How to Parent

Our House. On the outside, tranquility. On the inside, a strong dose of commotion.

Responsibility and self-reliance are qualities my wife and I are trying to demonstrate to our three children. They will help them in life, we tell ourselves. And these traits, we hope, will help turn our house from a mess into a tidy and efficient enterprise in which the kids help make the beds, pick up the toys, set the table, run the bath and get themselves ready for school without any last-minute tension about the whereabouts of their books, jackets and shoes. We will become a tight and effective family with time to spare for more important things like playing Monopoly or going to the movies.

The problem is that our effort to teach responsibility and self-reliance by example appears to be working much too well, at least in theory that is.

The other day my wife couldn’t find the camera before a family outing to the beach in Pinamar, Argentina, where we’re spending the summer. So she asked our seven-year-old daughter if she’d seen it. Our daughter looked up at her casually and said, “Mum. You have to be responsible for your own things.”

“Of course,” my wife responded before mumbling something to the effect of “you cheeky mare.”

Worse, maybe, the seven-year-old later made a comment to me about self-reliance, just what we’re trying to teach the kids by example. She said she doesn’t think she should be running around the house fetching this, that and the other for Mum. “She keeps asking me to go upstairs to get something,” she told me. “Why can’t she go? She’s got two legs.”

Yes, that’s true.

And yes, we’re being effective in our teachings of responsibility and self-reliance. At least in principle, that is. The house, of course, still looks like the aftermath of gale-force winds and I still can’t find my wallet.

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