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  • Learning To Work

    October 11, 2009

    Some random thoughts on the importance of learning to work.

    * * *

    Back in the olden days, many people bore children to help them work the farm. They needed people to work the land to survive, so they bred them.

    I recently read an interview with AD’s grandmother who was born in the 1890s.  She talked about how she walked behind a plow and picked cotton when she was seven.  It was harsh, but it had to be done.  She had to help, everyone did, that’s just the way it was.  Probably your grandparents or great grandparents did similar work to help the family keep body and soul together.

    Today, children are not expected to walk behind a plow or work in factories.  And that is a good thing. However, in my corner of the world, most children I know are not expected to work at all. They watch TV and play video games and go to lessons while their mothers wait on them hand and foot. And I think that is not so good.

    Early on I decided that Sean is not a prince and I would not be his valet.  I decided that he should learn to pick up after himself and to pitch in — to embrace the concept of work.  And I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve got a lot to learn as a parent, but one thing I have observed in my own child is that the first step in training is to establish the expectation.

    And so I set about establishing this expectation of work.

    When he was around three I showed him how to use the Swiffer mop and how to dust.  He still thinks this is tremendous fun.  I began to teach him how to cook.  When he was four I taught him to set and clear the table. When he was five I taught him how to fold dish towels.  Now that he is almost six, he can fold bath towels fairly well.  I sometimes pay him a penny a towel, sometimes not.

    When I tell him what a big help it is to me that he has folded a basket of towels, he beams.  It is a bigger reward than the two dimes I give him.  His new job is to take the trash and recycling out to the garage.  Next year, we’ll start working on laundry.  My dream is that at some point he will be a man who looks around, sees what needs to be done and does it.

    My point in saying all this is that sometimes we think that children are too small to help or too small to learn how to contribute, but I don’t think that is true.  It is true that most often it is easier to do something myself rather than to take the time to teach little hands. But oh the reward that comes later for both mother and child is a wonderful thing.

    As a not-prince, I have established the expectation that Sean will help me do what needs to be done to make living in this house a pleasant experience — which means if he wants to have a pleasant experience living in this house, he needs to help me do what needs to be done. Sometimes Sean thinks the work is fun and other times he grouses about it. Either way, he knows it is expected and he has to do it.

    Some families choose to do chores and I can see that there is value in that.  For me, because I am not great at keeping track of stuff I would just end up paying him for work he didn’t do and that would be bad because you seldom get paid for doing nothing in the real world.

    For me,  it works better to hire him for certain jobs, or, if he wants to earn some money, he’ll ask me if I have any work for him to do.  I think it’s good for kids to know they are expected to contribute to the keeping of the house but also to be rewarded for their work once in a while.  There are probably as many ways to balance that as there are families.

    If you were to look at the Biblical model, life is six parts work and one part rest. I hope to inspire Sean to strive towards that model.   Work provides purpose and structure and satisfaction.  These things are good.

    * * *

    He who works his land will have abundant food, but the one who chases fantasies lacks judgment.  ~Proverbs 12:11

    39 Comments »

    1. Julie at Elisharose says:

      Yes, yes, I couldn’t agree more. We have a chore chart with each person’s responsibilities clearly color-coded for each day. It was a struggle to come up with things for them to do when they were little, but I found chores for them. Even the young ones can straighten the arm covers on the couches and chairs. Just something to start getting the hang of the idea that everyone in the family must pull together to make the whole thing work.

      Good post.

      October 11th, 2009 at 2:25 pm

    2. mythoughtsonthat says:

      “My dream is that at some point he will be a man who looks around, sees what needs to be done and does it.” So great!
      From the time my son was small, my goal has been to teach him to be a man that any wife would be proud to call her husband, a man that works around the house as much as his wife does and doesn’t consider housework to always be woman’s work. Glad to hear about someone else who is headed in that direction, too.

      October 11th, 2009 at 4:22 pm

    3. Jeni says:

      Food for thought today! My oldest, my daughter, is newly-3. I’ve struggled with having her help me with household tasks, because it takes 6 times as long and makes 10 times as much mess when she helps. But I need to remember that those times aren’t necessarily about her “helping,” so much as training her in the idea of taking care of business. Dinner doesn’t make itself, laundry doesn’t fold itself, and it REALLY doesn’t put itself away. (I’ve given it ample opportunity to walk itself into the room & put itself in drawers, but it has yet to comply.)

      October 11th, 2009 at 4:50 pm

    4. Sharon M. says:

      I agree with the work ethic that you are teaching Sean. I always expected my children to pitch in and help with all the many jobs that needed to be done to keep a house in good running order. When I look back now, I wish that I had given them even more responsibility. There were usually never paid to help out, but they earned privileges.
      I try to encourage parents, whose kids go to my school, to give their kids chores at home, but the parents tell me that the kids are too young. I tell the students that their parents won’t be going to college with them and there are a lot of jobs that they will need to know how to do. I encourage the students to ask their parents if they can please, please help with some chores around the house. I do believe that some of this may be cultural.

      October 11th, 2009 at 5:05 pm

    5. suzanne says:

      I applaud your efforts! It gets harder when they are teens and are so busy with life that it is hard to be home long enough to do much. Their work is studying hard and working at their job and hopefully will have good enough grades that a scholarship(s) is realized! I often wonder if I did a good enough job teaching my kids how to work, but they are turning out to be fine young people, so I just give God the glory and hope they find great spouses to be on their teams!!! 😉

      Suzanne

      October 11th, 2009 at 5:07 pm

    6. Kay says:

      This is so true.. and easier to teach when they’re younger step by step than when they’re older and you just walk in one day and give them a list of things to do. Although I know its harder to get them involved than it is to help them get going with it sometimes. Be-leeeeve me, I know! LOL That has always been my biggest struggle… getting over the idea that it’s just faster to do it myself. (maybe in the short run, but not the long run!)

      October 11th, 2009 at 5:07 pm

    7. Dana~Are We There Yet? says:

      Our children range in age from 1 to 18. The baby learned to walk in the last couple of weeks. Yesterday, he helped with the Saturday cleaning. Around here, when you can walk, you can work. The beautiful thing was that it was not me, but my 10-year-old autistic son who was teaching the baby to work. Seth sprayed the fronts of the oven, dishwasher, and lower cabinets with “Special Soap” (warm water, a drop of dish soap and a drop of lavender oil) and he and Jesse (the baby) wiped them down.

      My 13-year-old daughter is teaching her 4-year-old sister to sort, wash, dry, fold and put away her laundry, and my 18-year-old daughter (who has cerebral palsy) does the family’s ironing.

      In the early years of parenting, when all I had were little helpers, the work of homekeeping was difficult, tedious and seemed never-ending. I am grateful now that we put in the time training the older children when they were young and it is a joy to have them contribute to our (mostly) tidy, (usually) well-run household.

      * * *
      I adore you Dana, I truly do. ~AM

      October 11th, 2009 at 5:30 pm

    8. momof8 says:

      Work is a great thing to learn. Our kids have regular daily and weekly chores that they do not get paid for. It’s just part of helping the family function. They also have jobs they can get paid for. We have older children who want to participate in various camps or school activities. We will match them dollar for dollar (we pay half they pay half) or they can work the entire amount off. It sure helps them choose which activities they really want to do and keeps us from going bankrupt! So far it has worked well.

      October 11th, 2009 at 5:45 pm

    9. Robin @ Little Bits of Life says:

      This is so good. I find myself often guilty of making the girls do things when I could do those same things (to my level of satisfaction no less) once they are off to school. I am constantly reminding myself it’s not that I can’t do it, but they need to learn.

      And frankly, it helps me to not be quite so picky. If the beds are made, who cares if the Barbie’s head on the comforter is at the foot or off the side of the bed instead of where is should be. Ok, I care. But I let it go. Because they are learning responsibility for their things.

      Thanks for this reminder. I need to have them doing more!

      * * *
      Yes, I care too. Mis-made beds set my teeth on edge. My teeth are much shorter these days.

      October 11th, 2009 at 6:01 pm

    10. Kai says:

      Our parents never made us do chores or help much around the house and it definitely made it harder for us to adjust to the “real world” when we moved out. I kind of wish they had made us do more when we were young.

      We both turned out ok. We each live alone and neither of us have ever turned the white load pink or used hand soap in the dishwasher.

      October 11th, 2009 at 6:26 pm

    11. Rebecca says:

      Absolutely! My girls were setting and clearing tables, picking up their stuff and even pumping gas when they were pre-school. One of them is mechanically inclined, and I turned over anything that needed to be assembled to her before she was a teenager. They are now very independent, resourceful and self-sufficient adults and I am so proud of them.

      One thing I can assure you, your future daughter-in-law will be extremely grateful to you. All six of my nephews were treated like princes – and still are, as a matter of fact – so I can tell you from personal experience that the difference is HUGE. Fortunately, they all did have fathers who enjoyed cooking, so at least they will have something substantial to offer, as long as their wives don’t mind cleaning up…or are willing to train them, lol.

      October 11th, 2009 at 6:38 pm

    12. fern says:

      I agree. Our kids started doing “jobs” around the house when they were very young. We never paid the kids–we thought it was a responsibility they had as members of the household. When our kids started needing their own money we started allowance, but it was not tied to the jobs, but rather tied to showing more responsibility. As our kids got older we told them that if they took on more responsibilities– without being asked–they would get more allowance–but we never gave them very much. I think we were the cheapest parents on the block–but I have no qualms about it.

      October 11th, 2009 at 6:43 pm

    13. Aunt Murry says:

      This is the way my parents taught me. It was funny when I first went to college I was astonished at the number of people who had to call their Mom’s to figure out what to wear. Sheesh. So I applaud you!

      October 11th, 2009 at 8:53 pm

    14. Happy Geek says:

      I heard a quote not that long ago.

      “What you don’t learn to do at home you will end up hiring someone to do for you later.”
      I’m too cheap to ever let that happen to my boys.

      October 11th, 2009 at 9:26 pm

    15. Carrie says:

      You are so right – children need to understand that working is a part of life. Since I stay at home with my son, it’s only natural that he follows me around the house & helps with chores all day long. At 22 months old, he throws away all his own diapers, along with any pieces of garbage or leaves we find on the floor throughout the day…he helps wipe the floor when there’s a spill, helps clean out the lint filter when we do laundry, and dusts the bottom bookshelves while I do the higher shelves. And if I ever forget to tell him, “good job” when he finishes, he says it himself. 🙂

      * * *
      I love the imagery of a little diaper clad boy telling himself “good job” as he dusts the lowest shelf. Adorable.

      October 11th, 2009 at 9:32 pm

    16. snarflemarfle says:

      Amen!

      ….
      “My point in saying all this is that sometimes we think that children are too small to help or too small to learn how to contribute, but I don’t think that is true.”

      And on this note, I know people that think that some kids are just too young to learn manners. Or think that I’m just crazy for saying “yes, ma’am” or “no, sir” to my children starting the day they were born. But I’ll tell you, a mamma beams with pride when someone asks my 1 and a half year old daughter a question and she answers with “Yes, Ma’am!”

      Way to go, Sean, helping with the chores!!

      October 11th, 2009 at 9:57 pm

    17. Karen {simply a musing blog} says:

      As we tell our kids in our house (they are 5, 7, and 13) “no workie, no eatie” – it too is a Biblical principle. Although I’m pretty sure it was worded differently in the Bible. 😉

      * * *
      That would be The Message translation. In the KJV it is thusly: “Lo, thou no workie, thou no eatie, verily I say to ye.”

      October 11th, 2009 at 11:12 pm

    18. Lisa @ The PW says:

      Amen sister! I consider it my goal in life to make certain my boys grow into men willing to contribute so their wives can do for them because they WANT to – not because they are expected…

      October 12th, 2009 at 12:55 am

    19. Jammie J. says:

      I think my mother-in-law had the same expectation of her children.

      When I read what you wrote, “My dream is that at some point he will be a man who looks around, sees what needs to be done and does it.” I nodded my head and smiled, because I recognize my husband in those words. I thanked my MIL on our wedding day for raising up such a man, and I meant it, because I feel incredibly blessed to have such a man in my life.

      October 12th, 2009 at 2:54 am

    20. ~*~Jennifer~*~ says:

      Ohhh… you are so right. I’m trying to be a good MIL. My boys are 4, 8, and 10. I want them to grow up to be godly men and love and cherish their wives and be good workers!! (At home and away). My MIL trained my dh to be a good work AWAY… and come home and rest. I never rest. I’m not complaining… just saying… I’m looking ahead. 😉 I want to be a blessing to my DIL’s. Ü

      October 12th, 2009 at 4:35 am

    21. heidig says:

      My husband can clean a bathroom better than I can and I thank (and LOVE) his mother for teaching him these chores. And I can mow a pretty mean lawn too!

      October 12th, 2009 at 8:54 am

    22. Tara says:

      You’re such a mean mommy! I am, too! 🙂 My boys can fold towels (the youngest is 4) and the 2 year old practices folding her blankets. The boys can unload the dishwasher, do laundry (various steps depending on which kid) and sweep the dining room. I also have a nifty contraption I like to call the Attitude Adjuster 3000. It’s a little handheld vacuum cleaner we use to clean the steps! 🙂

      October 12th, 2009 at 9:47 am

    23. patois says:

      I’m forever grateful that my husband’s mother raised him that way. I hope my children’s future spouses are as grateful to me (and my husband) when the time comes.

      October 12th, 2009 at 9:50 am

    24. Elizabeth says:

      Yes, yes, yes to you and the commenters! It’s like anything we teach our children: if we don’t start early, when do you start? When they are itsy it is great to do it together and as they get older my model is: when learning a new task (like cleaning the bathroom) is to have them watch me, then we do it together, then I watch them and then they are on their own with a inspection by me at the end. They do take great pride in their work. I always try to say things like, “Doesn’t it feel good to have a clean bathroom?” And I try to salt our daily conversations with sprinklings of “If anything is worthwhile then it will usually require hard work and sacrifice. But it is always worth it.”

      October 12th, 2009 at 10:31 am

    25. Pam says:

      So glad you wrote about this subject, it’s so important with today’s kids who are used to being waited on, drove around and basically pampered. My children are adults now and I’m so proud of their work ethic, I know it started when they were young. I wasn’t the maid and they knew it…they learned all there is to running a household, including that we were not made of money. My reward is seeing them teach their kids the same ideals their dad and I taught them.

      October 12th, 2009 at 10:32 am

    26. Jackie Hall says:

      Great post! The rule in our house has always been if you take it out you put it back. Some how the child and husband are doing this but mom doesn’t always follow the rule. hrmmm maybe I should put myself in timeout!

      October 12th, 2009 at 11:09 am

    27. Stacy says:

      My husband and I grew up on farms and were certain that they had children just to help with the chores. 😉 Now we attempt to make our small children work for their toys. There is much grousing, but at least it is a start. Work ethic is sorely missing in today’s society.

      October 12th, 2009 at 11:24 am

    28. LaDonna says:

      Very good topic. We have a 2-year-old who folds washcloths and runs the dustbuster to pick up her own messes. As for paying the child for chores, my parents always told us “you put your feet under the table at every meal”. It was a good lesson in family members working as a team.

      October 12th, 2009 at 11:28 am

    29. rrmama says:

      You couldn’t be more dead on AM! I have already started my boys with small chores also. Trash, table setting, taking out their laundry to the laudry room and so on.

      October 12th, 2009 at 11:38 am

    30. Kathy says:

      My daughters-in-law are so grateful that I taught my boys to do all household tasks and have good work ethics. As you said, they see what needs to be done and they do it. They, along with their wives, hold down good jobs and are great parents and partners. You are well on your way to helping Sean become a wonderful husband and father.

      October 12th, 2009 at 12:48 pm

    31. Minnesotamom says:

      You catch a lot of flack for what I think are sound parenting principles. Just know that I am always thankful for your perspective!

      Anja has long loved to help me dust. What’s more, I think she has picked up on our encouragement, because she will often say to me enthusiastically, “Good job, Mama!” when I’ve completed some simple task, such as pouring her a glass of milk or closing a cupboard door. It’s hilarious!

      She is also getting better and better at cleaning up her toys after she’s played with them, though this still produces the occasional temper tantrum. She received a small vacuum from my grandma for her birthday, and she will often grab it to clean up. She always offers to “help” with chores, which I am hoping is a good sign for years to come. Perhaps I am naive.

      October 12th, 2009 at 1:11 pm

    32. Bitsy says:

      Yes, yes, yes!!! I have approached it much the same as you. I don’t keep track, but my kids are expected to help out and jump up when we ask them to do something. Sometimes they get paid, especially for a big job.

      October 12th, 2009 at 5:45 pm

    33. Steffj89 says:

      Yes I am trying but feel hopelessly lost. Organization skills are not ones I have ever acquired and I am one of thsoe whose mom did everything….and I mean everything. Here I sit almost forty and I struggle every step of the way. I suck at it, I get lost going from room to room and my house usually looks like a disaster area….How I truly wish that my mom had had us help more and taught us things like how to run the washer and dryer(my husband taught me when we got married in my early 30s)
      I had run one now and then but never regularly….my mom and grandma kept my laundry done thru college and when i got out on my own i just dropped it all off @ a laundry that got paid by the pound….
      sad sad sad…
      but my boys know how to sort and which color basket is for what kind of clothes and how to turn on the dishwasher and wash dishes and empty it and clear and set the table….its a start
      steff

      October 12th, 2009 at 6:25 pm

    34. Michaele says:

      I’ve got this really amazing son who will be 18 next week and is in his first year of college at Gonzaga University. Not only is he a joy to me, he keeps his dorm room as clean as possible (the house has 40 boys in it, so this is a challenge), he brings his laundry home every Sunday when he comes for dinner and he just loves to come home and help with whatever he can. I just adore him. And trust me, this is nothing I did to train him to be like this. He was just born a very considerate, hardworking young man and I thank God for him daily (actually several times a day!)

      October 12th, 2009 at 10:32 pm

    35. Laura J. says:

      You are so wise, AM! I wish I’d been so wise when my daughter was younger. I made the mistake of not training her to help out for two reasons: I thought she was too little and I didn’t think she would do things “right” (the curse of inheriting certain genes of perfection from my mother). Now my girl does help some here and there, but her attitude is not as willing sometimes as I would like. But we are working on it, together. 🙂

      October 12th, 2009 at 11:57 pm

    36. edj says:

      Yep. I totally agree.
      My FIL was raised by being waited on hand and foot by his mother and sisters. My MIL said she wouldn’t put her daughter in law through anything like that, and taught her son (my husband) to cook, sew, and do dishes. Phew!

      October 13th, 2009 at 5:10 pm

    37. Beverlydru says:

      My mothering style runs along with yours- to me it’s called “common sense”. I’m happy to report to that our son is a fabulous husband and his wife loves me very much for what he learned here. I trained him with the idea in mind that he would be a partner to God’s choice for him -not a prince!

      October 14th, 2009 at 6:14 pm

    38. Cyndi says:

      Yes! My friend was just grousing about latrine duty today, and I was patting myself on the back for teaching them from the start…it’s not 100% but they mostly get it that everyone has to do their part. Selling our house at this age has been remarkable for building that ‘must do’ attitude when I’ve slacked :blush:

      October 19th, 2009 at 7:30 pm

    39. April says:

      I’ve been on a long hiatus from your site. I’ve missed it so much!!! This has been, hands down, the sorest spot in my marriage. My MIL NEVER gave her sons and daughter chores, never made them do anything they didn’t want to keep doing (like finishing the karate or tap lessons they so desperately pleaded for) and now, all of them are extremely lazy in terms of cleaning and seeing what needs to be done and doing it! She even says and I quote “children should be treated like prince and princesses, they have enough time in their lives to work hard.” Yet, every time she is here she compliments me on how self sufficient my children are. My children are 9,6, and 2. They know that every Sunday they will be asked to pick up their rooms, they will help to clean spills, they will put away their laundry, and pick up after themselves. I hope that thus far it’s enough. When I bring home groceries my kids get up to help me before my husband does %~/ I’m so glad that you are teaching your child these things now. It could be detrimental to his marriage to do otherwise!

      November 3rd, 2009 at 10:10 pm

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