Domestic guilt

The roar of a high-powered lawnmower breaks the stupor of a hot July day. The lawn guys are cutting my next-door neighbor's grass. He and his wife have three children, and he works full time. So he hired a lawn service and spends the time saved with his kids.

Another friend and I were ticking off the household tasks we farm out to others, including cleaning and yard work. This father of a toddler wondered how his son was going to learn to cut a lawn if he never saw his dad behind a mower. It's an admirable goal: Spending time with your children. All parenting magazines push the idea. The same publications that once advocated "quality time" now urge "quantity time." Dual-income families have the money to hire help, but parents see the arrangement as double-sided. While the work gets done, the kids aren't necessarily involved. Will they grow up ignorant of how to make a bed, vacuum a floor, or rake leaves?

In at least two homes I know of, the children aren't given chores around the house. Dishes pile up in the sink. Housekeeping just isn't on the family radar. But they are completely into sports, and the kids excel at athletics. Isn't that time better spent?

That depends. When tennis player Martina Hingis acted up at the French Open, the press called her "a spoiled brat." Perhaps if Martina had spent more time picking lint from the dryer than practicing tennis she'd be a better person. Isn't that what parents are aiming for?

I haven't figured out the chore thing. But I expect my son, when he's old enough, to know that he won't get a free ride at our house. In the meantime, I've got a list to make for the housecleaner.

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