DanvilleSanRamon.com

Column - June 1, 2007

Diablo Views: Evolving childhood chores

by Dolores Fox Ciardelli

When I was young, it was my job to dry the dishes as my older sister washed them. When she went off to college, I was promoted to dishwasher and my father would dry them. He enjoyed this time together and would recall that as a boy he had done the dishes with his mother. I don't remember being impressed by the dad-daughter camaraderie in my callous teens, just glad for the help, although now I remember it fondly.

Looking back to my childhood, I realize that I was given all the dirty work. It was my job in the back yard to pick up the fallen apricots and figs - yuck! - which were invariably surrounded by hovering little insects and infested with ants. I also brought out the garbage - and this was before plastic bags and garbage disposals came along to sanitize the job. My parents never cared if my bedroom was clean so long as I brought my belongings back into my own room each night. I especially liked to take my dolls and stuffed animals into the back yard for elaborate setups. Once when my parents were telling me to take this and take that and take this back into my room, I finally said to them in exasperation, "What do you think I am? An octopus?" They laughed about this for years.

When my children were young, we had a dishwasher although it still had to be loaded and emptied. But the major job I recall my son doing was babysitting. He was eight years older than his sister, which allowed us a lot of freedom once he was old enough for them to be left them alone. The most successful chore for my daughter when she was in high school was to do her own laundry. She felt quite the martyr and informed me she was the only one at all of Monte Vista who did her own laundry. But this was the only area of housework in which she had any interest and since I was working by that time I needed help. She didn't care if the kitchen was clean or her room either for that matter. But she did care about her clothes. She also fed the dog and the cat - in return for their undying affection.

Now, I just read, a common household chore for children is to help out by doing things for their parents on the Internet. Stars For Kidz, which does market research on young consumers, has released a study of more than 6,000 kids nationwide on their role in performing online tasks for their families. Kids are pressed into "cyber-service," according to the survey, for two reasons:

* 47 percent report their parents are "clueless" online

* 29 percent say they need to help mom online because she doesn't have enough time

These were the top five online chores listed for ages 8-14:

* 38 percent e-mail pictures and letters to relatives

* 38 percent get the movie listings

* 36 percent handle invitations and party planning

* 36 percent plan vacations and travel

* 35 percent get driving directions

These chores made sense but I was surprised to learn also that some help with online banking, and 14 percent help their parents prepare their income taxes.

I remember reading when my children were little that youngsters should be given tasks that they are proud to do, such as paying the bills, rather than demeaning chores. I see two problems with this reasoning. One, that means parents have to do the demeaning chores and, hey, I paid my dues picking up those yucky figs. Two, responsible as my children were, somehow I just could not entrust our water and electricity to them, not to mention our mortgage and our credit rating.

But this online thing might have worked out. My kids would have willingly ordered groceries online to be delivered from Safeway. Although they probably would have added paper plates and plastic utensils and cups, thereby eliminating the dishwashing.

-Dolores Fox Ciardelli can be e-mailed at editor@DanvilleWeekly.com.

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