Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:
I just visited my daughter, son-in- law, and grandkids. The kids are
great (two boys 7 and 10, and a girl 4). But I saw several things that
disturbed me. My son-in- law is a like a fourth child. He does cross-fit
every day. He comes home with bloody hands and exhausted and
plops in front of a screen of some sort, work or sports. I understand
that the kids are spoiled, but that nobody other than my daughter
even takes their dishes to the sink, let alone help empty the
dishwasher, and generally be more responsible is very hard for me to
watch. He is a high-powered corporate sales guy, but it’s hard to teach
kids good values when only one parent is role modeling responsible
household behavior. My daughter is constantly walking around the
house picking up after all four of them. I hate to bite my tongue when
my son-in- law complained that she had seemed peeved and had taken
away a beer he hadn’t been finished with. I pitched in where I could,
but she said having help that disappeared was almost worse. I don’t
want to be seen as the meddling other-in- law. But I see my daughter
struggling to keep up and perpetually tired. What can I say?
Every household has its own dynamics around chores and perceived
responsibilities. I come from the “teach them young” school, because
otherwise we will end up raising generations of entitled young who
think the rest of the world are their servants. That’s more than an
issue of class and superiority; it’s a matter of politeness and
appreciation as well as creating a culture of mutual responsibility.
Tell your daughter that she has to be the messenger, unless she wants
you to do it via email or Skype. I’d counsel that it be her, but you can
role-play and work out the kinks with her before she talks to the
The messages should be these: The world won’t always be your
servant. Everyone has to help. If you don’t, people won’t like and
respect you and then you’ll get a reputation for being a slacker instead
of a nice person, which you are. From now on everyone is responsible
for carrying all their plates and glasses to the sink. You boys will help
me unload the dishwasher and [girl] will have special ways to help
until she’s older. If you spill something, grab a sponge and clean it up.
If you take things out of the fridge or cupboards, put them away in the
place you found them when you are done. And for one hour each
weekend we’re going to have a family clean-up project, all working
together so we can sing and whistle while we work.
As for the husband, he needs to model good housekeeping for the kids.
And he needs to put his happy face on around them. If they see him
complaining, they won’t respect or listen to your daughter. So tired or
not, he too needs to pitch in before he gets screen time.