171. Can I Help?

There are times when you’ve got some work to do, and you want to do it by yourself, or at least without the participation of children. It’s hard work that will be even harder if children participate, perhaps resulting in an inferior product, and/or it’s enjoyable work, and younger hands, voices, etc. will make it less enjoyable. Maybe it’s work you never got to do as a child, and now that you finally have a chance, you don’t want to invite the next generation to share in the fun you never had as a child.
Or do you live a totally child-oriented life? I doubt it. I’ll bet most of you don’t do your tax returns with children’s help. Or let them help you put together expensive new things that have complicated directions you can hardly understand yourself. Though many hands can make light work, there are times when too many cooks spoil the broth.
But we want children to be helpful, and we want them to feel useful. When they’re very young, we can enlist their help in ways that don’t interfere with our projects: “Could you please make sure there are always ten sharp pencils?” While we do the real work, the dutiful children are sharpening the pencils – a job children enjoy, and it actually can be useful to have sharp pencils. And when the job is done, you can all rejoice in having done it together.
But that only works for a while. Eventually, children begin to know which is the real work, and they want in on it. And they often want to do the important jobs before their participation would be useful, or even tolerable. Our bluffs get called, and children want to know why they can’t contribute to projects in more meaningful ways. There are enough sharp pencils, and besides, it doesn’t matter if the pencils aren’t very sharp. I always had trouble when that point came. I had to decide which was more important – doing the job the way I wanted it done, or giving children the opportunity to be included in the project. There was, of course, middle ground, and sometimes that was good enough. And sometimes I could wait until the children were not around. But when your life is full of children, as most of you know, there are already many things you hope to do when the children aren’t around. There aren’t enough hours in a day. I could advocate for the children, and ask you to sacrifice some autonomy and maybe quality for the sake of including the children. I suspect that you already do that sometimes. On the other hand, I could advocate for you; you have a right to do things the way you want them done. You’ve already been through childhood; you’ve paid your dues. But I don’t have to take sides at all. I’m content to have pointed out something that can be an issue.

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