In a world of entitled, lazy people (and it keeps getting worse every day), it is still possible to raise responsible young people who know how to work! Here is how and why I do it, and why you should too!
The Early Years
I remember a time when my firstborn was almost five years old and I discovered was pregnant with my fifth baby. I was feeling like a complete failure as a mom, (I know now, that was largely the pregnancy hormones at work, happens every time!) I literally asked God, “What are you thinking? I’m doing a terrible job already, why would you give me another baby now??”
In my defense, I was still suffering a little PTSD incurred during the toddler years of my oldest daughter. That girl was a trip. She was the busiest, most mischievous tot I have ever had the pleasure to know. You can read all about her adventures here. (That fifth baby, by the way, turned out to be a beautiful, precious daughter that I wouldn’t trade for any amount of sleep or clean laundry in the world! Praise God, He knew what He was thinking!)
It was around this time, I began to notice that my firstborn could be a great help to me! He could do things like fetch me a diaper and get little sister a drink of water. He learned to tie his shoes, which was the greatest thing ever! Pretty soon, he could tie shoes for little sisters as well, and it gave him a sense of pride to do it! I can’t even tell you the load that was lifted off my shoulders with this simple, but huge, thing. Having that extra pair of tiny hands to assist me in getting everyone’s shoes on and tied before we headed out the door was a little lifechanging.
“Mom” Doesn’t Mean Doormat.
And so began a new phase in motherhood, where I gradually taught my children to help care for the younger kids and to work alongside me and share in being a family. You see, mama, I am not my family’s maid or doormat, and neither are you. It is not my job to wait on every other person in my home, while others lounge about. It is my job to manage my home and teach my kids to be independent and to take care of themselves and others! A family should function as a unit in which every member contributes in some way and every member looks out for the well being of others, caring especially for the very young and the old.
The Benefits for Kids
An unforeseen bonus to having a large family, (17 kids to be exact, the story on that juicy bit here,) was that I naturally needed my kids to pitch in and help out. I say bonus, because the rewards to me have been really nice, but the rewards to them have been enormous! If you will allow me to toot my horn just a moment, I’ll tell you how…
As teenagers and young adults, my kids now have a work ethic that puts many, much older, adults to shame. They have a natural tendency to see what needs to be done, to jump in and do it without being told, and to instinctually help others. They have excelled both in college and in the work place. Two of my college kids won additional scholarships for “outstanding achievements and performance” after the first semester of school. They have made valuable employees who are known for their hard work and trustworthiness. I am so glad they learned to work and serve at a young age.
I know some will say things like, “But kids need to be kids! When you make them work, you rob them of their childhood!” First, let me say they don’t work all day everyday. They most definitely have a childhood, and adventures abundant. There is always a time for work, a time for play, and a time for rest. (You really ought to get some more of that, mama, rest that is… read here.) Secondly, there is a tragic plethora of people in this world today who are lazy, incompetent, entitled, and selfish, because they were not taught to work and to serve others. Only in recent years has the concept that “children should not have to work” evolved. A couple of generations ago, children always accompanied adults while they worked as a natural state of life.
The Beauty of Work
There is a beautiful quality about work. A child who learns to do a job well, and is appreciated for it, feels a sense of purpose and pride. A child who contributes to the well being of others feels needed, important, accomplished, and of worth. This is true for adults as well. It has been my experience that the surest cure for loneliness, low self-esteem, and despondency is finding someone else to care for and serve. A sense of “no one sees me, no one needs me, no one cares what I do” is replaced with a sense of “I am needed, I am important to the ones I serve, and what I do matters!”
As I mentioned earlier, my kids also learn to care for younger brothers and sisters. The Buddy System! It’s a lifesaver for me, and it’s extremely good for them! I’ll tell you more about that here.
Learning Life Skills
In our home, my kids help prepare meals and help clean up after. As a result, they learn to cook! A super life skill to have! Cleaning up after a meal for 12 or more people, 3 times a day, can be a daunting task… but many hands make light work. When a group of us do it together, we can knock it out pretty quick. Even kids as young as 4 can help carry dishes from the table to the kitchen, and each person clears his/her own place setting.
As soon as they are tall enough to reach the controls on the washer, my kiddos learn to do laundry. Older kids are responsible for their own laundry. Laundry for the younger kids, plus towels, blankets, etc. is a group effort. We fold it and put it away together. Read Taming the Laundry Beast for more on that.
Daily I set a timer for tidying up main rooms of the house. I say, “I’m setting the timer for 5 minutes. Everybody pick up the family room, go!” Piddling is not allowed! I know when I was a kid, I could make cleaning my room drag out for 2 whole days. The timer sets a limit to this, and nips procrastination.
Other chores in our house include taking out the trash, loading and unloading the dishwasher after breakfast, vacuuming the family room, sweeping the dining room, cleaning bathrooms, feeding and watering the dogs, mowing the yard, watering the garden, cleaning out vehicles, washing the van, using a cordless hand vac on the stairs, mopping, etc.
They even learn to make some repairs around the house. More than once, I have pointed a teenage boy towards a broken appliance and a you-tube video, and said “Go for it, Son!” At the beginning of a new school year, I assign daily chores to each child. Those daily chores remain the same for one full year. I find after a year, kids are proficient at a task, and its time to master a new one!
But there is more to training kids to work and serve than can be accomplished by household chores alone. Children need the opportunity to serve outside of the home as well. Start very small. Young boys can and should hold doors open for their moms and sisters, elderly ladies at the grocery store, other mamas with their arms full of babies, gentleman with canes, or people in wheelchairs. (Sad side note: My girls, who also hold doors for others, find it a common occurrence for able bodied adolescent boys and grown men to march right through a door they are holding open without even uttering a thank you!) When we are loading groceries in our van and I see an elderly lady with a cart full of groceries nearby, I send my boys to help her.
Kids can and should help out grandparents and neighbors. It’s a blessing to the helper as well as the helpee… (that’s a word, I’m sure…) My girls have had many opportunities to babysit for families in our community, usually for pay, (with their extensive experience caring for children, they make great babysitters!) My oldest daughters have even helped a friend potty train her boys, you can read about my 1 day method here. Volunteer opportunities in the community, serving in a church (endless possibilities there!), part time jobs, all of these experiences help to shape a young life into a force of service and responsibility.
Hang in there, Mama
When you are struggling, take heart, this teaching and training is a process! Your kids will not be great at everything right away. They may resist, they may whine, they may complain, and they will certainly fail to meet your expectations time after time, (mine sure do!) But that is okay. Keep your expectations high anyway. (Don’t forget to set the example of a positive attitude!) Don’t think, “Well, that didn’t work, forget it!” Keep training, and keep persisting; it’s a marathon, not a sprint. It will pay off, for you and most importantly, for them! Comment with your experiences below, I’d love to hear! Hugs, mama!
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