I have a bit of a rant today. I was going to write about the U.S. consulate, but this is a better rant.
Don’t get me wrong- I like the boys I babysit for well enough, but they have been severely under-parented and sometimes it really shows. Actually, most of the time it really shows.
I break up countless fights between them every day. It’s not just constant name-calling and taunting each other, but actual fist fights that cross the line from fun roughhousing with each other as normal boys tend to do into being physically abusive towards each other.
Their attitude towards school and homework is appallingly lazy. Their parents are sending them to a private school that costs them about $70k a year for the three of them. I understand that none of the boys is an especially great student and that schoolwork doesn’t come easily to them, but they barely even put in a minimal effort towards their homework (getting them to sit down and start it is a major challenge, even though they never have much), can’t bothered to write down their assignments, and generally talk about how much school sucks. Ask them what they have learned that day and they will say “nothing”. And to think there are children in third world countries who want to go to school and can’t…
The same goes for the extracurriculars their parents have signed them up for. All the boys do after-school sports and play an instrument and they all said at the beginning of the term that they wanted to do these things. Guess how many hours per week they spend practicing any of it? If you guessed zero, you’re right. Guess how many hours they spend arguing about practicing? Don’t guess, because I don’t know. I lost count a long time ago.
Then there’s chores. We all had chores as kids, didn’t we? By the time I was 10, I was doing all the laundry, the dishes every other night, mowing the entire lawn with a push mower in the summer and shovelling the driveway in the winter, babysitting my younger siblings, making the bed and keeping my room clean, as well as other occasional chores like cleaning the bathrooms or mopping the floors. I did have more chores than some of my peers, but I certainly never lacked for recreational time.
These boys don’t have any chores. Seriously. At 8, 10, and 11, they don’t have to do ANYTHING. I blame the lack of chores in their lives for their general attitudes of laziness, irresponsibility, and ungratefulness.
Which leads me to my anecdote of the day:
Today, Middle Brother was pestering Youngest Brother while YB was trying to do his math homework. I told him to leave his brother alone and go find something else to do. Like maybe practice his instrument before his lesson tomorrow? Being accustomed to being disobedient and disrespectful, he completely ignored me and started beating up on YB. I asked him what his problem was and he told me he was bored.
Where I come from, “bored” is the magic word you say when you want a job to do. So I said, “Okay, you can fold that pile of laundry over there.” It was a pretty small pile of laundry, a five minute job if I were to do it myself with my lifetime of laundry folding skills at my disposal. For him, I figured it might take 15-20 minutes. Until he said…
“But I don’t know how to fold laundry!”
*face palm* Can anybody give me one good reason why a non-developmentally-delayed 10 year old doesn’t know how to fold laundry? I know 4 year olds that can fold laundry!
“Then I’ll teach you,” I said, ever so cheerfully.
Aaaaaaaaaand out came the whine! (No cheese, though.)
“I don’t waaaaaaaaaaaaannaaaaaaaaaaa! It’s booooooooooooring! Why do IIIIIIIIIIII have to do it?!”
“C’mon,” I said. “It won’t take very long and I’ll be helping you.”
And for the next hour- literally, an hour- we had a stare down. He absolutely refused to fold the towel I had given him. He sort of flopped it around in one hand and said it was too hard and he was bored.
“But why do I have to do it???” whined Middle Brother.
“Why not you?” I asked.
“It’s boring!” Yeah, I heard you the first time, you whiny little brat.
I explained that I was sure his mom found it boring, too, and that she would no doubt be appreciative of coming home to see the job done after working hard all day. He asserted that it was his mother’s job to fold the laundry. In my sickeningly cheerful and patient way, I explained that he was a member of the family and needed to earn his keep, that it wasn’t fair to expect his parents to wait on him hand and foot.
“Is there any reason that you shouldn’t have to help fold laundry?” I asked him.
“What happened to your Lenten resolution to be less selfish and more responsible?”
“It’s too boring!” Clearly this kid’s private school education is instilling him with an impressive vocabulary.
This went on for a while. When Younger Brother finished his math, he came and said he would help if it could be a competition between him and his brother. I could have hugged him for volunteering such a clever suggestion, except he wouldn’t have liked getting girl cooties on him.
I showed them how to fold towels and shirts and said I’d take care of the rest of it. YB folded ten items, albeit not very neatly, and MB folded four, also not very neatly. But it was a start.
And then MB promptly took his four items and threw them in the air, crossed his arms, and put on the pout of a century.
“You can fold those all over again,” I told him sternly, being quite sick of his attitude at this point. He looked at me like I was an alien and drawled, “Whaaat…?”
“I’m serious. You’ll fold those again before you do anything else today.”
He very angrily folded them back up while his brothers taunted him for having a “spaz attack” and then stomped to his room, slammed the door, and cried for the next half hour. All this over one tiny load of laundry. I’ve never seen anything like it before. You’d think I’d asked him to kill a puppy.
It boggles my mind how lazy these boys are. I understand that their parents work long, irregular hours and don’t always have time to be superparents. I understand that getting a child to do chores involves a time commitment, as a child does initially need to be supervised and often the task is done incorrectly or takes longer than it would if the adult did it themselves. I understand that it is often, if not always, easier to just do the task yourself. But I don’t think this is good for children. If they don’t have chores, where else will they learn responsibility?
I was also genuinely disgusted by his firm belief that he should not have to lift a finger around the house. And it’s not just him, but all three of them. I know children are inherently selfish by nature and that’s fine to a point. These boys take it to an extreme.
They don’t care how hard their parents have to work to provide them with a comfortable life, as long as it keeps coming. I don’t expect a child to know the value of a dollar, but they have a complete lack of respect for other people’s things and their own. For example, since the school term started, their mother has asked them at least three times a week to take proper care of their school hats because they cost $100 each and need to last the entire year. Not once have they picked up their hats and put them away properly. If I put them away, they make an appearance later, usually being used as Frisbees or weapons. Nor do they take proper care of their instruments, their sports equipment, their clothing, their schoolbooks, their toys, or my car (the latter of which I’m really pissed off about).
They don’t seem to have any empathy at all. I was helping one of the boys with an assignment for his religion class in which he needed to come up with ways to help people less fortunate. He couldn’t think of anybody less fortunate than himself. When I gave him several examples and asked him how he could help each of them, he first said he couldn’t do anything for them. Then, when pressed, he said he could make a donation. I asked him who he would like to make a donation to and it turned out he meant his parents could make a donation to the less fortunate, but he wasn’t really willing to do so himself.
“So what if you saw a homeless person and you happened to have some spare change in your pocket? Could you perhaps give him a dollar?” I asked, hoping to spark some sign of latent generosity within his Grinchy soul.
“No. Why should I give him my dollar?” he asked defiantly.
“But he might not have eaten all week and a dollar might be all he needs to get himself some French fries at McDonald’s. And you’re not using your dollar. All your basic needs and more are provided for. So what’s a dollar to you and what’s a dollar to him?”
“I wouldn’t give him my dollar. That’s dumb. I’m saving up for a computer.”
When I was that age, I was in Girl Scouts and regularly volunteering. We didn’t have homeless people where I lived and I never saw a homeless person til I was 13 and on a trip to Washington DC. But we did visit lonely people in nursing homes and we did fundraising for people with disabilities. I didn’t usually have any pocket money because I never got an allowance as a kid, but sometimes I had tooth fairy money and I usually put a portion of it in the church collection plate without being told to. It’s hard for me to imagine being so selfish that I wouldn’t give a homeless person a dollar, even as a child, because I wasn’t like that and I didn’t know anyone else who was like that.
Of course, like all kids, I did often feel that my parents gave me way too many chores and that I was immensely hard done by. As an adult, I can look back on that more objectively. My parents weren’t slave drivers (though there are some things I still feel legitimately resentful about) and they probably helped me develop a good work ethic and a sense of responsibility. At the very least, I am capable of keeping my living quarters clean and habitable!
I’m hoping that over time, I can improve these boys’ behaviour and attitudes. I don’t know how successful I’ll be when the lessons I try to teach likely won’t be reinforced when I am not there, but I’ll try anyway. If nothing else, maybe when they are older, they will look back on that mean nanny they had that made them do chores and speak respectfully to each other and realise it wasn’t the end of the world after all.