It is quite a lengthy list, all of the ideals and virtues I want to instill in my kids. But pretty near the top of that list is the ability to work.
I want my kids to be hard workers, no matter the task, and I want them to learn that, among other things, Home is a place where we work. I want a family bonded and made stronger through shared work. I want work to be something we share, remember fondly and celebrate together.
These are the things I want. Don’t have them yet, but I want them. And I worry about teaching them..
Learning to work was a bit more obvious for me as a kid (although that doesn’t mean I didn’t complain) because I grew up on a farm. My mom planted a huge garden each year, there were acres of lawn to mow, calves to bottle feed, hay bails to pick up, gates to watch, meals to be delivered to the men in the tractors, trees to water, and younger siblings to watch, along with all of the regular housework. I’m not going to pretend that I slaved away my entire youth, because that is far from the truth, but on a farm work comes easy. As a farmer my dad was always near by visibly working, and often sweating and straining with that work. It was understood that at times he needed our help and it was our duty to get out there and pitch in.
But, I am tasked with the work of raising kids in the suburbs, on the end of a cul-de-sac, with a man who toils his days away behind a desk and a computer in an office building…
And yet, I am determined that work, and work together, will be a legacy of my family.
It is not a legacy of our family yet but it will be.
I plan on teaching my children to work by:
1. Letting Them See My Husband and Me Work Together
Children learn through example and if my husband and I can’t work together, how can we teach this to our children?
This is, of course, easier said than done.
Work on house projects places both my husband and me out of our comfort zone. With the added stress of limited time and 3 little kids under-foot we often (almost always) struggle to be charitable as we work together.
But we are trying, and we know how important this is.
And when the work is done and the day has been well used, the benefits of what we have shared and accomplished can not only be seen, but felt.
2. Letting the Kids Help, Even If It Slows Things Down
Another challenging task–letting the kids help with the work, even if it slows things down. Because here’s the thing, I am obsessed with getting things done and I hate getting slowed down.
Nearly every night when I am doing the dishes one of the kids pushes a chair over to the sink and begs to help.
Help of course means splashing water everywhere, blocking the dishwasher, soaking several towels and overall delaying my work. I usually say no, admittedly.
But then I think, how long will my kids be willing to help with the dishes (even if they aren’t very helpful right now). Not very long. Before I know it they will be whining and stomping their feet just like I did. And all of the “no’s” I am saying now will reinforce that doing the dishes is bad and no fun.
I need to say yes more. I need to encourage a love of work in the kitchen. I need to.
3. Teach Them that Everything Isn’t a Game
Yes, I want my kids to have fun and yes I want their lives to be ruled by play right now. But I’m not going to make everything into a game.
We can sing as they pick up their toys, but I expect it done. We can chat as we pull weeds, but I expect them to get down to work.
Work is work. It can be enjoyable, but it’s still work.
4. Celebrate When the Work is Done, Together
The only effective way I know to encourage my children to complete their work is through celebration (although I often give into yelling and nagging…).
Celebrating is different than bribing.
Enjoying ice cream on the deck after the garden is weeded is a celebration of work done. Sitting around the bonfire roasting marshmallows after a long day of raking leaves is a celebration of where we live and how we have cared for it.
The work is so much sweeter when everyone knows that when the work is over something special (and shared) is coming.
And I know that sharing work will have so many benefits for my children and our family. Working with my family as a kid has shaped me and given me a love of work. Although I certainly wasn’t thankful at the time, I am now very grateful that my parents taught me to work.
1. Working Together is Teaching
When I was 16 I got a job at a local coffee shop. As part of the training the owner set about teaching me to vacuum and wash dishes. I stopped her short. Why was she teaching these basic skills?
She told me that most if not all of the people she hired had never vacuumed or washed a dish before. She was actually surprised that I already knew how to do these things.
Before that I never considered that the chores and work I did as a kid were instructional or important, but they are. How else is someone going to learn to dust or fold clothes, unless they are asked to pitch in? This was never more clear than when I got married. All of my knowledge of dishes, cooking, laundry, gardening, childcare and organization came from my mother and the times she had me pitch in.
Failing to have children work is failing to teach them.
2. Work Leads to Ownership
Sometime in elementary school my dad planted around a dozen trees along the side of our house. Every day my sisters and I carried 5 gallon pails of water to those trees. The memory of us engaged in this work is laughable. A 5 gallon pail help by both hands dangling between our legs, as we waddle to the next tree, water splashing out with every step. If a couple of gallons reached the tree it was downright miraculous.
And, even though I complained and stomped my feet every time we headed out to water these trees, I remember it fondly as a special time I shared with my sisters.
This last year my dad built a new shop, right where those trees had been planted. Each of these trees I worked to water were pulled out…and this made me really sad. Those were MY tress. I had watered them.
The work I invested in those trees bonded me to them.
And this is what work does, right? Investing time, energy, frustration, sweat, tears and emotion in something connects us to our home and our family and makes us respect and appreciate it more.
3. Shared Work Builds Memories and Bonds
We’ve all experienced this with co-workers or classmates. The harder the task, the greater the journey, the more we are bonded when the task is completed.
Sometimes I think that special memories are only made on vacation or at an amusement park–and while this might be true partially, it is not true exclusively. Important memories can just as easily be made in the kitchen, the garden, the backyard or the barn.
Each summer my sisters and I broke, worked and showed calves for 4-H. We enjoyed it, but it was plenty of work dealing with often times difficult animals. We’d be out there every morning, noon and night, walking them, feeding them, washing them and training them. In the end the “pay-off” for all that work as a blue ribbon.
But we’d do it every year and I cherish those memories. Not only did I enjoy working with the animals, but those were special times with my sisters. Not many people can say they have worked and showed cattle, but we all can. We share the same memories, have a few battles scars and have added those experiences to who we are.
That is what I want for my children. To love to work.