If you dropped dead tomorrow, would you children/grandchildren have any idea how to take care of regular duties?
This is a sobering question and one that many of us may think is unnecessary. “I’m in good health”, you might say. “Let my children be children while they’re young. They don’t need to be saddled with adult concerns. Isn’t schoolwork enough?” That was at least my mode of thinking while my children were growing up. They had a few chores, but most of the housework was done by me. Like magic their laundry would appear washed and folded, the bathrooms they used would be cleaned, and the food that they consumed would be purchased, cooked, and on the table.
Then one day we received a call – a call I will never forget. My brother-in-law called to say that his wife (my husband’s beloved sister) had collapsed in a restaurant and was taken to a hospital. It was the last day of school and my daughter was on a field trip to Cedar Pointe, but my husband and I hurried to the hospital. There we learned that his sister was in a coma. She had suffered either a brain aneurysm or a cerebral stroke. We were all in shock. Sixteen years earlier the doctors had found an aneurysm near her optic nerve and she’d had surgery by a highly qualified neurosurgeon. She had a long recovery, but with time she was able to return to her normal routine. It was all a thing of the past. Or so we thought.
Although my husband’s sister showed some signs of being aware of our presence and was even able to communicate through motions, she never regained consciousness and within a few days the doctors told us she was brain dead. At the very young age of forty-five, my sister-in-law’s life was over; leaving us all to grieve the loss of such a wonderful person.
Besides a husband, my sister-in-law left three children behind – ages 16, newly 14, and 11. In amazing fashion, my nieces and nephew immediately stepped up to the task and took over many of the duties that their mother had taught them. I personally saw them do laundry and cook, as if they were pros. I’m sure they also did a lot of cleaning and other things that I may not have even noticed. Instead of depending on others to uphold them in their grief, they were more ‘adult’ in their actions than some of us adults were! They were a tribute to their mother’s training.
Watching my nieces and nephew had a big impact on me. It suddenly occurred to me that if I were to suffer a similar fate, my children would not only be bereft of a mother, but they would soon not have clean clothes, wholesome foods for dinner, or a clean house to live in. My attitude that childhood should be fun was robbing them of the basic skills they’d need to survive well (my husband was lacking in these areas too and would likely not have provided great assistance). So, I decided right then and there that their summer vacation would provide the wake-up call that they very much were needing.
I called a family meeting and laid out the plan. This summer we would embark on Survival Training. I found that the phrases “Chore Training” and “Survival Training” met with different responses from the kids. Survival Training sounded a bit exciting and mysterious. Chore Training sounded boring and difficult.
Next, I laid out the training areas. I selected each main area of the house as a cleaning zone. Then I added in laundry, grocery shopping, meal preparation, and auto care. I think we had about 10 areas in the end. I told them that they could choose where to start their training, but that they must do all areas by the end of the summer and each week would be a new assignment. They also had to each be working on a different task (both couldn’t be doing grocery shopping on the same week). Here is an example of what a chart could look like:
Survival Skills Cadet Molly Cadet Aaron
Vehicle Combat (Car Care) Latrine Detail (Bathroom Cleaning) KP Duty (Cooking) Mess Hall Duty (Kitchen Cleaning) MRE Round Up (Grocery Shopping) Fatigue Round Up (Laundry) R&R Order (Bedroom Cleaning)
Besides the Survival Chart, I would suggest typing up a list of what you think is important to do within each of the chart categories. For example, you would have a checklist for Vehicle Combat. The duties I would list would be: Check oil, Check windshield washer fluid, Check tire air pressure, Hand wash exterior, Vacuum Interior, Fill the fuel tank. Hopefully you are more knowledgeable about cars than I am and could teach some additional points.
My daughter picked grocery shopping first. I sat down with her and we discussed the dinner menu for that week and then I had her write down a list of what we’d need from the store. I told her that if she couldn’t find a specific item, it would be up to her to find an acceptable alternative. My daughter did not have a cell phone at the time to use to consult me. On top of that, I told her I’d be staying in the car to make the grocery shopping more realistic. Off she went with the list and a wad of cash (I know, a bit risky). When she came out, her eyes were glowing. She showed me the bonus card an employee had issued her and it made her feel very adult. My guess is they must have assumed she was at least 16 because she was by herself. Little did they know that the mother of this 14 year old girl was sweltering in 90+ degree heat in the car!
My son picked auto care. I have to confess that I could have used some training in this area myself, but I showed him what little I knew. I showed him how to open the hood and how to check the oil and add windshield washer fluid. I had him hand wash the outside of the car and vacuum the interior. Then I took him to the gas station and let him fill up the tank. He felt like quite the man at 11 years old!
The other rotations weren’t quite so exciting or fun (like scrubbing toilets), but they were part of the necessities of life. There were the basics of separating dark and light laundry, dusting, and washing floors. My son still reminds me of his meal prep rotation. I had let each child pick what meal they were going to do, within nutritional guidelines. My son picked a chicken recipe. All was going alright until the chicken was done cooking in the oven. Before I could stop him, my son reached right into the hot oven and grabbed the rack. No, he wasn’t using a hot pad! I think we both cried, but the use of a hot pad or mitt was, shall we say, seared into his memory from that point forward. He will never make that mistake again.
I would suggest that you give some thought to how equipped your children or grandchildren are for handling household basics. It is our duty as parents to teach our children the lessons of daily life and try to prepare them for the future without us, even if it is just because they’ve gotten married or moved out. Although I can guarantee that they won’t want to be given more work and may moan and complain, much of their reaction depends on how you present the details. If you explain that you are trying to help them learn skills to survive adulthood, they may relish the opportunity to show you that they are capable. Praise them as they accomplish each goal and I would suggest rewarding them at the end of their training, even if it is by issuing a certificate that crowns them as a Survival Master. Their future may depend on what they learn today!