Last Spring I posted on Facebook as a proudly gushing mom about all the work my oldest child had decided to do around the house. At the time I was about 20 weeks pregnant and was feeling super tired and overwhelmed that day by the amount of items on my to do list. My oldest child, who was 10, decided to swoop in and rescue me!! On his own he decided to fold and put away all the laundry, clean the upstairs playroom, pick up our bedroom and vacuum the upstairs and the downstairs. I was so proud and so happy! So of course I posted it on Facebook. The reactions were astonishing. There were some who were so pleased with Martin for helping Mom out and voiced their admiration. There were many who simply “liked it”. And then there were many who automatically assumed that he had done something wrong. That he was somehow trying to atone for something bad he had done, or trying to get something out of me.
Martin was angry; angry that people would assume that he has some ulterior motive other than helping out an overly tired overly stressed mother. Angry that instead of assuming he was coming from someplace good, they assumed he was coming from some place evil, or conniving. I found the whole thing sad. Why on earth do we assume the worst of children? Why do we assume that in order to do something nice they either need to be making up for something bad, or trying to get something?
Is it a result of the rewards and punishments system that so many families use? The system where children are made to do things in order to get something? Approval, $5, something special ; in exchange for emptying the trash? Or a fun event that had been planned being taken away when that chore is forgotten? Or is it a result of a disconnection between the parent-child partnership, perpetuated by the media that is constantly trying to drive a wedge between parents and kids? It is reminiscent of the response to bullying that goes something like “well, kids are mean.” Children are not inherently mean. They do not sit in their rooms and plot how to hurt or destroy. They are not evil masterminds. Children respond to the environment; the home, the school, the society; in the same manner they are treated. We don’t assume if our friend stops by with a surprise cup of coffee for us that they have somehow wronged us and are trying to make up for it. So, why do we assume if our children do something nice that they are somehow coming at it from a place of negativity?
The situation saddens me. Our family is a unit that works together to help our home run. My son saw that I was struggling and took it upon himself to help – not for the praise on Facebook (he didn’t know I would post), not to get something out of me, and not to make up for something he had done. We have an open line of communication. If he had done something wrong he would’ve talked to me about it, we would’ve worked through it, and unless that thing was intentionally dumping a pile of crumbs on the floor vacuuming would not have figured into the equation of how to solve said issue. If he wanted a new toy he would have asked me how he could earn the money to get it, not do some chore and automatically expect money thrown at him. It saddened me to see how hurt he was that people assumed he was coming at this with an ulterior motive, but it saddens me more to think of all the adults out there that are actively parts of children’s lives and are always assuming the worst of them.