When my ex and I split, I often filled my kid-free days with the never-ending chore list that seemed even grander when there was just one parent doing everything. I wanted to spare the kids the rush of errands from Trader Joe’s to Costco and Walgreens so that when we were together for those condensed hours each week, it was quality time. We'd read and wander to the park to play baseball. We'd blow bubbles and squish Play-Doh between our fingers.
To be fair, I'm sure I also enjoyed that those trips were easier when the kids weren't there. No one to buckle, no one to push in a cart, no one asking for this and that. It was quicker, stealthier shopping.
My kids are much bigger now. They can open car doors and buckle themselves into their seats and wander off to find capellini and edamame and cereal, if need be. But those opportunities for them to help with shopping and cooking didn’t happen very often for a few years as I navigated the hectic life of single parenting with graduate school. And I think my attempts to spare them the minutia of life did them a disservice.
When they arrived at my house on transition days, the refrigerator was full, the shower had shampoo, their clothes were washed. Sure, they have had chores for years, so it wasn't as if they didn’t contribute—they put their clean clothes away, they tidy up their toys and their rooms, they load and unload the dishwasher and sort darks from lights. But removing them from the household shopping equation created kids who didn't appreciate the efforts involved in keeping a house stocked with necessities and supplies.
And on days when I needed them to accompany me to the shops, they'd complain: “Why do we have to go with you??!!” I accidentally created kids who believed that everything happened while they were off at school or with their dad. They erroneously believed that their time shouldn't be wasted on shopping or picking up prescriptions. They erroneously believed that their time was exclusively for themselves. My response to their complaints: “This is part of being in a family.”
My internal voice said the antidote for those complaints was to make them go on more errands. So I started saving the trips to the grocery store and the drug store until after I picked them up from school. That gave me more time during those precious few childfree hours to work and to study. It also got them more involved (again) in helping out.
It was a slippery slope, though, because middle-schoolers actually have a bunch of homework. And between homework and extracurricular sports, they don't actually have much time left in their day for just being at home, together, relaxing. So this summer, we are doing more family tasks. They are bringing their dirty clothes to the garage, learning to use the washing machine, planning meals, writing the shopping list, chopping tomatoes, making bruschetta, cleaning up. We are going on more errands together.
It’s not Play-Doh, but we talk about meals they want to learn how to cook. And when we're at the store, I'm teaching them how to pick produce and to look for expiration dates on milk. There’s still family movie night, cards, and reading, but this is a new way for us to have quality time together. It’s all part of slow process of helping them become self-sufficient, independent young adults.