Fresh in my memory as if it was yesterday. A large Home Economics classroom, split into Masterchef type kitchenettes only placed in a square rather than in rows. The students would be assigned a kitchen area, maybe in pairs, sometimes alone. We would be given a recipe and the ingredients and told to cook. We’d also be taught how to lay a table and to serve our food properly. Afterwards we would wash up, the pans had to be spotless, even cleaning under the rims and the lids. The teacher would stand over our shoulder and make sure the job was done properly. My friend had a dishwasher at home, but she was the only person I knew who had one back then.
Back in the 80’s it was just called cookery, but later it became Home Economics. In another room nearby we would learn all about babies, not just the ‘facts of life’ but the whole caboodle, pregnancy, giving birth, looking after a baby, changing nappies, making formula bottles. It was called ‘Child Care’ and I did a C.S.E (Certificate of Secondary Education) in it and got top grades. I had to change the nappy on a baby doll and make up a bottle of formula during my exam. I took the lesson because it was an easy pass, and girls were not allowed to take woodwork or computer studies. An embarrassing memory I have of the lessons is watching a film on childbirth during which I passed out. Yes! I am a Mum of five.
Learning Life Skills, or Home Economics
From the tender age of seven I would make my Mum, Nan and Aunties cups of tea. It was no bother, I’d be told to do it and I would. Sometimes I had a cousin or two to help. We’d take our time and chatter in the kitchen, having a giggle while we prepared six or seven cups of tea and putting them on a tray with a bowl of sugar. Occasionally there would be a shout from the living room to get a move on.
From the age of twelve I would do the washing. In those days we had a ‘twin tub’ washing machine. I would have to fill one side up with water, put in the dirty washing and washing powder. Then switch it on. When the timer was finished, I’d use the pipe to drain it in the kitchen sink, then fill it with cold water and do the rinse cycle. After this cycle I’d move the wet clothes over to the spin dryer and spin them. The final task was to either hang them on the clothes line in the back garden, or put them on the clothes horse in the kitchen depending on the weather.
The clothes were then stored in the ‘airing cupboard’ until it was time to iron them. And yes, I would iron them too. I actually have fond memories of washing and ironing, even though it would take hours. I guess there wasn’t the attraction of getting lost on a computer screen back then, although playing out with my friends may have been compromised.
On Saturdays my Mum would go to my Nan’s and leave me in charge of the housework. The living room would be vacuumed and polished and all the cushions turned. I didn’t mind, I’d put my lp’s on the stereo on and sing and dance while I worked. What was I listening too? Probably a bit of Culture Club or Human League.
I think my Mum had at least one hundred ornaments which had to be lifted, dusted and polished underneath. I think that’s why I really don’t like ornaments in my own home. Thinking back now, my Mum’s ornaments would probably be worth a fortune, she had Capodemonte, silver ware and even Murano glass fish.
My Own Kids
I left home at the age of 22 I had a baby and a home of my own. What I’d been taught was handy but the thought that I’d be doing it for the rest of my life felt depressing. I was determined that my kids would enjoy their child hood and I wouldn’t make my children do housework.
Was I right?
I guess at the time I felt I was, but even though my kids have grown up now I’m not not sure. They are not hopeless, they can both cook a little and keep their rooms clean. My eldest will help me with the housework whenever he can. He empties the dishwasher and vacuums the stairs and landing. If they lived alone though, I think they would have a huge ‘wake up’ call. They still have no idea just how difficult home economics really is.
My Younger Kids
I think they do more than my older kids ever did, but I do think that these days it’s even more important to teach home economics at home. At this moment in time I’m thinking I should make them do more.
Boo can make us tea and coffee, but only does it occasionally. All my kids can cook a little, but generally rely on me for food. Boo will vacuum occasionally, but none of them help with the laundry.
I’ve decided to make some changes. It’s not child labour. I really thought my Mum was taking advantage of me, and she probably was to some extent. But the life skills I learnt were a lot more than the lessons I learnt at school. And these days, they don’t teach those lessons at school anymore.
I’m going to get my kids to help with the laundry. It’s a lot easier these days, filling up a washing machine and tumble dryer. But it would be a huge help to me even if they did it once or twice a week. The dishwasher is easy to empty and fill. (well, not for me as I can’t bend,) but the kids could manage it, so why shouldn’t they? They could also learn how to wipe down the work surfaces in the kitchen and maybe clean the microwave. Very easy jobs. Then I’ll get them cleaning the bathrooms. (At this point in time, I’m the only person who cleans the bathrooms, so that would be a huge help.)
At the weekend and sometimes during the holidays I get them to make their own lunch. It’s usually something simple like quesadillas or sausage sandwiches. Maybe it’s time to get them to cook some more? I remember having a birthday party for Boo where I got her and her friends to cook the party food. They made pizza’s in a production line.Then I gave them Ice cream, fruit and sprinkles and they made Knickerbocker Glory for dessert. They also made some Rocky Road which I gave them in party bags to take home. I was surprised at how little the other children knew about cooking, my kids were obviously cooking more even at that age.
Another job I think they could manage is mopping the floor. I have a steam mop which makes the job pretty easy, but it’s still hard work for me. I think they’d maybe find it fun?
Child Labour or Not?
When I was young I honestly believed my Mum was just using me as child labour, but she was a carer for my Nan, her Mum, and she did everything for her. So I guess she did enough and my work was a huge help even if it didn’t feel like it too me. I wish she’d spent more time cooking with me. She wasn’t a very inventive cook and our meals were boring and bland.
I’m glad I learnt my laundry skills. I think I need to teach my children how to do laundry at least. It’s not hard, but it’s necessary. My older kids believe that their laundry is done by the fairies. They bring their washing basket of dirty clothes down, and their clean clothes re-appear folded and fresh ready for them them put away in their rooms. I want my younger kids to take more part in how their laundry is done.
Starting as soon as possible I’m going to get my younger kids to help out more. The adults in the house are not much use. I know my daughter works long hours so I can forgive her, but if she moved into her own place I think she would struggle. My eldest son would cope, apart from cooking. He’d probably live on microwave meals.
I want my children to be much more independent. And sooner rather than later.
As far as I can see, the only drawback is that I like doing everything ‘my way’ and it would be hard letting them take over. I also get a lot of satisfaction of cleaning. In fact, it helps me focus and improves my mood. You can tell when I’m miserable, my home will be sparkling! I don’t want my kids to take over, but I do think it would be good for them, and helpful for me, if they did do more around the house.
What do you think? Do your children help around the house much? Is it right to make them help? Do they do home economics at school? Please let me know your views in the comments.