The importance of work
The pleasures of parenthood are many and telling your kids to do your work for you must be near the top of the list. I clearly recall the feeling, years ago, when I asked my toddling son to bring me a spoon from the kitchen. He left the dinner table on a mission, clanked around, and returned with a gleaming metal utensil, held aloft in triumph. Everyone cheered! He was beaming, so thrilled that he was able to meet my request. In my mind, a seed was planted of all the future tasks I could assign him. Never mind that he brought me a fork.
Our parents frequently remind us that they worked way harder than we did as kids. If they were raised on a farm; harvesting, milking and heavy loads were part of their days. In the city; paper routes, apple stands and summers in the Hoboken Unionized Glassworks factory were the norm. Recently, automation and innovation have taken lots of the work out of life. From washing laundry to home heating and meat processing, many of our chores of life are less chore-ish. Today, kids have less of an opportunity to be contributing members of the household unless parents get creative and make chores a priority.
There is one big problem however with giving kids the responsibility of work around the house; it’s a ton more work for you, for years. A few of our kids had a natural affinity for sweeping up after dinner. Yet, none had a fraction of the skill required to effectively sweep. Their contribution was to scatter dinner crumbs to the farthest reaches of the house before hitting sister with the dust pan. Our kids aren’t really fulfilling a familial necessity with their work like kids of olden times did. But it’s probably still important that we insist they work. Research like the Harvard Grant Study shows that doing chores in childhood are a leading influence on success and happiness later in life.
For us, the garden provides great opportunity for meaningful work. There are always weeds to pull, herbs to trim, and grass blades to be counted. Shucking, plucking and gathering all afford a tactile opportunity for the kids to see the fruits of labor. The pattern we aim to set though habitual work is that of a generous spirit. It’s clear with our kids that both nature and nurture contribute to who they are. My hope, years down the road, is to be reminded that our efforts towards chores paid off each time I discover an ancient cheerio stuck to a baseboard.