I was watching ‘The Voice’ last week and in between fawning over Will.i.am’s amazing eyes I did catch a snippet of an interview with one of the contestant’s mother’s descriptions of her. She seemed to find it funny that her daughter at the age of 16 couldn’t even turn the oven on let alone cook. My ears pricked up because at this age I was working 3 nights a week in a pub and also Saturday’s and Sunday’s. I was cooking for myself and also being responsible for washing my own clothes as well as making sure all my school work was done and that I practised my ‘cello as I was of a high standard. I sometimes begrudge having lost a lot of my childhood to my parent’s messy divorce but I now think at least I know how to turn a cooker on…
When I left home at 18 I was more than capable of living on my own. Although I lived with another girlie friend I was still able to get to the centre of London with a ‘cello at the right time with everything I needed. I was able to manage my own money, I didn’t have an overdraft as I worked on the weekends to make sure I didn’t and I could make my own bed, cook my own food and be totally sustained by myself. I had no parental help either financially or any other and totally relied on myself.
So when I heard that this girl couldn’t even turn an oven on and her mother thought this a funny, quaint, almost endearing thing I felt annoyed. If your daughter can’t do the most basic thing that is needed to keep her alive then surely, as a parent, you have failed. I did notice though that the daughter was excellent at applying makeup and was very handy with a pair of straighteners as she looked immaculate, almost beautiful, far more than I ever did at 16. She had obviously spent a lot of time learning how to use makeup and how to make the best of herself which, unfortunately, in this day and age seems to the only thing that youngsters (‘ark at me!) are supposed to be interested in.
A while ago I watched a programme called ‘Living With The Amish’ which I found to be a really interesting series where teenagers from this country were sent to live and experience the Amish way of life. I expected a ‘teenager from hell’ type programme where the children were out of control, rude and the Amish would be shocked and all this would make a cracking TV programme. This image in my head couldn’t have been further from the truth as the teenagers were very interested in seeing the similarities and differences between the 2 cultures; they were very respectful and joined in all that was expected of them. The thing that stood out was that once again, most of the teenagers; one in particular who was lovely though, didn’t have much experience of household chores or looking after herself. The lovely girl actually said (at the age of 19) that she’d never washed up and really enjoyed it and that she would also try to help her mum more at home. We had a flash back to her at home with her mum where we were shown that she wasn’t expected to lift a finger and her mum did everything for her and thought this was fine. Is this fine?
Another of the girls was having trouble with the apparent sexism that existed in the Amish culture. She didn’t like the idea that the men went ‘off to work’ and the girls stayed at home and did the cooking, cleaning and ironing and tending to the house. I saw this as fascinating but have things gone too far the other way where we are now breeding young girls who don’t just want more than to be a housewife but have mothers who don’t think it’s important to have any knowledge of cooking, cleaning and household chores at all. Don’t think I’m just talking about girls though boys need to know the same skills as they have no idea how their life will turn out as they could be a househusband and need the skills of looking after themselves and a family. I think we need to move away from ‘girls do this and boys do that’ and just start from the middle ground of ‘what does my child need to know to enable them to be self-sufficient without me?’
I have 3 sons but if I had 3 daughters I would feel the same. They need to know how to cook, how to make their beds and they need to know where the washing machine lives and what it does. Already my boys have to put their washing out on the landing as they know ‘if it’s not on the landing it doesn’t get washed!’ as I see teaching my boys about housework as a drip feeding activity so I’m starting young. I don’t want a situation in the future where I am castigated (as a mother who lives where I used to live was sworn at by her 20 something year old son because his shirt wasn’t ironed when he needed it) for not providing a washing an ironing service that my sons demand. They will learn how to load a washing machine (and I don’t mean stuff as much washing into the machine as you can and then try to pull it all out again noticing that all the whites have gone a grey colour) separating whites from darks, they will know how to wash woollen items so they don’t come out fitting a Barbie and, when they are older, I will show them how to iron their own shirts. We already do the odd bit of cooking but not enough in my opinion and they are expected to clear up their own toys. I do feel a little mean as I have said that any toys still out after they’ve cleaned up will go in a black sack and they won’t have them for a week. Bad mother? I don’t know but I don’t want to be ever having a conversation with whoever giggling whilst saying ‘my sons can’t look after themselves – isn’t that funny!’ as I may have well be saying ‘I’ve not been very good at teaching my children how to feed themselves – isn’t that funny! No. It’s not and you should have.
So it’s not a boy versus girl thing, it’s not a sexist thing it’s a life skill that’s essential. Children need to be slowly shown how to look after themselves and that doesn’t mean being able to turn on a pair of straighteners or apply flawless make up. How are my sons expected to show their children how to look after themselves if they have no idea themselves? I know it’s going to be a rocky ride as the teenage years slowly creep up on us and the boys retreat into their rooms with strange smells, pots of paint, clothes strewn on the floor and magazines everywhere (is that just my brothers?) they will become spotty no doubt and grunt at me rather than talking but I hope that once they leave the nest –and even that is taking much longer these days and then they come back again!- they can invite friends round to their tidied flat, wearing clean clothes having cooked a simple meal. After all that’s the very basics of life isn’t it?