Q: We have a 10-year-old son who seems to be confused about the difference between a house and a home.
His father and I have explained that we all share equally in taking care of the house. That is, we are responsible for keeping our rooms orderly, taking out the trash, and similar light housekeeping tasks.
Our son says that if this is our home and we share in everything, he wants to know if it belongs to him. For example, if a repair or remodeling is needed, he complains. He doesn't want anything altered.
No matter what we say to explain, he starts a tantrum. He seems to think that the house belongs to him and that he should have an important role in the decision-making.
We recently had a small change made in the kitchen. After the usual tirade of complaints and obstructionist behavior, he appeared to accept the alteration. However, he now refuses to do assigned chores, since he says it is not his house.
A: The danger of oversimplifying matters so that a child can understand them is that he may understand them.
What your child clearly understands is your gross oversimplification of what you had meant to explain.
By telling him that he does an equal share of household management when he performs his chores, you have convinced him that he is naturally entitled to an equal share in running the place.
Does he pay a third of the mortgage? Have you consulted him about insurance needs? Does he do a major part of the meal planning, grocery shopping, laundry, cleaning or gardening?
What you actually meant is that he does a child's share. The adults' share is to make all the financial contributions, all decisions requiring knowledge and judgment, and all the planning. Adults are supposed to have more wisdom and experience -- enough, for example, to remain unswayed by tantrums.
Miss Manners thoroughly approves of your insisting that your son do his part by virtue of his membership in the family, rather than because you threaten him, or pay him to do so.
But by exaggerating his contribution, you not only promote silly rebellion based on false expectations, but very likely suggest that he is responsible for matters beyond his capabilities. That is no favor to a child. You really do not want him to have an equal share in the worries.
It is "his house" in that he has a secure home there, complete with parents who are committed to looking after his interests, even, or perhaps especially, when he is unable to perceive what his true interests are.