Domestic Constitution Making

This season is a time to spend time with the family and to get on each other’s nerves a lot.

But it is also a time to make resolutions for the new year. That is what we tried to do yesterday morning at the breakfast table: to decide how to get household chores done without me and my wife doing everything and our children, aged 10 and 8, nothing at all.

We went through four options, settling after all for a fifth one:

Option 1: Blunt Authority

Set the table! Empty the dishwasher! Bring down the rubbish! Not later! Now! And if you don’t…

A non-starter, of course. We are a family of starry-eyed touchy-feely bleeding-heart consensus-enamored liberals. There is just no way I could utter the words “Because I say so!” without my kids rolling over with laughter, and myself, too.

We want our kids to do what they do because they are free persons, consenting in what they open-mindedly conceive as a fair distribution of burden and benefit, happily taking up their share, not because they face sanctions otherwise but because they proudly exert their freedom to do the right thing.

Option 2: Distributive Justice

Paul sets the table. Theresa clears it. Paul empties the rubbish bin. Theresa takes up the occasional errand to the grocery store.

We hardly got that far before the discussion was drowned in yells of discontent: It’s UNFAIR!! The rubbish bin job is yucky! But shopping takes a lot more time! One job of table-clearing is worth more than one of table-setting! Yeah, but less than two!

This clearly wouldn’t do. All this balancing and bargaining and begrudging, with a pinched mouth and a bitter heart, this is just not what we are! A family is not about maximizing one’s self-interest, is it? We are not an investment bank. This is about the common good: The proud task of furthering the familial well-being has to be shouldered by each and every one of us in equal portions ...

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