We talked about different parenting styles, and I explained that every parent works with different personalities, their own and their child's, and that we all bring "stuff" to the table that affects how these relationships work. I shared that often we have been criticized for being too "tough" on our children, and I remembered one mommy a few years back who was totally horrified that I expected Matthew to make his bed to the best of his ability when he was 4. We even moved his bed to the middle of the room to make it easier for him! Another mom once told me she thought I should do more for my boys because, after all, I was home and that was "my job". I explained that there were probably some who didn't think it was too cool that they had all come to work with us and helped out, or that the boys now had a cleaning job when they were still so young.
Matthew at first seemed confused by these criticisms, but I further explained that many moms feel it is a sign of love if they do more for their kids, and that having their kids be dependent upon them makes them feel that they are needed and loved back. I told him that we felt a little differently about that than some do, that in my mind my job was to raise he and his brothers to be strong, capable, responsible and loving men...and that dependence does NOT equal love. I DO have an important job to do, and it is NOT to be their maid, their best buddy or their cook. My job was to one day see them each stand on their own, being able to support themselves and their families in a loving and considerate way, and that I felt THAT was the most loving thing I could do.
We talked about how it was our opinion that you had to take baby steps into adulthood, and that started when...well...kids are babies. That making the bed by yourself at 4 years old helps you see even when you are little that you are able to take care of yourself, and that "work" is not an awful 4 letter word! We talked about how he enjoys helping mowing the lawn, how our family works as a team to accomplish things together and that means we all have more free time too enjoy other things. Doing chores is not to be mean, I explained, but it is to build into our children the ability to take care of themselves, to recognize the needs of the family as a whole, to create a sense of satisfaction with a job well done. It teaches them skills they will absolutely need when they grow older. I asked him "When do you think we should have started teaching you how to clean your room? If we waited until you were 10...would you want to do it or would you resent it? What is the magic age for learning how to take care of the yard, to learn how to use basic kitchen appliances, to take out the trash? If you wait too long, kids begin to see it as "Mom and Dad's work" rather than the work of everyone in the family, and then they develop an attitude about work that lasts a lifetime.
He sat there thinking about that, and he said "You know it is so cute to see Joshie taking in the trash cans after trash day. Do you feel that way when you see Kenny and I do things? I kind of feel proud of Josh when he learns something new." He then said he didn't understand why other people would think it was bad that they helped at the restaurant because they had all learned so much...like he could count change better than the college kids, he and Kenny knew how to serve people and have a good attitude about it, that even Joshua had helped sometimes and they all were learning how to earn and save money. "Isn't that important to know how to do when you are an adult, Mommy?" he asked. He also added "Why should you and Daddy have to do everything? We make more mess than you do!".
He got quiet for a moment and then he said something that let me know that he "gets it" and it was one of the coolest moments I have had yet as a parent. He turned to me and, of course using a construction metaphor, he said "You know Mommy, it's sort of like some parents want to build a house and others want to build a lean-to. A house is strong and can stand on it's own but a lean-to always needs to lean against the Mommy or Daddy house. I think you guys are building houses with me and Kenny and Joshie.".
Yea Matt, that is totally it. We want for you to stand straight and tall, to weather tornadoes and earthquakes. We want you to be a "smart house" where things work well and are advanced. We want you to be a "green house" where you are aware of your effect on the environment and take care of your little patch of earth. We want for you to have a strong foundation so what is built on it will last forever. We want you to be a paid off or wisely mortgaged house so your finances are always in order. We want your home to be filled with love and laughter, so that the joy you feel springs forth and touches all who enter your door.
Man, am I grateful that he "gets it". Others may not, but if our children do that is all that matters.