It doesn't happen often, but when we all work together in harmony, it's a wonderful thing.
My kids are usually really good helpers around the house when asked to complete some chore or another, but all too often this happens in the midst of their bickering amongst themselves as to who's doing more work than another. Often, in order to minimize the comparisons, I end up having to divide chores so that they are working on different tasks.
It's been a little different over the past week, though, in a really lovely way. The kids and I have been working on various tasks together and it's been done in harmony and with, frankly, great attitudes. One day we went through the family room and sun room together at a more in depth level than usual: Cleaning out the craft drawers; getting into the corners; going through some games and dvds that we may not want any more; vacuuming; dusting; removing bits of tape residue that have become stuck in places it doesn't belong; etc. Another day we did the same to the library and dining room. This morning we tackled the six laundry baskets of clothing and bedding that have been waiting patiently for attention.
And yesterday, we had a lovely time prepping breakfast together and various little jobs got done voluntarily...I didn't even have to ask! Matthew and Seth peeled and juiced oranges for a special breakfast juice treat, and made scrambled eggs; Lizzie emptied the dishwasher by herself (with just a little help from mama) and set the table; and the kids together washed the eight parts of the juicer that need cleaning out after every juicing. After breakfast, Matthew even cleared the table and started loading the dishes into the dishwasher without me saying a word!
There's little so satisfying as hearing your child say "Mommy, I want to empty the dishwasher, ok?" or "Mom, why don't Seth and I peel some oranges and make some fresh juice together, and I'll find the right knife for him to use and I'll teach him how to put the juicer together, ok?" or "Mom, can I crack the eggs into the pan and make the scrambled eggs?"
I have often wanted, over the past week, to pour praise onto them for such lovely (and peaceful!) contributions to our household - I've been so thankful for (and even moved by) their harmonious contributions that I've wanted to shower them with praise and, in a sense, reward them with exuberant thanks. But I've stopped myself every time. I've held back because, really, what I'm seeing is merely the fruit of what I've been trying to teach them - that we each contribute (ideally cheerfully, but this isn't the expectation) to the things that need doing in our home because we're all part of the same family and all living in the same household. I don't want them to work for external validation - in my experience, there's little that kills a child's enthusiasm for something like an abundance of praise (or other reward). So instead, I've quietly thanked them and expressed how much I enjoy working together with them. And when we've finished one of the larger jobs, it's been me who has suggested that we take a break or stop altogether and go do something fun.
We never pay for household chores, either big ones or small/regular ones. We see work as being part of a family and, as homeschoolers, work and chores form a regular part of our days and weeks...it's part of their education, since we define education in part as helping our children learn how they will survive and thrive in the world as adults.
But just because it's an expectation doesn't mean that it's always easily accomplished...and that fact means that weeks like this one are all the sweeter and to be quietly savoured.