Children and Meaningful Work

Children and Meaningful Work

I’ve been called “brave” for some very silly things: wearing hats, dressy ones to weddings and the like. (“What’s brave about that?” said my fashion forward aunt, “You put it on your head! Big deal!” Or something like that.) A 12-hour road trip alone with two under five kids. It was fun! It doesn’t feel brave to me if you don’t stop to worry about what could go wrong.

But this morning, I did something that felt truly brave. I was trying to get my bedroom painted when I heard chairs being dragged across the kitchen, water being turned on, and small voices saying, “Mama, we’re going to help you! We’re going to do the dishes!”

Egads. I knew there would be a mess on no small scale. I also knew that there were no sharp objects or anything very breakable in the sink. So I took a deep breath, gave them a few instructions…and let them “do the dishes.”

Children and Meaningful Work

After many animated talks, my husband and I have decided that work is important for all members of our family. Our own work, paid or otherwise, brings us great satisfaction and joy; devoting too many days to idle pleasure does not make us as happy as accomplishing our goals and working hard. Here are some of the joys of encouraging children to work

Work fosters independence and initiative.

Whenever one of my nieces says she’s bored (shudder!), I tell her she’s letting her mind be lazy. She’s groans and rolls her eyes, but I do believe that the cure for ennui is knowing how to work, knowing the pleasure of a job well done, and knowing how to figure out for yourself what needs to be done. It’s great for a good self-esteem, to know that you and your choices matter and meaningfully contribute to your home and family. Also, kids don’t grow in taking on responsibility if they are never given any responsibility, just like you don’t become able to lift heavier weights if you never lift weights at all.

Working together can be valuable and joyful

There is something about working together that makes you more comfortable with each other. You talk about things that you might not otherwise have brought up. There are no awkward pauses because you fill them with work.
Working together is also a great time for teaching. A couple of days before the incident with the dishes, I had let my kids take turns helping me paint the closet in the bedroom. This didn’t feel quite as brave because I didn’t think it could go too badly, and it didn’t; it was a great time, especially with my little girl. She asked so many things about what tools were for and how to use them; and in between times, she just chatted happily. It was far more pleasant that working alone while she played in the next room.

Kids might enjoy work more than I enjoy play!

I wish I was better at playing, but I think that even as a kid, I wasn’t great at it. I would set up all my toys, and then I would take them all down. That was it. My kids love it when I play with them, but I honestly don’t know how. However, they are just as happy to help me with my chores. It takes discipline to allow this, when I know it will slow things down; but when I do force myself to involve them, it meets their need for together time and is probably actually not less efficient for me.

Kids can actually do helpful things at a surprisingly young age

It’s so hard to complete all the things we need to get done in life, isn’t it? Many times, it is hard to let kids help with household chores because it does take extra time, but don’t underestimate how much help they can actually be once they learn to do simple tasks; for example, my 5-year-old’s clothes are sorted into 4 bins on a shelf for storage, so he can take care of his laundry himself. I’m from Maine, and recently several family members acquired huge amounts of one of our major agricultural products–50-pound bags of potatoes! I took on an enormous gnocchi making project, and found that my almost four-year-old was really a huge help, rolling out ropes of the pasta for me to cut and shape.

All work and no play might make Jack a dull boy, but all play and no work can make a pretty depressed boy, too. Often it is harder as a parent to let kids do work even when they are eager to do it, but I believe it is a great gift to them and even, eventually, to you. And I’ll try to remind myself of that the next time they want to do dishes. 🙂

Do you give your child household responsibilities?

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  1. Heather

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