A child with developmental delays has a major impact on his siblings’ lives.
An obvious statement, right? How could other siblings not be affected by the amount of attention and focus on the one with bigger needs?
Except that’s not what I mean.
I’m talking about expectations. Ben has shaped our expectations for our other children. He has lowered them. We have not pushed our other kids as much as we should have because we don’t know how far they can go.
Ben is our oldest. He broke us in and trained us as parents. Because we had no other children by whom to compare, we accepted Ben’s limitations as normal. We applied our assumptions about his abilities to his younger sister and brother.
So when our behavorial therapist asked me what chores the kids do, I froze. Chores? We’ve never really given the kids chores. We didn’t really think that Ben could be held liable for chores and, therefore, didn’t require them of the other kids. Or maybe we just forgot.
Oops. What kind of parent forgets to give her kids chores?
“A child has to have some responsibilities,” writes Roger W. McIntire, University of Maryland psychology professor and author of “Raising Good Kids in Tough Times.” By not giving our kids chores, we are shirking our job as parents. Chores are the framework under which they will acquire skills by being responsible for household tasks.
“I’m too young for chores,” protested Jacob, our six-year-old.
I would have agreed with him but an internet search revealed that kids as young as eighteen months can be given simple tasks. These enable the children to feel helpful while setting the expectation that all family members have something worthwhile to contribute to the running of the household. The older (chronologically and/or developmentally) the child gets, more difficult chores, and a greater number of them, are added.
It is not going to be a simple endeavor; our children are unaccustomed to a rubric of expectations. So we are starting small and with things that they can easily complete: taking their breakfast dishes to the sink and making their beds. They are both morning activities and have been put into visual schedules posted in the kitchen and each bedroom. By starting off the day with a couple of tasks, they will leave for school, having already accomplished something. After a few weeks, we will add more age/developmentally-appropriate duties.
It is, of course, more than just the chores. It is a reminder to us as parents not to make assumptions about any of our kids. I expect they will show us that they are far more capable than we think they are.
Rabbi Rebecca Einstein Schorr is a CLAL Rabbis Without Borders Fellow whose work appears regularly on the Rabbis Without Borders blog and Kveller.com as well as a variety of other websites. Writing at This Messy Life (www.rebeccaeinsteinschorr.com), Rebecca finds meaning in the sacred and not-yet-sacred intersections of daily life. Follow her on Twitter @rebeccaschorr