by Vicki Larson
I’m not exactly sure what got into to me, but on a recent Saturday I drove to the local rock and gravel store, ordered about 2 yards of crushed stone and river rocks, put the $200 or so on my credit card, and then spent two days shoveling, spreading and artfully arranging them on my driveway.
Numerous observant neighbors remarked, “That’s a lot of work.”
As my teenagers would say, “Duh.”
But one of them said something rather brilliant: “Shouldn’t your boys be helping?”
Really, shouldn’t they?
Sure, it was their week to be with their dad, but I could have waited a few days for them to come back to me. So clearly there was something else going on, even if I wasn’t fully conscious of it at the time.
It’s something all divorced parents have to deal with at some point or another: how much more do we expect our kids to do around the house now that there aren’t two adults doing it all?
When I was married, there was a clear division of labor — the pink jobs (mine) and the blue jobs (his). Unfortunately, more and more tasks over time became pink jobs because I just didn’t like the way my then-husband did them. I’m sure I wasn’t the only wife who rolled her eyes at her husband’s attempts to handle something he clearly wouldn’t do the “right” way (meaning “my” way) and then said in exacerbation, “Oh, I’ll do it!” — just as I’m sure I’m not the only wife who wondered if this was perhaps done on purpose.
The interesting thing is that once you get divorced you realize that no matter how little your former husband did around the house — or how poorly he did it — at least it was something. Now you’re doing it all on your own, plus working full time.
Enter the kids.
It’s inevitable that they end up taking on some of those tasks, but there is a fine line between handing them the proper responsibilities and putting yourself at risk of getting busted under child labor laws.
In truth, my two boys didn’t have too many responsibilities when we were an intact family — make your bed, clean your room, walk and feed the dog, set and clear the table. Anything extra — wash the car, mow the lawn, wash the dog — usually came with a price tag.
Now that we’re five years into being a divorced family, and the older one has a car of his own, they have taken on a few new responsibilities — bring in the mail, take the garbage and recycle out, empty the dishwasher, pick up the younger brother from practice, get the laundry going and the occasional self-prepared dinner. The older one has accepted it relatively gracefully; the younger one is resentful.
It isn’t a lot and I know it could — and perhaps should — be more. After all, as I remind them (nag might be the word they actually use), my role as a mom is to help them become self-sufficient adults.
Still, I remember clearly the words my older son, then age 12, said to me when his dad and I told him we were getting divorced: “I don’t care what you do as long as it doesn’t change my life.”
I would hate to ask him just how that’s working for him.