I am spooning porridge into my youngest child’s mouth. Or trying to. He is shaking his head right and left, stretching his back, turning his body around, trying to reach things, keeping his lips shut tight. He pays no attention to my threats that he won’t stay on the healthy growth curves if he does not eat. I give him pieces of cooked vegetables that he can pick up himself and eat. He takes a couple of bites and pushes them away. Frustrated, I wonder why simple eating can be so difficult. But then I remember something from my childhood. I was around 6 years old, sitting on the floor with my sister. We were surrounded by dolls and dolls’ clothes, our own clothes, drawing paper, crayons and stickers. We had been ordered to take away the glass jar full of ladybirds that we had collected the previous day, although we would have liked to have kept them as pets. Mother had told us to tidy our room, but it seemed too much work. We had not even started tidying when mother already called us to eat. We wondered which would be less fun, to tidy our room or to eat. Both seemed like punishments. Time has eliminated this problem, at least as far as eating is concerned.
It seems that the reluctance to tidy the home has been passed on to the next generation. When my son was in preschool, I ordered all family members to do some house cleaning. I assigned a small part of the house to each and encouraged them by saying that we would have a nice and tidy home very quickly if everyone did their share. I assigned the mud room to my son. I thought it would be easy enough: hang up some jackets, collect some hats and gloves into a basket. But I found the boy sitting on the floor, sighing heavily. Then he groaned, “Mom, I’m a group worker!” I understood right away what he meant and told him that’s what I am, too. We worked together on two assigned areas. Ever since that, I have given my kids two alternatives: either do one tidying assignment alone or two assignments together. Each child can choose. I prefer to do most things together with someone, although baking would certainly be quicker and easier done alone than with the little helpers. While painting I sometimes enjoy being by myself. But occasionally, when most of the family are already in bed, with only one of the bigger kids still doing homework, I ask him or her to stay in the same room. In that way I am not quite alone, even though we hardly talk at all.
I guess children in a big family automatically grow up to be group workers. I have been happy to hear that many teachers have appreciated our children’s group work skills. We have not specifically taught them such skills. They have come as a bonus. The children have not managed without quarrels at school, however, but they have probably also learnt to admit their mistakes and apologize if they have offended someone. One teacher said that children who have several siblings are better able to take others into account and wait for their turn. Though I am sometimes afraid they need to wait for their turn too long, at least at home. When there are many children, and all of them have something to say at the same time, some of them may feel left out because the louder ones get all of their parents’ attention. As parents, we need to watch out for the quiet ones and give also them opportunities to speak. Such opportunities often occur in the course of normal everyday life while driving a child to a hobby or taking him or her along for shopping. The little ones usually tell me their news as soon they come home from school, while the bigger ones wait until the younger children are in bed.
The baby seems to have a much better appetite for fruit paste in the evening than he did for porridge in the morning. With the whole family present at the table, the baby eats well for the sheer joy of eating together with the others. For the rest of his portion, however, he needs to be held by one person, fed by another, and allowed to watch a couple of others skipping around and making funny faces. We are not exactly going by the book. We are bending the rules a little to suit our group work approach.
Text: Virpi Mäkinen
Translation: Sirkka-Liisa Leinonen
You will find the original finnish blog post here.