Life for working parents is a strain. Many spend their days in what seems like a constant whirl, trying to hold up their end at work while keeping house and shuttling active kids to music lessons and sports events. There just isn't enough time to do it all.
Book shelves and magazine racks are crammed with advice about how to handle all this, from simplifying life (easier said than done), to having it all (a recipe for dissatisfaction). Some say that fathers should pull more of their weight at home and take some of the pressure off stressed-out working mothers. That's a fine idea, but even in households where the load is shared more or less evenly between husband and wife -- a growing number -- there's often more than two working people can handle.
Others say that governments and employers should do more to help, increasing daycare funding and allowing staff to work more flexible hours. That would be nice, too, but probably of only marginal help in the end. Even the most flexible employers want their people to do a good job, just as most employees want to be useful workers. And how much real difference will the Conservative government's $100-a-month child-care allowance make in the lives of most parents?
Still others say parents should be less ambitious for their children and have them cut back on their extra activities. But modern parents want to give their kids all the advantages and life skills that they can, not a bad thing, surely, and unlikely to change in our competitive, aspirational modern world.
Amid all these proposals for lightening the load on working parents, one has been overlooked: Put the children to work. In many Canadian families, children contribute next to nothing to the operation of the household. If the stories couples tell each other around the dinner table or barbecue are true, modern parents struggle to persuade their children just to maintain themselves, much less to help out around the house.
Getting a son to take out the garbage once a week is considered a triumph. Most parents are content if their kids occasionally tidy their rooms.
There is no reason this has to be so. Leaving out infants and toddlers, most children are perfectly capable of setting and clearing tables, doing dishes and folding laundry. As they get older, they can cut and water grass, make meals, do laundry and vacuum floors. It wasn't very long ago that children were expected to be full, working members of the household enterprise. Daughters were taught early to cook, sew, knit, launder and care for younger children, often serving as little mothers to their siblings. Sons were expected to help with "manly" outdoor chores. Today nothing is expected. Children in many households are essentially parasites, living off the labour of their exhausted parents.
That's not really the children's fault. Kids of whom nothing is demanded will do nothing. By indulging their children, many parents have become valets to their offspring. Even when they move out of childhood into adolescence and should be doing their own laundry and frying their own breakfast eggs, many kids act as virtual guests in their own homes -- and unhelpful guests at that.
This is more than a mere annoyance to overworked parents. It affects the broader health of society. The birth rate in Canada, indeed throughout the industrialized world, has plummeted. The population is rapidly aging, with all that means for productivity and pensions and health care. The reasons that people are having fewer children are complex, but one of them must certainly be that children don't give much back. Parenthood can be immensely fulfilling and enriching, but it's not much of a bargain. The old days when kids carried on the family business, farmed the family spread or took their aging parents into their homes are, for the most part, long past. Being a parent is a one way deal: you work for them, they live off you. Is it any wonder that so many couples decide that one kid is enough, or avoid parenthood altogether?
No one wants to turn kids into household drudges. Children need time to take part in sports, do their homework and simply play. Carrying the bulk of the household burden is a part of parenthood, and most couples accept that. But a little help would be nice. Kids who are expected to do chores at home learn useful basic skills. They also learn that life is not a free ride. Canadian families might be happier, and parents less stressed, if the kids did more work.
编注：以上是加拿大全国发行的最大日报－"环球邮报" 2006年7月4日发表的社论。最后由 ωǒ所№不能 于 2006-07-10 08:55 编辑