He comes in from outside with apple-red cheeks, sweat dripping down his face… and a big wide grin. “Mom, feel my forehead. It’s so hot.” I’ve been working hard digging that hole for dad.” He had spent a good part of the morning moving dirt. He had done a good job and this mama was proud.
There have been so many times over the years that I’ve been tempted to take the shovel out of his hands and just do the work myself. I knew I could do it faster and without all of the mess. But thankfully I didn’t. Progress didn’t happen overnight, but we are seeing the fruits of our labor (both his and ours),
As mamas, it would be so much easier to just do “it” ourselves. But man, the benefits of teaching our children the value of a job well done is so important.
In the beginning, God created man in a garden. He created us to work. Genesis 2:15 says, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” Work was joyful. It wasn’t until after the fall that the ground was cursed and work became, well, work. Something negative. A chore. Labor. Drudgery. Exertion. Effort. A burden. Ugh, it makes me tired just writing the words.
So how can we re-train the way we view work? The idea is actually quite simple: by seeing the value in it. The many benefits of it. The joy we can find from it. We need a shift in our perspective. Work is a privilege! Work can be fun! To little children, work is play. When and how does this play, all of the fun, get stolen away from work? Is it something we, as parents, do? I know I’m guilty of it. I don’t know how many times I’ve whined and complained when having to work hard at something. I don’t know how many times I’ve tried to get out of it.
The thing is, we’re being watched, and positive modeling isn’t always easy. I’m afraid to admit that even as I write this I have an unmade bed and “stuff” all over my floor. I’m a work in progress, and while my kids won’t see a mama who is perfect, they will see a mom who doesn’t quit trying.
Work shapes our habits and grows character. In his book, Home Grown Kids, Raymond Moore says, “Work is a particularly valuable character-building activity. It challenges one to accept responsibility and to persevere even with discouragement. As the opposite of idleness or excessive play, it absorbs aggressive energies in a useful direction and keeps body and mind profitably occupied so that there is little time or inclination for negative activities. It promotes purity of thought, exercises the intellect in planning and develops such character qualities as thoroughness, industry, responsibility, and dependability. Most children can do much more work and take much more responsibility than parents require” (p. 184).
So how do we help our children to value work?
Model it: You’ve most likely heard the phrase, “More is caught than taught”. How can we expect our kids to work hard if we don’t work hard? If we whine and complain? If we try to pawn the job off on somebody else? Modeling good work ethic is something we can’t be perfect in, but it is definitely something worth striving for.
Work together /share the work: Work with your children whenever possible and rotate job responsibilities to share in the heavier loads. Working together provides an opportunity for conversation. “At the same time the hands are occupied, you and your child can share confidences, talk over his frustrations, discuss values and practical lessons. None of this can ever be so profitably handled in a more formal setting” (p. 209).
Inspect their work: Colossians 3:23-25 says, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” The work we all do is a way to serve our Lord. It’s okay to have high expectations. Ecclesiastes 9:10 says, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.” We are to be vigilant in training our kids to do their very best. The habits you instill in your children now will have a life-long impact on who they will become. “Here is an end to the easy philosophy of, ‘It doesn’t matter,’ ‘Oh, he’ll grow out of it,’ ‘He’ll know better by-and-by,’ ‘He’s so young, what can we expect?’ and so on” (Charlotte Mason). It does matter. Be consistent in holding children accountable in thoroughness, follow-through, and a positive attitude. This takes a lot of work (no pun intended), follow-through, and commitment on your end as the parent.
Expose your children to stories about other’s who aren’t afraid of hard work. A few selections include: The book of Proverbs, The Little Engine Who Could, The Little Britches series, Little House on the Prairie, and Antshillvania (audio story). And a few recommendations for parents include: Created For Work, Laying Down the Rails, The Ministry of Motherhood: Following Christ’s Example in Reaching the Hearts of Our Children, Home Grown Kids, and Large Family Logistics.
Bless others by serving them: Visit someone who is elderly and clean their home, pick produce from your garden to donate to food bank, or make a meal for a family who needs a bit of help.
“This one thing I know: the only ones of you that will be truly happy will be those who have sought and found how to serve” (Albert Schweitzer).
Practice, practice, practice: Needless to say, practice makes perfect. The more you allow your children to work at something, the better they will become at it.
Focus on one job at a time: This is especially true for younger kids, but even older kids can get overwhelmed and frustrated so it’s very important you don’t shout out a bunch of things you want them to do at once. I know because I am guilty of doing this with my kids, “I need you to clean the kitchen, mop the floor, fold the laundry, and take out the trash before you go outside”. I can see them shut down and then not be able to remember even one thing I asked them to do. I’ve found it works best when I sit down with them and make a list. They thrive on checking things off of their list.
Admire, compliment, encourage, praise: Acknowledge a job well done. Show the job off to Dad, do something fun together as a reward like going out to eat, or reading a book together. Motivate and inspire them to look for things they can do to help without being asked.
Create a system that works for your family: Age-appropriate chore charts and/or checklists work great. Young children thrive on a routine and having a system will help to define expectations and establish a cleaning routine.
Make it fun! Turn some music on. Singing and dancing make it very hard to be grumpy while you work. Make a game out of cleaning. Set a timer and see how fast a job can be done (and done well).
As good as work is for one’s body, mind, and soul, we need to remember that even God took a break to rest. Work can be joy-filled when you combine it with a balance of rest, especially Sabbath rest.
“Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it He rested from all the work of creating that He had done.” (Genesis 2:3).
God stopped to take time to enjoy what He had made. God was so interested in building a relationship with us that He set aside one whole day every week for us to spend together.
“Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work” (Exodus 20:9-10).
Sabbath is the key to finding balance. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:28–29).
Learning how to work hard and practice Sabbath rest are important factors in teaching children how to live a well-balanced and joy-filled life. How do you encourage your kids to work?