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Cooking and cleaning is boys' work too

October 20, 2007|Sandy Banks

What about the boys?

That was the prevailing question among readers responding to my Tuesday column bemoaning my failure to acquaint my daughters with a toilet brush, bleach and the skills to use them.

"Your article irritated me," complained Christine Elowitt, who still bristles, 15 years later, over being asked by her male dorm-mates in college to help wash their clothes and cook their meals. "Any cleaning, sewing or cooking skill that a teenage girl should learn should also be learned by teenage boys."

I didn't mean to let boys off the hook. I wrote about girls because I know girls. I'm one of three sisters, raising three daughters. I don't know what life with boys is like. But yes. Boys, too, should know how to cook and clean.

In fact, I'm reaping the benefit of one who does -- my oldest daughter's very competent boyfriend, who taught her to cook. . . or at least made her want to try. There must be plenty of boys like him in Los Angeles, judging from the dozens of women who wrote me this week bragging about their sons.

In Michelle Orrock's home, "7-year-old Ben does his own laundry -- washes, dries, folds and puts it away." Ten-year-old Jacob washes his clothes, "gets his soccer gear together for weekend games, takes out the trash and picks up after the dogs." Both boys vacuum and keep their rooms clean.This industrious streak among young men bodes well for their future wives. According to a survey this year by the Pew Research Center, Americans rank "sharing household chores" right behind faithfulness and good sex -- and ahead of a robust bank account -- as the key factor in a successful marriage.

There's nothing quite so romantic as watching a guy you've just cooked dinner for wash the dishes, put them away and scour the kitchen sink with cleanser.

The parenting coaches I consulted for Tuesday's column counseled patience and negotiation to get teenagers to carry their share of the housework load.

Yeah, right, parents with a different perspective said.

Scrap the touchy-feely stuff, advised Ron Compton, a father of three grown children. "This is war," his e-mail warned. "Assess the enemy. . . . They are smarter than you and better at the game."

A parent's most potent weapons are a blind eye and a closed wallet, he said. "Don't like how their rooms look? Close the door. . . . They'll clean it up once they start sneaking boyfriends in while you're at work."

Forget bribes and negotiation, he said. "They see you as an ATM machine wearing a maid's uniform." If they're not willing to help with chores, feel free to spend their allowance "on maid service, a spa treatment and a cruise on a party boat."

Then there was the simplicity of Sievers' Law: "Children should go to college far enough away so they can't come home for the weekend," suggested David Sievers of Encino. "They will learn to do their own laundry and get away from their no-good high school friends."

Mothers seemed to have a harder time with that sort of tough love.

"I tried to be a really good mother and cover all the bases. But boy, I blew this one big time," e-mailed one mom, whose UCLA honor-student daughter responds to vacation requests for help around the house "with dirty looks and heavy sighs.

"Is it really so hard to make a bed or clean a bathroom counter? No, it's not," she said. "What's really hard is to 'retrain' myself to expect my daughter to take on responsibilities I've covered for her for 19 years."

Elizabeth Kirby of Thousand Oaks recounted how she grew up waxing, polishing, vacuuming, bleaching, scrubbing and ironing shirts, sheets, boxer shorts, hankies and "billions and billions" of pleated skirts.

Her kids, she said, have done none of that. "The sound of a washing machine stirs the slave in me. . . so I laundered for them. I polished for them. I waxed for them so they could empower themselves to greatness. To Wall Street, perhaps. To the Congress. To Centre Court at Wimbledon.

"Which meant I worked while they played video games and talked on the phone."

I sent my oldest daughter off to college five years ago with a dozen boxes of Kraft macaroni and cheese and a crash course in laundering. At Stanford, she learned to grocery shop, feed herself and wash without turning her white clothes pink. Somehow, she picked up enough cleaning skills to complain that her roommates weren't neat enough.

Which makes me believe that kids will learn what they need to know, when they need it, no matter our parental shortcomings. I heard from so many parents this week who seemed to be describing the children sitting on my own couch that I had to laugh, then sigh. I've decided to take the advice of those further down the child-rearing road:

"Take heart," wrote Connie Broge. Her "former Rose Princess/soccer player/champion softballer/'A' student/ NON CHORE DOING" daughter is now a 29-year-old newlywed, whose home would make Martha Stewart proud.

"A dramatic transformation has occurred along the way. Someone taught her to clean a toilet, to do dishes, to clean her bedroom, EVEN HOW TO WASH WINDOWS," Broge wrote. "Hang in there. Happy, healthy children are a gift to be enjoyed. . . maybe only in retrospect."

sandy.banks@latimes.com

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