Sunday, December 31, 2006

Guidelines for Parents and Their Hobbies

I read a blog post recently about requiring children to participate in hobbies that the parent enjoys. This particular parent has three boys she requires to do work in her gardening. I am not talking about basic trimming and weeding here. They are doing the big stuff: mulching, composting, and moving rocks. They are all pretty small; none is a teen yet. She believes it is valuable for them to have to learn to do something whether they like it or not.

Sure, I buy into that argument when it comes to chores. I hate doing the laundry, but alas, it piles up every week. Still this article bothered me more as I thought about it later. She is not getting her kids to do the hard stuff because she wants to teach them. They are doing it because she loves the essence of gardening but wants to parcel out (without paying for) the hard work! That does not seem fair. Nor does it seem like it will make the kids ever appreciate gardening.

Parents should set some strict guidelines with themselves when they are requiring the kiddos to participate in something that the parent enjoys. First I think that there should be a definite no-no on making the kids do things that they find dangerous, particularly when they are right. I have seen children afraid to get into canoes but their parents happily forcing them along, and I have seen kids terrified at pyrotechnic shows while the parents are cooing at how wonderful it all is.

I think that anytime a child presents with a major fear of an event or activity, it is time to hold off. That does not mean that you never try again or that you do not just go elsewhere to try to calm the little one down. It does mean, however, that you should give the kids some space to try to grow into the activity.

When it comes not to fear but to lack of interest or desire to work on a hobby the parent has, I think the kids have some legitimate gripes here. Let us return to the gardening example. There are some tasks in the garden that every family member should help with, regardless of the interest. Vegetable gardens are an example. Everyone will be eating from them, so everyone should help out in the planting, tending, and harvesting. I can even go along with making the kids help with landscaping tasks, such as trimming back shrubs and mowing the lawn. Those tasks are maintenance and not hobby.

I think you have to draw the line when it comes to forcing them to do the grunt work because you want a beautiful flowerbed. If you like the annuals, then you hop on out there and plant them. The children should not have to endure your interest in planting 5,000 tulip bulbs. It simply is not fair.

What really bothers me, and I think is the third rule of kids and hobbies is that children should not have to do the dirty work while the parent supervises. Many parents have this problem in that they want to make the children pick up after everyone is done. The parents, though, want to sit back and relax. My mother was like that with cleaning out the car, which is hardly a hobby unless you consider how important cleanliness was to her. She would make us get everything out and put it away although everything was not for us.

If you want to have a hobby, that is great. If your children want to participate, that is even better. Make it a family affair. I have absolutely no problem with introducing children to your hobbies. In fact, our children are introduced to ours by default. Even at the tender age of 23 months, my son recognizes a computer anywhere and will head over and start pecking. He learned this love from my husband, but it is never something that we would force on him. Of course, my husband loves that our son is fascinated by the same things, but he would not be upset were it not the case. You should be the same with your children. Appreciate the shared connection but only if it is there.

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