An oft-repeated question heard around our home was directed by me to our children and went something like this, “Do you want to (do the dishes, wash the car, mow the lawn, etc), or do you want me to ....?" Each of my children knew how the question ended and the desired response, and so we never had to complete it, or at least, hardly ever. The statement had its genesis in a story told of an Island father and his relationship with his teenage son.
Many of his friends and neighbors had observed how the son was always hard at work around the home, keeping busy with helping his parents in routine chores, or even working at specialized tasks like painting a porch or trimming the hedges. While sitting around at a store one evening, his father was asked what special parenting skills he had that had caused an adolescent son to be so helpful and industrious, especially at an age when many young boys shy away from even the most menial of household jobs.
“Well,” the father affirmed, “I am of the opinion that you shouldn’t force children to do things against their will. I feel it is best to reason with them, and help them understand the necessity of the task at hand — as well as the consequences, now and in the future, if the job is not competed. Then I allow my son to decide for himself if he wants to help his mother and me or if he would rather be lazy and take advantage of his parents’ good will.
“For example, I might say to him, ‘(calling him by name) do you wanna cut the grass, or do you want me to beat the hell out of you?
“Then he makes his decision, cuts the grass, and I sit back and drink a cup of coffee.”
Point made. Point taken. So, whenever one of my conversations with my children about their intentions reached the point that I asked, “Do you want to ..., or do you want me to ... there may not have been an agreement, but there was never any misunderstanding!