When kids 'parent' they get to pay, too

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The world my children inhabit underwent an earthquake one recent evening in my friend Kaysun’s kitchen.

Everyone was working to produce dinner before my youngest kiddo, Miss Tall-and-Blond, and Kaysun’s youngest, The Lovely Nat, had to scurry off to a performance of children’s theater. In which they were both fabulous novice actresses, not gonna lie.

Like she is wont to do, Miss TAB was eavesdropping as the parent-type people chopped and mashed while discussing this and that, mostly our kids. We constantly trade notes about how to raise decent adults while staying sane.

Someone gave out a parenting tip and Miss TAB snatched it out of the air, offering up her favorite advice on how I should parent others — “Mom, that’s what you should have (her sister, Martha Stewart Jr.) do.”

Spoken with the total conviction of a queen on her throne.

I turned my eyes from the cutting board, opened my lips to reply with my usual admonition, which alternates between “I think I’ll be the mom today” and “Why don’t you worry about what you should do first?”

But this is when the earth shook and another teachable moment erupted on the landscape of creating “good kids.”

Before the words could leave my lips, Kaysun and her friend Jock — in charge of wrangling avocados — nearly shouted, “Co-parenting!” In stereo.

Jock gave his head a little shake as he resumed squishing guacamole.

“Here there’s a charge for co-parenting,” he said.

Kaysun was on his heels, almost gleeful.

“Right. One chore or one dollar,” she told me.

Have you ever received a gift basket stuffed with goodies you never realized existed but suddenly must have? This was like that, only one giant treat — an answer to possibly the most annoying problem at my own house.

Think of it. I have two teen girls at home. Well, and our teen grandboy, but he stays out of this particular arena. So there are these people who spent the majority of their early lives being younger sisters. Now the “big girls” are gone, leaving the “little girls” behind. And because Martha Stewart Jr. has a developmental disability, she and TAB are, basically, the same age.

Not a big whoop, you’d think.

Wrong.

It is a BIG whoop. The pecking order changes constantly, with each girl fighting to be the assistant mother. Miss TAB comes right out and tells me how to parent, while Martha chooses the martyr route, dramatic sighs trailing her as she snaps her sister’s towel off the floor and carries it to the hook.

Only then does she sidle up to me to report the errant towel and how she saved the planet, er, carpet.

And me, I only have so much energy and memory. Plus, I’m as guilty as the next parent who secretly relishes the information supplied by the tattling tongue. As well, I’m glad to not be the only one dramatically sighing. Or picking up towels.

Upon the entry of Camo Man into our lives a year ago, things got better. With another set of ears around much of the time, tattling dropped, as did overt sisterly un-affection.

However, since my girls are smart, it didn’t take either long to figure out how to couch snarkiness in mothering terms.

“Mom, I don’t think she should have the cell phone in her room this late. She’s going to be tired and she barely wakes up now.”

“Mom, do you think she should be sitting by her boyfriend on the bus?”

“Mom, isn’t this our day to change sheets? Because not everyone has done that around here.”

You can see why I felt the sun rise and begin to wash over me that day at Kaysun’s house — 36 years of parenting and I still don’t have all the answers. Here I was just handed one.

I turned to TAB and smiled. “Your world just changed, Sister,” I said, mentally rubbing my hands together.

Of course, I knew I’d have to tweak things to fit my house — a single dollar could seem like a great bargain for a chance to be The One Who Knows Everything. So I upped it to $5 or five chores.

As Camo Man would say, it’s a beautiful thing.

Someone at my house has done 15 chores so far, true, but that’s over the last three weeks. Meaning the rate of co-parenting by not actual parents is way, way down.

And we have a clean truck, among other things.

This is my gift to you parents, via Kaysun’s house. You’re welcome. Just imagine how lovely it will be to have the bathroom drawers wiped down.

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