I’m intrigued by parenting around the world, and lately I’ve been wondering what is reasonable to expect of a small child when it comes to independence, skills, and responsibilities. Many American parents give children chores to teach responsibility, but they also have expectations outside of chores, things that we simply teach via our lifestyle (putting dishes in the sink, for example, or putting a new toilet paper up when you’ve finished off one).
Here are some of the things I expect out of my child by her fifth birthday:
-When finished eating, throw scraps out, place dishes in sink and rinse off
-fetch her own snacks and make simple things, like sandwiches, toast, or noodles
-dress and undress herself, putting dirty clothes in the hamper
-know how to load a washing machine, put soap in, and start a cycle
-put clean clothes away in appropriate drawers
-wipe up spills, clean up messes of toys or activities, and vacuum up crumbs
-take a shower, and wash her hair, independently
-brush her teeth
-brush her hair
-understand the fundamentals of pumping gas
-be able to make a phone call and dial 911
-know my name, our address, and my phone number
-understand basics of road safety (stop signs, traffic lights, etc)
-be able to purchase items at a store, with cash and a credit card
-know the difference between coins and bills (what they’re worth)
-have a basic understanding of saving up for something
-be able to earn her own money by doing extra “jobs” or favors (NOT bribes to do things that are expected of household members or for good behavior)
-understand what a bank is, and the basic premise of a checking account
-operate a TV, DVD player, laptop, desktop, tablet, and cell phone
-order for herself at a restaurant
-check out her own library books/movies
-be able to verbalize and recognize her own emotions and some simple ways to manage being upset (stepping away, deep breathing, etc)
As you can see, I’m raising my daughter to be very independent, to think for herself, and to trust her own choices. There are many societies in which 5-year-old girls can cook their family’s entire meal, look after toddlers and babies, weed and tend a garden. I’m not going to expect that of my American daughter, but will expect her to be able to make requests in public, operate technology, and learn the basics of financial responsibility. Anthropologically, this is interesting to me.
The culture of my immediate family is almost bizarrely matriarchal. Growing up, I absorbed the expectation that the women in our family be educated and financially and socially independent from men, and yet the women were also expected to stay closer to home, care for the children and the elderly, and facilitate family gatherings and holidays. The “mother” and “grandmother” of the family made large financial decisions (even if she didn’t make all or most of the money), made child-rearing decisions (discipline, school, chores), served the community on committees or boards, chose whether to or which church to attend, took over care of hospitalized and chronically ill family members, and decided on the family’s daily menu. A man’s consent was usually only made to be polite, or to make it seem as if he had a say. It was really the “head” woman in the family from whom you needed permission for a major purchase and to change something in the household, or from whom you could gain approval.
As a female descendant in my family, I was expected to learn the names and stories of my maternal blood line, all the way back to my great-great-great-great-grandmother, the first woman in the line to settle in the area we now live. I was expected to carry on these memories and to preserve our history. Of course, I would have a daughter of my own. If I did have a boy, then I would have to try again. These expectations also felt like an honor to me, sort of like being heir apparent of a heritage, and led to my purchase of some family land where we live now. It also led me to move back home to be near my maternal grandmother in her old age, to help with her care, even though it was far away from my place of work.
So, it seems only natural to me that I would have a daughter, and that she will learn to value the ability to speak up for herself, to be confident in her choices, and to operate in all areas of public society in such a way that gives her as much independence and freedom as any of her male counterparts. If we had a man in our home, I’m sure I would then be teaching her (even unconsciously) to relegate him to a role of helper, not leader, as the males in my life were, or even to unwittingly teach her that they are inconsequential when it comes to running a household, making a living, or forging your own path. When it comes to marriage, partnerships with the opposite sex, and patriarchy, I will undoubtedly be lacking in guidance.