Raising children is a big job making demands of parents in different ways at different stages of their development. When they are little, the physical care they need can be exhausting – often accompanied by lack of sleep. As they grow and begin to have their own ideas about what they want, the potential for conflict requires a different kind of care —sometimes stressful and time consuming.

Mothers sometimes have mixed feelings for various reasons about asking for the help they need – from mates or others – even from their children. One mother, pregnant and having a toddler to care for, expressed the feeling that as a stay-at-home mother, quite apart from any financial consideration she should be able to handle everything herself.

Another mother, who was recovering from an illness, felt compelled to do certain things with her child to compensate for not being available at other times. She, too, was using total availability to her child as her measure of herself as a mother. In both instances an unrealistic standard for motherhood was at work as well as unrealistic ideas about children’s needs.

Despite the many changes that have been made in women’s lives as they pursue careers and work outside the home, old cultural ideas about motherhood are still strong. Mothers are vulnerable to children’s demands and seeming need for attention. Yet, in the instances cited the children were actually being disadvantaged by their mothers’ feelings rather than their own needs. Many times the care needed does not have to be provided by the mother.

The issue of asking for help also relates to expectations of children. At times, parents complain about their children not helping, which in fact may be a source of conflict. The question often is raised as to whether children should be paid for certain jobs they are asked to do, which suggests that such jobs are outside their responsibility and should be rewarded as such.

When they are little, children love to help and the pattern of their helping can be established. It is interesting to see how in school children consider it an honor to be given certain jobs.

Clean-up time after an activity is a given, and most of the time children participate readily. When a child does resist teachers take note of that in order to understand and address what that resistance is about.

Of course, in a school setting the influence of peers plays a role and participating as a member of the group is expected. The difference at home comes when children are criticized for what is perceived as a failure in their behavior. At school they are not expected to do the job alone while at home they may be scolded for making a mess and told to clean it up. This at times seems daunting to a child. If parents initially offer to participate they can create a different attitude.

In the busy and pressured life that families live, time is often the obstacle to involving children in helping. At first, it takes more time – and even work – to ask for children’s help. They may not clear the dishes quickly. Helping getting dressed takes more time than you doing it for them.

Parents may resist children’s help because they just want to get the job done.

— Elaine Heffner, LCSW, Ed.D., has written for Parents Magazine, Fox.com, Redbook, Disney online and PBS Parents, as well as other publications. She has appeared on PBS, ABC, Fox TV and other networks. And, she blogs at goodenoughmothering.com.