I don’t remember how old I was when feeding and watering our chickens became my responsibility; something tells me I was around eight. I also had to rake their droppings from the shelf beneath the rod they perched on. I didn’t really like this, however if I wanted my allowance, I had to. They provided us with eggs and occasionally meat. I didn’t care for eggs, and I wasn’t very fond of the live chickens, however I did enjoy roast chicken on a Sunday, (purchased, not from our flock) served up with the crimson jelly my mother made from apples, cranberries and quinces from my great grandfather’s trees.
My mother considered me irresponsible. Perhaps her expectations were too high for my abilities. Or maybe she didn’t start me off a little at a time, learning by doing small tasks. When children are growing up it is important to give them responsibilities. Even a small child can do simple tasks. If the child is forgetful or perhaps deliberately tests the parent by ignoring his or her duties, it is the responsibility of the parent to follow up on the discipline with reminders as well as consistent persistence. That’s part of the responsibility of parenting. It also helps with self-discipline later on when the child is grown.
As an adult I find there are times I have to make a decision as to what is and what is not my responsibility. When I see trash on the sidewalk or paper towels on the floor of a restroom, I wonder if it is my responsibility to pick up after someone else. At home do I put away my husband’s clothes as well as mine or leave them for him to put away? Who is responsible for what in a household is often divided along lines of familiarity. Growing up, who mowed the lawn, took out the trash, checked to see if the door was locked at night?
I remember my mother saying at a certain time in the evening, her father would wind the grandfather clock and that would be his signal for her current boyfriend to depart. We didn’t have a grandfather clock to wind, however my father was responsible for the houseplants and flowers in our home. All summer he would carefully arrange fresh flowers in vases, some from his garden, some from my grandmother’s. My mother was responsible for the cooking, for the purchase of food and for what and when we ate. She also carved the roast or chicken we had on Sundays because she thought she did a better job of it.
The word responsibility implies a response to something. If I am aware of a an important duty, like paying my taxes, being sure to vote, stopping at stop signs, or even washing my hands after I sneeze, cough or go to the bathroom, then I respond by acting. I take responsibility for that which is my personal obligation to society or to myself. However there is this gray area where I need to make decisions: do I try to help if my help may not be wanted? Do I act when my action may not be what is needed? Taking responsibility for what I do or do not do requires me to think and think again.