Purpose and Children’s Chores

Anne Mason and Thea Mason

When children are responsible for essential family chores and necessary home and yard maintenance, they maintain a critical focus on their contribution and significance to the whole––and a general sense of purpose which is a necessary antidote to feelings of angst and depression.

Sisters Anne Mason and Thea Mason examine and discuss.

Transcript below:

Anne:                                         00:01                       Hello, Thea.

Thea:                                         00:04                       Hello, Anne.

Anne:                                         00:06                       So today, let’s talk about being purposeful. It follows a little bit on our last conversation about even what makes us feel attractive or what makes us attracted to someone else. And purposefulness was a large part of that. And it also relates to a lot of other things we’ve been observing through our work and experience in life, parenting. We’ve been observing an alarming rate of depression and anxiety, lack of focus in children, in extraordinarily young children who you wouldn’t be expecting that of quite yet––in those typical like angsty teenage years. When children much younger than that are demonstrating symptoms and signs of depression, we need to explore that and address that in a way that we haven’t been doing obviously very successfully in this culture. Right? And you identified the lack, it seems, at least in the communities that we are surrounded by. Granted it’s coastal California. There’s a privilege of wealth in the areas that we live in. So I think that clouds or colors the landscape. But we’re noticing that children are not given, they’re not used to a lot of the similar day to day chores, meaningful, purposeful, necessary tasks that we grew up with. Right?

Thea:                                         02:10                       Right. And actually, and this might be a quick segue, but it’s something else that just popped into my head a little bit. Because as you were talking about that I was picturing our childhood, and while we had work, household work, I feel like, so a lot of our work actually was taken into sport quite young and a lot of our time was put there. And so that’s another coloring of this conversation, I think of the, the hijacking of meaningful work. Now that’s not me saying sport is bad, but there’s a lack of balance. And that ties into earlier conversations we’ve had where we talked about the difference of sport and play a little bit. And then when that play is hijacked right into sport, some other development doesn’t occur. And then the sport takes on a deeper meaning then truly it should have. And sense of self worth––as you were speaking about those stages of depression that come earlier and earlier and then when there’s a little bit more of that nuance of the angsty years where young people are learning how to deal with all of these senses of being, these powers and forces of becoming a young adult, when those don’t have a channel to be directed toward, they become self destructive and socially destructive forces, you know, in their circles of friends. And so that ties into, when there’s not the sense of meaningful capable purpose and work and the capacity to meet those things, we get depressed. People get depressed, and they can become ugly and lash out at others when they’re feeling small themselves. Right?

Anne:                                         04:11                       Yeah. You’re sparking some thoughts in me, ’cause we hadn’t even talked about this in tying in the sports, but it hadn’t even occurred to me. Yes. You know, I’m always saying, “Oh, back in our day, back in our day when I had to wash the dishes every day and clean up or shovel the snow or mow the lawn” or all of those things that I don’t see a lot of kids doing these days––we also though, what I should say for anyone viewing is that, we were a big tennis family, so we all played tennis. It was a bit fanatical. We attribute our parents’ divorce to tennis. And it became our job. And I, and I’m now kind of remembering, I’m thinking back to the fact that, so our father, a second generation immigrant––athletics and sports was very important to them. I think because of the discipline that it practiced, and obviously, there’s a joy and a pleasure in aspiring and honing that excellence that was manifest––like our uncle who was drafted by the Bulls. Right? But they had a balance back then. They certainly didn’t live in this age of technology and hyper developed world and structure, which scheduled kids almost every minute of their day. So that, that sport and that discipline and that activity, that was a respite from some of the chores and hardships, necessary hardships of everyday life. Right? And so then they––our baby boomer parents––brought that to our generation. “Sports! It’s toward scholarships. It develops, you know, rounds you out, keeps you fit. Good values, psychological discipline and all.” Which I admit it gave me, I think it helped me with. And opened up opportunities for me. But that was even too emphasized probably back then, you know, amidst also all of the dance classes and music lessons and voice lessons and, tutoring and school and….And, and, and, and.

Anne:                                         07:10                       And I remember now that I think about it feeling––I mean it kind of cultivates a bit of a narcissism too. It’s just, sure, Oh, you know, yes, lifting our children up is something we want to do but not in such an extreme way which puts all the focus of the family on them and how well they do in their match. Pulling me out of school for tennis lessons. Or I remember I am sure you remember well, yeah, I can say this now, I remember getting into a car accident and I won’t give all the details, but it was a really not a great situation for many reasons, but it was right in the middle of an important tournament, which I was doing well in and I didn’t really have any concern that there would be a problem about it because that was paramount. I was doing well in the tennis tournament and all that other stuff got it washed away. So I really just digressed there, but it does make me realize that it’s not just our generation, it’s, it’s what’s built on the other generation from what they took from their generation. And it’s gotten distorted.

Thea:                                         08:40                       Completely. And it seems that, I mean, and maybe it’s just in the circles I’m living in, that there is, a slow, steady waking up to the lack of balance in that scenario. That this idea, “That’s how my kid’s going to go to college,” is, you know, maybe that works for some people that they start this sport, they pursue it, they get a scholarship. Maybe those children actually continue playing or participating in whatever that sport is. More often than not, those children are burnt out by age 14. Right when it would be a good time for them to be picking up that sport, because they started so young. And then they quit, and that’s the moment they need that channel and that focus to hone. But people are realizing it’s not so successful. I mean college, that’s a whole other conversation about the distortion of all of that and…

Anne:                                         09:44                       Of the importance, the importance of college now, or the relevance of college in this rapidly changing world, given how much it costs, it’s no longer the answer, right? To the predictable paths of adulthood and profession.

Thea:                                         10:03                       Right. I mean because young people come into the world with $50,000 of debt. Or more.

Anne:                                         10:08                       50? 200! Yeah, exactly. So yes, I agree. And you in your Waldorf circle are more in touch with a lot of folks that are aware of that. And, so shifting course, reversing course, embracing a new course that hopefully rounds that impulse in our world out. And me having come to Waldorf as well, as a homeschooler, differently I recognize that too, recognize that more given my own experience. I mean, I was adamant about not letting my kid join sports teams or get involved in any outside, those types of extracurricular classes, whatever––structured, formalized organized sports, dance, all of that––too early because we did it so young that I burnt out by the time I really could have used it much more significantly at the time in my life, you know? So, yeah. You know, I mean it’s not just Waldorf education, it’s, it’s all of the alternative pedagogies. It’s also the increasing understanding and study into the importance of play in education. And how far we’ve gone away from that and how we’re trying to move back there slowly, slowly, slowly.

Thea:                                         11:55                       Well, how much is really happening when we play as children and, and how much is stolen from the development of the human being when those opportunities are lost, or robbed essentially of that time.

Anne:                                         12:11                       Yeah, short shortchanged, I guess.

Thea:                                         12:12                       So then, I don’t know if this is too much, but then ’cause what had inspired this conversation was really––so play is purposeful work at certain stages of the development of the child and the human being, really. And then and then we’re talking about what other purposeful work is there. And we do recognize we’re in one little bubble of a view into the world in coastal California. But you know, where we grew up, we did, we have to shovel the walk or shovel the driveway or whatever. You know, picking up sticks, I remember, just before mowing the lawn or whatever, all these things, which mowing the lawn, I didn’t go there, but raking leaves also. But––So what do these young people have today? And I was sharing that and it’s not quite formed yet still, so maybe something will get clearer––I feel like as a female, and maybe it’s simply because I am one––that there are still more tasks, household tasks that bring me a sense of real satisfaction. Because I, I enjoy the homemaking. I don’t see my sons enjoy homemaking quite as much as I do or even did as a young person.

Anne:                                         13:35                       Yeah, I have a girl and a boy. And the difference is so marked in terms of how they come to it or resist it. You know, so yes, go ahead.

Thea:                                         13:51                       So, so just thinking––and I know the way my life is, I don’t have opportunities for my kids. I’m not living on a farm, so I don’t have this like more physical work accessible to them. So it’s a real task as a parent in a place where I live to find this. And that’s what sport kind of gives an echo of, right? Of meaningful work in our culture. But outside of that, what work do they get to do that we can’t live without? What do they get to participate in that helps the family, that is essential, maybe, hopefully, kind of boring so that they have the time and space to develop a rich interior world.

Anne:                                         14:36                       Or not boring, but monotonous, perhaps. And you just made me realize city living is emasculating.

Thea:                                         14:54                       Totally! So that’s what we’re talking about today. Get to the country.

Anne:                                         15:00                       But there’s quite a push toward the city living and we could go down a lot of rabbit holes there. So what do we do? What’s, what is the prescription? Okay. I mean, let’s first identify the fact that we had also talked about this a little bit too, you know, as a homeschooler and someone actively involved in my homeschool group I recognize that boys earlier on are the ones who come to us and then the girls a bit later, because school is not really suited or designed for a boy.

Thea:                                         15:44                       The energy that is moving and coursing through the boy. And sometimes the girls. I was kind of one of those girls in a way too. Like needed to move a lot.

Anne:                                         15:54                       Yeah. You, you are. Right. Movement teacher and spacial dynamics person that you are––yoga and dance and…so yes, so school with its abstract, very sitting still, obedient––however way you cut it there’s an element of people pleasing obedience because of that framework of school, no matter how great the school is. It’s not that suited for boys. And increasingly with the, what? 20 minutes of recess and all of that, it’s so much less. So we need to recognize that. And in small steps individually, now, what we need to recognize is that for a boy to become a man, he needs to be able to do traditionally male things. And I don’t care who I offend saying that! I mean, there is a relevance to the traditional roles, or the traditional paths.

Thea:                                         17:05                       I mean, I think you could easily say the more masculine activities without it being offensive, because I know for me––and I get to watch at school, so at recess, which we have more than 20 minutes, all in all, we have like an hour, a day of recess. But that’s not the only movement our kids get. But I see, so let’s take third grade, fourth grade, second grade, the boys, they’re building, they’re finding wood and they’re building shelters. That’s their recess. Most often. The girls are now residing in the shelter, and they’re organizing it and they’re bringing little plants and making it lovely and sweet. And then the boys want to come in the house and the girls are like, “No, you mess it up.” And they’re like, “You can be the dog sleeping by the fire.” This is something that really happened and it’s, and it’s so perfect. “You Have too much energy. Unless you’re a resting, boy, you’re not in my house right now.”

Anne:                                         18:17                       Right! And she’s calling the shots. I mean, it’s certainly no diminishment of the female role in her realm, in our realm, right?

Thea:                                         18:25                       And there is a really natural acknowledgement. I mean, and there are some girls that are doing the building, not to say there aren’t, and I’m trying to think of any boys in the house. I can’t think of any right now, you know, currently. But, and I remember being that as, as a kid, even when we played in our, on our street, which wasn’t quite a neighborhood, but it was just a little more country and one of our sisters was much more into, “I’ll build this.” And I was definitely more in, “And I’ll make it pretty!” You know? “I’ll do that part.” So different needs in there to be satisfied.

Anne:                                         19:10                       Yeah. While I managed it. But anyway…

Thea:                                         19:14                       Precisely!

Anne:                                         19:18                       Or not. So, okay, so we’re at 20 minutes. We’ve identified some stuff. Let’s, let’s, let’s come up with a bit of a prescription for a couple of minutes.

Thea:                                         19:30                       I don’t know if this is a prescription, so my apologies again if it’s not that. But I think one of the other threads I just don’t want to forget was really the question of how is time spent? That portion of what makes things purposeful in our life. That is so out of balance. You know, our lives are out of balance and so what––it is! It’s prescription! Look at that. Boom! So it comes in as to these little moments that we get to choose. Do we make this work to survive meaningful? And do we get to put some of our creative forces towards that meaningful work? And that’s simply…food preparation. Do we buy prepackaged things or do we cook? Do we take the time to cook real food? Do we, you know self care products? Do we buy our oils for our face or our creams, or do we make them? And do our children get to be a part of those things––that we then take the time to make those things.

Anne:                                         20:35                       Okay. Absolutely. But what I’ll say is that doesn’t address the boys as much as I think we’d like to. So how about this? I was telling you that we––my husband mainly––chopped a huge tree down in our backyard. Right? And interestingly different people that we were talking about doing this before–– he was trying to get some advice or just discussing––couldn’t quite conceive that he wouldn’t hire that work out. Right? And he ended up doing it and he, it was a challenge. Because it’s a very big tree and it wasn’t too far from our house. And you know, it was like climbing, cutting a few branches here and there so he could still have a ladder to climb on, with the chainsaw, but didn’t want to use the chainsaw really that high up in case it slips. So using, you know, a manual saw. And then it ended with the family with the rope all pulling it down after he had gotten it short enough, it wasn’t going to ruin our house. “Timber!” Right? And then the kids helping chop, stack wood. Right? My daughter my son definitely, he thrived in that. Right? My daughter helped as well. But you know, we have different interests, you know, that that was I think more satisfying perhaps to, to my son. So what about just making conscious choices as, as ludicrously privileged as this sounds? So I, it’s grossing me out to even say this, but you know, things that we would normally hire someone else to do for us that we’ve never done before that do fall under that realm of like building and physical labor…

Thea:                                         22:33                       And fixing and taking apart and putting back together.

Anne:                                         22:36                       Fixing the toilet fixing the faucet. Painting the front door. The fence. Tom Sawyer. Huck Finn. What about making small conscious choices, even though it’s not as efficient, perhaps, maybe you can justify the money because of the time it’s going to save, you don’t have to manage your kid, all of that. Let’s start giving our kids more of those meaningful tasks to do. And see what happens and what comes from that. Yes?

Thea:                                         23:15                       That’s an idea. I mean, because we want to be able to help our children and help ourselves become more capable to meet what comes, whatever that is. So we need the opportunities to, to fail, you know, to, to practice the things that we’re doing. And build the muscles.

Anne:                                         23:35                       We also need to recognize, I mean, I, I’ve heard this argument before that, “Well, you know, the world is turning, you know, basically everyone’s becoming coders,” right? I mean, “the world’s all computerized, technology robotics. Why fight it you know, if you’re going to succeed, I mean, put your energies there.” Well, I don’t think that that is a healthy approach to helping children develop. I don’t think that we should reject that awareness of where the world is and exposure to that at the appropriate times and cultivating those skills. But if we just move in that direction only and put all of our efforts in that abstract video game, whatever, learning we are certainly very weakened. Another aspect of us is weakened. And if that whole framework isn’t there suddenly or wherever you go in the world or whatever, you know, your competence is greatly compromised. So let’s work toward, no matter where we think the world is going, still exercising all aspects of our human beingness––physical and mental, emotional and spiritual. So you know that, that’s the general prescription. Let’s determine to make this, continue this, the next one. Part two of it.

Thea:                                         25:14                       Yeah. There’s more avenues to go down. We’re just getting it started. So thanks for touching in. It’s just something that’s been on my mind, definitely lately. And looking around. So thanks.

Anne:                                         25:26                       Yep. You too.

Thea:                                         25:28                       Have a good one.

Anne:                                         25:29                       You too. Hold on and let me figure out how to press these buttons. Let’s see. Stop.

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