Getting kids to learn the value of work is no easy task. When you throw in a couple of parents who most likely were raised with varying views of chores, allowances, and the appropriate age to start working at an outside job finding level ground about teaching children about work and why it is important can be especially challenging. Instructing and modeling in this area of parenting–-though it will require some “work” from the grownups--pays off for our children, not just for the future of their respective finances, but also for the future of their respective character.
Though I was the oldest and my wife was the baby, we both were raised by hard-working parents. We grew up watching our moms and dads work faithfully and fervently at everything they did. However, when it came to what was required of us as children, that’s when things took a turn. As the oldest, my dad pushed me to work on my grandparents' dairy farm years before my teens. In addition, I had chores in and outside of our house, plus I was expected to earn money from outside employment as soon as I was of age. My teen years were spent doing all of the typical things from playing sports to making sure grades were up to parental standards, plus holding down various jobs.
My wife, while raised with high standards of manners and overall behaviors, was a surprise child and the only girl, arriving years after three brothers. Her parents would not tolerate poor attitude, disrespect, unkindness, or ungratefulness, but they felt that outside of an occasional babysitting job her primary “work” was related to school.
When our boys came along, three in rapid succession, we quickly found ourselves not at odds, but struggling to find our own rhythm in teaching our boys to be workers.
The first discussion we had regarding our own children and work, or “chores,” came when they were only two, four, and six. One night, my wife dumped a load of clean towels on the couch to fold. As I grabbed one, I said, “Hey, why aren’t the boys helping us fold these?”
She replied, "You want our gooey-fingered, booger-picking, Tasmanian Devil of a two-year-old folding your bath towel?”
I grimaced a bit and answered, “Well, maybe after we wash his hands.”
So, that night she called them in and gave the oldest the bath towels, the middle the hand towels, and the baby the wash cloths. It wasn’t long before the elder brother folded towels like the head housekeeper at the Ritz. The hand towels were so-so, but the wash cloths looked like an elephant had stomped on them . . . after someone had already used them.
At first, my wife refolded them, but finally came to the conclusion that if the boys always saw her redoing their work–-especially work they were proud of--it would defeat the purpose.
One time, when my in-laws were visiting, they watched my wife put away some not-so-perfectly-folded towels. My father-in-law asked my mother-in-law if she could have tolerated putting such poorly folded linens in the cabinet. When my mother-in-law answered, “No. I don’t think you or I could have,” my father-in-law responded, “Well, we should have.”
I realize towel folding is not a huge life skill that will bring in large amounts of money in our children’s futures, but it is a start. As the boys grow, both mentally and physically, they were able to take on more responsibility in and around our home. These tasks not only helped our family, but also gave them a necessary life skills and a sense of accomplishment. They weeded flower beds, hauled gravel, mowed lawns, cleaned baseboards (those young knees could take it far better than mine or my wife’s), split firewood, and eventually helped our neighbors and many others--all for free.
Though as adults we absolutely equate work with money, how we attain and do those “big people” jobs is greatly affected by our skill and attitude toward the “w” word itself. Skill and attitude are often acquired by learning how to willingly put all of our effort into doing something as small as folding a washcloth.