe if we relax a little, if we're okay with our kids missing a spot when they clean the mirror, we could maybe make this work. If chores were less about completing a task and more about learning good habits for life, we might even get more buy-in from our kids, too. It's something I'm going to start working on with my son.
How much responsibility do your kids have at home?
Image via miss-britt/Flickr