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Life Skills For Your Son That Are Just As Important As The ABCs

Saakshi Kapoor Kumar Saakshi Kapoor Kumar 13 Mins Read

Saakshi Kapoor Kumar Saakshi Kapoor Kumar

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Don't we all want our boys to grow up into independent adults who can cope with life and relationships well? Here are some life skills you can help your son learn so that he thrives in changing times.

Pre-schooler to Teen
Life Skills For Your Son That Are Just As Important As The ABCs

It was just another busy weekday morning when I overheard my child tell his teacher, "My dad's making me breakfast right now and mom's in a meeting." During his online class, my curious 6-year-old had changed his screen's background and it looked like his tiny little head was roaming around in the beautiful streets of Paris. Of course, his teacher wasn't pleased and asked him to bring his head back to the class. When he couldn't change the background, his teacher asked him to seek his parents' help. But we were busy-my husband was making breakfast and I was in an important meeting. Nothing about this situation was abnormal for my son. However, it didn't seem right to his teacher who said, "Don't make stories. Call your mother or I am calling her!"

She couldn't believe that my husband was the one cooking and I was sitting in my home office, attending an online meeting. A couple of minutes later, I got a notification on my phone. It was my son's best friend's mother who had texted, "I wish I had a husband like yours. Mine can't even toast bread." I don't know if it was just me but I did sense a hint of sarcasm in her text.

It wasn't the first time I had heard from family, friends or even acquaintances about how "lucky" I am to have a husband who helps out, babysits while I work or lets me relax. Yet, I can't wrap my head around why he's being applauded for all the things I do as well. However, this article isn't about this particular issue. I find solace in the fact that my boys are being raised in an environment where they see their father cook and do laundry, and their mother work and fix the gas cylinders. It has been tough to filter out the unsolicited advice and just trust our parenting instincts. But let me gloat a little bit and say-"It's working!"

We're consciously parenting our two sons with the strong belief that they need to be equipped with certain physical, emotional and life skills that are absolutely necessary today. While we respect the traditions and values we have been brought up with, we realize that there's a need to change the way we raise our boys to help them cope with the changing times.

Here's why:

Girls are being brought up with new ideologies and boys are in limbo

We're telling our daughters that cooking is not the only thing they need to master. We're encouraging them to go out and chase their dreams and learn more than just household chores. However, we're forgetting to teach our sons that these household skills are important, too. So who's going to do these critical jobs that consume much of our time every day? Imagine 30 years down the line, two people get married but no one can cook, no one knows that whites need to be washed separately and that trash cans need to be kept outside? No one may enjoy doing these chores, but these are necessary tasks. You can be the CEO of a multinational, but you still need a house that's clean.

Data from a study published in the journal Social Forces in 2000 has revealed that the total time spent doing house chores has declined considerably. The main reason for this is that women have reduced the time spent on these tasks dramatically, even though men's housework time doubled in comparison with 1965. A surprising fact is that even now women are expected to shoulder most of the work at home. Despite having well-paid jobs or running profitable businesses, they're still responsible for doing most of the household chores.

While some may argue that these jobs can be outsourced, the fact is that we don't know for how long. Economic growth and higher education rates will one day (hopefully) help everyone find a job that they love-and then what? Who will want to come to your house and cook and clean? You'll most probably have to do them yourself.

By letting our girls know that taking care of the home is not solely their job and by not equipping our boys with these life skills, we're sending out very mixed messages. We're doing a great disservice to our children by not preparing them for what lies ahead.

And what lies ahead?

Changing expectations

While decades ago it was socially acceptable for men to be absolutely absent in household chores and child care, things are slowly changing. Soon, the burden of these tasks is going to be or should be shared for a happier world.

A study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family in 2004 found that while women found tasks such as baby care, laundry and meal preparation appropriate for themselves, men considered auto work and yard work relevant to their skill set. Traditionally, boys are raised with lowered expectations when it comes to household chores. This is because of the stereotype that women have a natural tendency to be caretakers and boys don't. This complicates relationships of today because many educated women of today don't feel housework comes naturally to them. In fact, marital conflicts over chores are becoming common.

For instance, Meera and Ketan got married a year ago. Meera grew up in a household where men and women shared household chores equally. Ketan, on the other hand, was raised in a family that considered men the "breadwinners" and women the "homemakers." After marriage, Meera expects her husband to pitch in with chores and because Ketan hasn't been taught to participate in housework, he feels confused and helpless. As a result, they get into constant fights and regret getting married.

We don't know how soon we'll see a shift in mindset but the process has certainly begun. While they ask you to "cross the bridge when you come to it," it's better to start preparing our sons right away. We need to change the narrative around housework and equip our children with the necessary skills before it's too late.

The benefits are worth all the work

From personal experience, I can tell you, teaching our sons household chores can be extremely rewarding. I live in a house where I am outnumbered. There's only one female at home-me. Now, imagine if I had to do everything women were traditionally expected to do without any help. Not my cup of tea! Boys across the globe are experiencing the benefits of doing chores:

  1. They're more responsible.
  2. They do better at school.
  3. They're more independent and self-reliant.
  4. They are kinder and more empathetic to women and girls.
  5. They're kept BUSY (ask any mom of sons why this is most crucial!).

Another important thing to note is that when boys learn these skills at an early age, they grow up to be men that fare better in relationships. Every parent wants their child to have fulfilling relationships, after all, aren't these relationships that make life meaningful?

When boys break gender stereotypes and participate in household chores, they won't feel helpless as they grow and are more likely to respect women at home and at work. They will also grow up to be fathers that help their sons learn to wash the dishes and their daughters fix a punctured tyre. Children learn best from what they see. Look at it this way-if you equip your son today, you are helping raise a well-adjusted, gender-neutral generation (okay, maybe that was a bit much).

Now that I've sold you the idea, let me share with you four skills that are really important and how you can get your boys to learn them.

SKILL NUMBER 1: COOKING

Now, this one is non-negotiable. If your son or your daughter can't cook well into adulthood, how do they plan to eat? How long will they order in food? Eating out is not only unhealthy, but also expensive. Also, cooking for a loved one is a great way to show them that you care. It can make even a mundane evening special. So, how can you get your son to love cooking?

  • Start young. My elder one started shelling peas when he was a year old and my younger one was making cheese sandwiches by the age of 3.
  • Fathers need to cook. Okay, this one sounds bizarre. However, children learn best by example. Fathers don't need to make gourmet meals. Simply participating in the kitchen is enough.
  • Make it a regular thing. By the age of 4 or 5, you can have your child regularly bake cakes, knead the dough or even make a sunny side up.
  • Note of caution. Explain safety protocols to your son. Let him know that certain things can cause him harm and show him how to avoid common hazards.

SKILL NUMBER 2: LAUNDRY

No one likes dirty laundry and while washing it in public is a strict no-no, teaching your son the basics of laundry is sure to help him later in life. The best part about this skill is that your son can learn it from a very young age. Here's how:

  • Start with the basics. At about 2 years of age, you can encourage your son to put dirty clothes in the hamper. This can actually be a lot of fun for him.
  • Introduce him to the washing machine. The first thing my 3-year-old younger son did when he saw the washing machine was to jump inside it. Of course, we told him about how that is off-limits. Even today, my sons spend a lot of time watching the machine in fascination as it whirls and spins.
  • Have him soak. Every week, my children take a big tub of water, add detergent (they overdo it) and soak things like their dirty shoes, the table mats, their stuffed dinosaurs. They get their sensory play and love doing this! Clean things = Happy Mumma!
  • Don't complain about the mess. My sons started dirtying things on purpose just so they could wash them. Yep, that happens. Let it go, pick your battles. For me, all's well that ends clean.

SKILL NUMBER 3: LAYING THE TABLE

Okay, this one is credited to my husband. He figured that while we heat up the food and our sons are too hungry, we can simply engage them by laying the table. We also discovered a way to make it a mathematical experience. Here's how:

  • Buy unbreakable crockery. My elder son was 4 and younger one 2 when we began to get them involved in laying the table. We moved from our favorite china to melamine crockery to facilitate their learning. Now that they're older, we're back to eating from nicer plates.
  • Get them to count. Here's where it gets mathematical. We asked them to pick the right number of cutlery pieces for each member. Now, my boys know more than I do about the number of spoons and forks we have.
  • Let them use creativity. While we all like to set the table in our own way, my sons often put two spoons for each person. When asked, they say, "One is for ice-cream." They would also keep one glass upside down and another straight up to create a "pattern." Allow them the freedom to do things like these.

SKILL NUMBER 4: GARDENING

This is a personal favorite. It really does bring out the caregiver in little children. There's also the added advantage of a beautiful green home. Here are some tips:

  • Get them to water the plants. My sons started doing this when they were less than 2 years old. We bought them tiny little watering cans and they loved "making the plants drink water."
  • Have them name the plants. Whenever we bring a new plant home, we make sure to name it. It helps in the caregiving process. My sons take turns to name them. We have plants named Dino, Carrot, Superman, Albatross, Winky, Nugget, Fleur and Dodo!
  • Watch the plants grow. We buy them a plant each on their birthdays and watch the plants grow. My sons have a unique attachment to their plants, which feel like an extended part of the family to them. I have often caught my children singing, dancing and even telling the plants a secret.

It's true that children remember the most ordinary moments as they grow. They may not remember the time we bought them an expensive toy, but they'll remember the meals we cooked together, the Sundays that were spent washing the car or the moments when we put up the lights for Diwali. Both parenting and childhood are made of these moments. You can make the ordinary moments extraordinary by helping your child learn skills that will help him for life. He'll thank you for it and even if he doesn't, his future family will.

In a nutshell

  1. Including your children in daily household activities is a great way to parent in a gender-neutral manner.
  2. Participating in household chores can help him become more responsible and independent even at school.
  3. There are many age-appropriate ways to encourage learning home chores.

What you can do right away

  1. Divide roles equally at home. Sit with your partner and distribute the various tasks at home. If your children are older, include them in the process.
  2. Begin early. If your son is around 4-5 years old, think of 2-3 ways you can involve him at home like sorting laundry into baskets or making the bed.
  3. Equip, don't enforce. Help him learn the right way to do something. Find out what he likes to do before assigning a task. That way, it won't feel like a task.

Also read:

Raising boys to be good men: 9 values to teach your son

5 tips for raising a good child

Raising boys today: An interview with Tony Porter

About the author:

Written by Saakshi Kapoor Kumar on February 2, 2021.

Saakshi Kapoor Kumar holds a Master's degree in Psychology from Ambedkar University, Delhi and is working as a Senior Associate-Special Projects (Content Solutions Zone) at ParentCircle.

Reviewed by Meghna Singhal, PhD on February 2, 2021

Dr. Singhal is a clinical psychologist and currently heads the Content Solutions Zone at ParentCircle. She has a doctorate degree from NIMHANS (Bangalore) and holds a post-doctorate in parenting from the University of Queensland (Australia).

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