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Parental Indiscretion

Charity Starts at Home


Illustration by Kristina Micotti

Rachel Laing

In last month’s column, I lamented about how difficult it is to satisfy—much less impress—today’s San Diego child.

Many of you wrote to tell me this was not my experience alone. We are all, it seems, asking the quintessential San Diego question: Am I adding too much pineapple juice to the kale smoothie of life?

Consulting my exceedingly precise long-term memory and recalling my own impeccable childhood behavior and the overflowing gratitude I exhibited toward my parents, I turned to my dad for advice on how to cultivate such perfection in my own kids.

When he finished his long chuckle (too long, frankly—no need to make a show of it!), my dad told me his version of events: “You were no more ungrateful than any other kid.” MEANING? “You took everything for granted. But all kids do. They just don’t know the score.”

My first inclination to teach my kids “the score” was to have them volunteer to learn what it was like to work hard for others. I made plans for volunteer activities, but of course I ended up adding “pineapple juice” out of sheer habit, finding activities they would enjoy—Ben with a baseball league for disabled kids and Georgia with an animal organization.

"Does this mean we get an allowance?”
“Yep!” I said. “You get free room and board and a college education.”

Greg thought there was a simpler approach: “Charity begins at home,” he said. The volunteer stuff is great, but they’d probably appreciate daily life more if we just made them take on more of the responsibilities of keeping the household running.

We’re constantly expecting them to recognize how hard we work to give them this great life, but all we ever ask of them is to show up and enjoy it. How are they supposed to appreciate the effort it takes?

So we’ve started giving the kids a lot more household tasks, including setting and clearing the table, helping prepare meals, doing their own laundry, making the morning coffee, washing cars, and other household tasks they should be doing, but which we were reluctant to entrust to them. (Let’s face it: It’s just easier to do it yourself when you factor in the requisite training and cajoling of the kids.)

Making them do just a little bit of the lifting is already yielding results, but the best is that their once-frequent complaints about boredom are now met with the assignment of a task to occupy them. And lo and behold: My kids are rarely bored anymore.

Ben asked me the other day: “Does this mean we get an allowance?”

“Yep!” I said. “You get free room and board and a college education.”

Somewhat defeated, he conceded that was a pretty good deal. Slowly but surely, they’re starting to learn the score.

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