“I felt like I was being punished. Like Cinderella.” As my friend told me about the struggles she encountered in her early marriage, this statement caught my attention. Was her husband an overbearing slave-driver of a male chauvinist? I wondered, almost aloud. No, he wasn’t, I would learn. He simply thought that they should team up and do some housework, take care of the yard, cook some food, and clean their clothes once in a while. No biggie, right? This is the stuff of normal life.
Well, it might be normal for most adults, but such everyday chores had not been part of my friend’s life as a child or teen. As a result, when she moved out and married the love of her life, what she thought would be her “Cinderella story” seemed a bit backwards. Was it her fault that she struggled with disappointment and resulting conflict in her early marriage? I don’t think so. As you might have already guessed, I believe her parents failed to help prepare her for real life. If I could go back in time and give them some advice, here’s what I would tell them.
Set Reasonable Expectations
It’s important that kids are given age-appropriate chores that don’t stretch them beyond their physical capability or put them in any kind of danger. That said, most of us underestimate the ability of kids — and especially teens — to perform everyday tasks such as cooking, cleaning, and caring for a home. It’s a mistake to overwork them and overwhelm them with adult-sized responsibilities, but it’s also a mistake to expect little or nothing from them. Perhaps they could be responsible for their own laundry or the entire household’s laundry for a while. After that, they could take on meal planning and cooking for a while — or even just once a week.
Allow Natural Consequences
If your kids are in charge of doing their own laundry and fail to keep up, they may have to go to school with dirty clothes. And be criticized. It really won’t kill them, though. And they may actually learn from their mistake. When parents bail kids out of every situation, the kids don’t learn to take responsibility for their own actions. Of course, if your teen’s safety or the well-being of others is at stake, it’s time to step in. Short of that, though, it’s okay for a kid to have siblings upset because dinner was late or burnt or completely forgotten. (Of course, those siblings need to learn to forgive and demonstrate grace, as well, but that’s a topic for another time.)
Prioritize a Servant Spirit
If your teen sees serving others as a punishment, then they’ll later view caring for a spouse and family as being far from rewarding. Even our Lord Jesus wasn’t too important to serve others (Phil. 2:7), and He actually says that by giving up our lives (to God and others), we actually save our lives (Mark 8:35).