Last week Jimmy mentioned that he was weary of the kids having the ‘Not I’ attitude…
which was a perfect lead-in idea to read The Little Red Hen for a Family Devotional.
Ah-ha… interesting how often we sound like the ones who didn’t want to help that hard-working little red hen.
Jimmy shared the scripture in Galatians & D&C about not being weary in doing good for others.
Posted on Thu, Aug 5, 2010
Parenting lessons from ‘The Little Red Hen’
By Annie Zirkel
In the story The Little Red Hen, the overworked and under-supported Mama Hen spends all her time cooking and cleaning while the rest of her household naps the day away. Finally fed up after getting no help in tending some wheat seeds she eventually turns into flour and then a cake, she answers the question of ‘Who’s going to eat this cake?’ with, ‘Not any of you.’
Of course in the story, losing out on cake is just the trick needed to get her lazy, and now hungry, crew to start pitching in – presumably living cooperatively ever after.
Especially when children are young, this deceptively simple story has some wonderful lessons to offer including messages about working together, planning ahead, standing up for yourself, and the power of consequences.
But, not all of the morals of this story are for children. Many parents fall into the trap of doing most of the work while their children spend their time lounging around, playing and socializing, or focusing on their own pursuits. In fact this dynamic is one of the core power struggles in countless families – who’s responsible for the work and who’s responsible for the leisure.
When my children were little, we came up with a phrase that worked well to address this dilemma. We called it Fun & Done as in: Let’s have fun AND get things done, too. Play and clean up. Cook dinner and then relax for a little while.
Or better yet, have fun while getting the chores done. I used to read to my kids while they folded the laundry. And while the laundry didn’t exactly disappear, it was a nice way of balancing the need to move the day forward with the equally important goal of engaging in the only opportunity we would ever have to enjoy that particular day.
Creating a spirit of family cooperation is the critical element for setting up a scenario where everyone can get better at both having fun AND getting things done. Talking to children about what it takes to keep a household running smoothly is a good segue into getting them on board for pitching in. And of course being ready with those calm consequences is a good idea as well.
But the other obstacle to this approach comes from Mama Hen herself who has to shift her expectations and be open to getting less done, putting away her checklists and re-learning what her children (and maybe even her partner) already know – how to relax and enjoy the moment.
This can be harder than it sounds. I know many moms who admit that they feel better when they do it themselves because it gets done right. Then there are those who may do a heck of a lot of squawking about not liking this setup but don’t insist that their clan pitch in. And finally there are those who acknowledge that they just don’t get the whole “fun” thing. Maybe it’s because they have forgotten or maybe they have gotten so caught up in their “To Do” lists that they don’t know how to stop planning the fun and start participating in it.
So if you would like more cooperation for getting things done and more moments of personal fun, you may enjoy this “To Do” list to get you started:
1. Get the book “The Little Red Hen” and read it to your family.
2. Talk about family cooperation and the importance of everyone pitching in. (For older kids think regular booster discussions.)
3. Besides Fun & Done, consider some of these sayings to get the point across:
Many hands make light work. Work hard, play hard. ~ Nike slogan Life’s not all fun and games. (But there should be SOME fun!)
4. Practice the When/Then technique as in “WHEN you’ve cleaned your room, THEN you can go to a friend’s house.” Though be prepared for lapses and have those consequences ready. 5. Both with and without your family, put some FUN into your day as well. (All work and no play makes Red a dull Hen.)
Finding that balance is challenging and fairly unlikely to stay that way for any length of time. But “time” is the crucial word here. Because before you know it, your kids will be gone and you really will be eating that cake alone. Which is too bad because, like chores, cake is so much better (and definitely less fattening) when it is shared.
Annie Zirkel, LPC is a parenting consultant and workshop presenter based in Ann Arbor.