Thursday, June 2, 2011

Raising Zinashi: Responsibility

One thing that is important to us that Zinashi learn early is a sense of responsibility. This is a hard one to nail down because it encompasses so much. It includes caring for herself, respecting others, taking care of her things, and contributing to family life. Each of those categories could be a whole blog post unto themselves, but I'd like to talk a little bit about the big picture here. I believe that if I teach responsibility in one area, it bleeds over into other areas. To me, responsibility is owning one's own actions and how they affect both ourselves and others around us. By design, we observe others caring for us, then learn to care for ourselves (thus the egocentric phase every child goes through) and then learn to extend that care to others and to all that we touch. This is a lifelong process, and good starts matter.

Because Zinashi came to us at an "older" age (meaning that we didn't become her parents when she was in the womb or a baby), there were some things we reversed the order of in order to achieve that good start. For example, a three-year-old might be expected to feed herself, but Zinashi desperately needed to observe us caring for her, so we did that for her in the beginning. As she observed how we fed her, she began to feed herself, and then began to feed us. In the same way, in the beginning we dressed her, and then she began to dress herself, and now she sometimes tries to hold my pants out for me to put on (which is hilarious, as you might imagine--limbs at odd angles everywhere). Most of the responsibility she learns now is taking place within our little family unit, but as her world widens, we are confident that her sense of responsibility will widen as well. Silly as it may sound, we have begun to widen it simply by having her feed the cat in the evening.

Like most children (and adults, if we're honest), she doesn't always want to bear the responsibility she's been given. She often tells me that she is "busy" when it is time to feed the cat, and has a remarkably well-developed avoidance techniques for things like putting on her shoes or getting into the bathtub. Teaching these sorts of responsibilities, the ones we must do but don't always feel like doing, simply takes time right now. If we can, we just wait it out. We tell her we're not doing anything else until the task at hand is done. Slowly but surely, she is figuring out that we're serious, and she doesn't want to waste the time she could be doing something more fun by stalling for an extended period of time.

The most enjoyable responsibilities to teach her are the ones that we don't really have to work at. So much of the time, she simply observes us doing something and wants to be able to do it, too. She helps put things on the table for meals, hands me things from the dishwasher to put in the cabinets, and lately she's been getting really good at laundry.

folding the laundry

I have largely let her lead in these cases, wanting her to see the responsibility she's taking on as something useful and good and even pleasant. While there are things that we simply must do, I think her life will be much more satisfying if she comes to view the daily tasks of life as things that can be enjoyed. Thus I encourage whatever it is that she wants to help with, as long as it is safe. She feels capable and responsible without a big lesson or lecture. And that is good for all of us.

This is part of our series about how we live our life as a family. For more of our Raising Zinashi posts, click on the following links:
Raising Zinashi: How We Eat
Raising Zinashi: Teaching and Learning


  1. You will be surprised at how much she learns just from being with you all day! A couple of years ago I took a weekend trip to meet friends and my girls took care of Doug! At age 7 they already knew how to run the dishwasher, turn on the oven (but not take things out!), make coffee. They are always cleaning my sink without my asking, and Helen makes smoothies for Doug every night.

  2. Our son is now hitting the stage where he wants to do things himself or to help when we are doing something. It is fun!

  3. Your parenting style would hit it off nicely with Unschooling. Ever consider it?! ;)


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