Why Children Need to Learn Household Tasks
You Don't Need to Make Your Own Mistakes
When I was a small child, I was taught most basic household tasks, and took learning simple sewing, ironing, cooking, laundry, and other tasks for granted. I thought that was what everyone did. However, last year, to my surprise, I met a woman who had gone to the same high school at the same time that I did (although I didn't know her when we were in school together). To my astonishment, she could not sew on a button, or cook a simple meal, or do any of a number of similar tasks for herself. Her parents never taught her to do anything because they thought they were showing their love for her by doing everything for her, and letting her "just enjoy her childhood."
What was the first household task you learned?
My new acquaintance had grown up in the same neighborhood as I, in a similar family to mine. However, there was a big difference in our situations. Even though we made similar amounts of money, and lived in similar situations, she was flat broke, and begging friends for money to pay her rent. She had sold her car for food, and was calling around every day asking people for rides. Why were our lives so different?
My parents, on the other hand, trained me to do things for myself. I began washing dishes when I was three, cooking when I was nine, ironing when I was ten, sewing and doing laundry when I was twelve, and learning to use power tools and work on cars in my very early teen years. This woman had never washed a dish, cooked a meal, sewn on a button, or done laundry, and didn't know how, and had long ago decided that her way of living was better. After all, her parents wanted the best for her, so they must have been right!
The Real Difference
The difference is that she had to pay for labor to do just about anything, and I could perform my own labor. Where she would spend $7 at a fast-food restaurant for a single meal, I could cook a well-balanced meal for less than that, and have leftovers for the next day. When her clothing lost a button, she sold it as damaged, or donated it to charity, or threw it away. When my clothing gets damaged, I can repair it in minutes.
She dry-cleaned everything or sent it out to be laundered: clothing, linens, etc. I do my own laundry for several months for her cost to dry-clean one item. The list just went on and on; every household task she paid someone else to do for her, where I could do the same thing for myself at a fraction of the cost. And she even paid someone to come in and clean for her, where I was able to save the money to buy some labor-saving devices, like my beloved Roomba!
And worse, she spent so much time shopping, going to places, or trying to find someone to do something. In the time it took her just to get her clothing to the dry cleaners, or go to a restaurant, I could have completed the task. She was completely dependent on other people, and paid dearly for her dependency.
Worse than that, her health has suffered because she can't cook, and has had to depend on unhealthy chain restaurant food, so that her health bills are very large, and because she is below the poverty line (but not quite poor enough for MedicAid in our state, where you basically have to be on the street), she can't get health insurance.
And the worst: when it came time for her to look after her aging parents, she quit her job and moved in with them, but she was helpless to be able to do anything for them, so she spent her entire savings, her retirement account, and sold everything she had to have someone come in and cook and clean for her and her parents. When they died, she was left penniless.
Fortunately, (and it's only random that this has happened), my parents are still in good health and able to fend for themselves a large portion of the time. However, when they need help, I will be able to easily cook them nutritious meals, keep up their house, and not have to worry about exhausting my family's resources.
This little book will serve as a great reference point for someone just getting started living on their own, or teaching a child about household tasks.
The Bottom Line
After meeting her, and understanding her situation, the first thing I did was go visit my parents, and thank them for having put me through all the torment of learning to do everything myself. While I may not have appreciated their efforts at the time, I am so happy now that they taught me to be independent and be able to do everything for myself, even if sometimes I don't have to. At least I have the choice!
So if you are wondering whether to teach your children basic household skills, the answer should be a resounding "Yes." Your children may grumble now, but whether they ever realize it or not, they will be grateful later, and you will be preparing them for confidently confronting the everyday difficulties of life head-on.