Thursday, August 30, 2012

Children and Chores in a Single Dad Family: Whether, When, How Much

While I didn’t originally believe it, there is a fair amount of research about single father parenting. Although my three children may not agree with the outcomes of this particular study, it tends to reinforce my resolve relative to some of my own parenting decisions.

Researcher Geoffrey L. Greif solicited single father members of Parents Without Partners to complete a questionnaire relating to the amount of responsibility their children have at home, specifically relating to housework. Greif received more than 1,100 responses, crunched the data, and had his results published. (Children and housework in the single father family. Greif, Geoffrey L. Family Relations: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Applied Family Studies, Vol 34(3), Jul 1985, 353-357.)

Greif found a number of both common sense and thought-provoking correlations. Not surprisingly, the research suggested that the older the children, the more housework they did. Similarly, single dads of teenage daughters often received more help than those fathers raising adolescent boys. On the other hand, single father may also expect less participation in housework from his children than is expected from children in a two-parent family. An anecdotal reason for that may perhaps include a father’s belief that the family circumstance, created by either a divorce or loss, is already unfair to his children. Having a child (or children) responsible for housework would be like adding insult to injury. According to the study, such a belief is unfounded.

“It is suggested that fathers who believe they are helping children adjust by not having them carry an appropriate share of the housework are placing an unfair burden on themselves and giving the children the wrong message about home responsibility and life . . . ,” Greif concludes. Apparently, not giving children in a single father family any responsibilities at home isn’t very good for anyone, including dad!

Returning now from the world of academia to the real world where we live, you know, “where the rubber hits the road,” how much and what type of responsibilities are appropriate for the children in a single father household? Well, I’m sure there is more than one way to . . . get the trash to the curb, but here’s how I’ve handled it:

1.      Make responsibilities age-appropriate, simple and achievable for younger children to build confidence and more involved for older children.

2.      Household responsibilities should require no more than about a half an hour each day, but quite a bit less for younger children.

3.      Some tasks may be more or less preferable than others. As such, rotate duties when there are two or more children who have similar levels of maturity and ability.

4.      There will be times when the single father will have to remind one of more of his offspring to of his or her work. However, as much as possible, allow children to find their own time to do their work to create more skilled time managers.

5.      Lead by example. The single dad should have his own responsibilities around the house, which his children can readily see.

In practice in my house, my eight year old son feeds the cat, empties the litter (almost) every day, and empties the bathroom trash cans every week or so. Those were the same responsibilities my daughters had when they were the same age. Now, daughters who are in their early teens rotate dishes and laundry, which I had done myself when the girls were younger. For my part, I take care of the lawn and landscaping, all of the small fixes, and I still do most of the vacuuming. Of course, each of us has the responsibility for keep our own rooms clean.

Based on my experience and, apparently, on Dr. Greif’s research, this sort of plan not only keeps our space livable, creates senses of responsibility, accomplishment, personal worth, and family cohesion. I’m not asking for too much, though. I seriously doubt my kids will agree with any of this . . . at least until they have children of their own!