Some random thoughts on the importance of learning to work.
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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.
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He who works his land will have abundant food, but the one who chases fantasies lacks judgment. ~Proverbs 12:11