Should I “Old Enough!” My Toddler?

I promise I have more thoughts on parenting than just watching TV and movies, but Old Enough! is a big enough that I have to stay topical.

Old Enough! has apparently been on Japanese TV for awhile, but it just made a big splash on Netflix a few weeks ago.

Children go on errands all by themselves for the very first time as a camera crew follows along in this beloved, long-running reality show from Japan.

I have only watched the first three episodes, and the synopsis is right. A two-year-old goes grocery shopping. A four-year-old goes home to squeeze juice. They get distracted. They cross streets. It’s genuinely cute and impressive.

Would I send my toddler to Safeway to pick up eggs? Well, there are a few angles on this approach to parenting.

Cultural differences

Besides having delicious food, hilarious game shows, and brilliant video games, Japan also brings a culture that often mystifies western observers. I’m not a weeb, so I won’t theorize on the origins for these differences.

However, common opinion is that Eastern cultures tend to have stronger communal principles than, say, how things happen in the San Francisco Bay Area. Whereas I genuinely don’t know the character of people in the neighborhood, public spaces in Japan seem to be better trusted.

When I first watched Old Enough!, I was immediately reminded of another of my favorite videos. Just as Old Enough! enlisted Japanese children, this clip shows that Japanese penguins are also capable of so much more.

Helping with chores

My mom was a stay-at-home mom, and she did everything without complaint. My least generous interpretation is that she figured it was too much of a hassle to have my sisters and me take care of anything, but really, she was just extremely diligent in all things.

I hope that rather than being entitled, I observed and learned from her effort to also just take care of chores that need to happen, both domestically and in shared spaces. Seeing something done is reward enough even without recognition.

That being said, Julie and I have taken a different mindset towards domestic life. We both work, but chores still need to get done. As such, we try to involve our daughter as much as possible. Rather than doing chores while she sleeps, we fold laundry with her, take her into the yard while weeding, and cook with her watching.

It takes longer, but it works with the right mindset. My daughter isn’t an obstacle to getting chores done: we’re just doing a family activity that happens to have a nice outcome on the end. If she undoes our work, we’re just playing at repetition. If she wanders off, she’s free to make her own fun (though she usually likes to participate). If she is grabbing at candy in the grocery aisle, it’s a lesson in inhibition.

At it alone

Of course, the big question is not whether children can help with chores but whether they can do chores on their own. Maybe it’s good for them to take on the responsibility for themselves.

I honestly can’t imagine sending my toddler out further than my neighbor’s house to do anything. Of course, it’s hard for me to imagine a lot of things while she still isn’t really capable of speaking sentences, but that seems like a lot of trust that I’m not quite at. Maybe in two years, she would be totally fine crossing the street, but I would worry immensely in the process.

However, I’m glad that Old Enough! helped to push my mental boundaries of what children are capable of. It’s reality TV, so it’s by design quite extreme. Still, it encourages me to trust my daughter a little more and see what she’s capable of, even if I’m not quite ready.

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