When our son was eight, we taught him how to make coffee. It was a glorious time after the initial lesson when he got up every morning before us and made a perfect pot of coffee to demonstrate his new skills. He was so proud of himself with his newfound knowledge, and we heaped on the praise and accolades like he split the atom or wrote a symphony. Eventually, the novelty of doing good wore off, and he stopped making coffee every day. Now and then he’ll make a pot, like on our birthdays or Mother’s Day or Father’s Day, and it is as wonderful as it was those few shining weeks when he first learned how. We haven’t yet figured out how to motivate him to keep the coffee ball rolling on a consistent basis, but those few days he does it are really, really nice.
It’s been a long time since our kids were willing to acquire a new skill just to please mom and dad, though I really can’t say I blame them. In fact, sometimes the reaction we get upon asking them to do something chore-related is downright hostile. Kids don’t really want to work for nothing, like everyone else. But as parents, I believe it is our duty to teach kids that even though the toilets are clean and the refrigerator is stocked, the person who performed those chores did not necessarily desire to do them. Things just have to get done.
And we have to teach them that sometimes, it’s just nice to do nice things for each other. In a family where we all get on each other’s nerves on a regular basis, sometimes we just do stuff for each other because we care. For some people this is easier to do than for others, and if you’re the type that doesn’t naturally want to do nice things for others, you have to try harder.
Take this morning, for instance. I made coffee, and sat down while it brewed. My son came through the kitchen, and as he passed by the coffee machine, I asked him if he would pour me a cup. He instantly retaliated, complaining of child labor laws or some such nonsense. I sat there patiently, and tried to make the task more appealing, stating, “You can pick my mug for me.” He stopped complaining, opened the cabinet door, and contemplated. I felt like it was a breakthrough moment – he realized that this was his chance to do something nice for his mother. His old, decrepit, lazy-ass mother.
Here’s the mug he chose:
Listen, I stepped into it. Asked for it, even. But I was so pleased that my chore-avoiding child actually did something nice with minimal pleading, I happily drank my coffee out of a ghost’s head all morning long.