Tuesday, April 20, 2010

How We Get the Job Done

This morning, I read a post by a blogger I admire, Shawni.  I really appreciate the insights Shawni has about the important role mothers play, the joy of family life, and facing challenges head-on.  She's a great example.  I really enjoyed reading what she wrote this morning about children, hard work, and independence.  I also enjoyed reading the comments others left; sometimes I glean as much from the comments as I do from the actual post--for some reason this is especially true on Shawni's blog. 

Anyway, thanks to Shawni for getting me thinking about some of the things I hope we've begun to accomplish with our own family, and about things that we have yet to accomplish.  So, without further ado, allow me to present.......

How We Get the Job Done in *Holland
*click here if you want to know about why I keep referring to Holland.

1.  First, I have to give you a little background.  My husband is the oldest of six children.  I am the youngest of six living children.  Our parents worked hard to provide not just the essentials for their children, but also tried to provide opportunities to learn and develop our talents.  That being said, neither of us grew up with designer jeans or received cars for our sixteenth birthday.  Both of us paid for college ourselves, without help from our parents.  My older siblings are convinced that I was completely spoiled....but nonetheless, the Bionic Man and I both learned the value of hard work.  By the time we married and began a family of our own, we'd had many discussions about how we wanted our own children to be able to enjoy the benefits of learning to work, whether or not our future income made that necessary.

2.  The Bionic Man is the one in our family who is really good at teaching the children how to work.  He is very good at thinking of ways to involve the children in projects.  He is equally good at recognizing that some tasks can be made very fun for children, and that fun is its own reward.  The Bionic Man is also good at providing fun activities to enjoy after the work is done.  Here are some things the Bionic Man taught me about helping children learn to work:
  • even very young children can be given simple tasks.  Letting them do these jobs gives them a sense of responsibility and pride in their accomplishments.  
  • start children out with jobs you know they can accomplish, based on their developmental level.  When they feel successful with initial jobs, they will be more willing to take on jobs that will be more challenging.
  • let children be nearby you as you work, even if they aren't actively helping.  Talk to them about what you are doing.  Give them opportunities to help you as needed, even if it is just holding the tape measure or opening the drawers as you put away the laundry.  
  • incentives, incentives, incentives.  A work incentive doesn't have to be monetary.  It can be an activity.  It can be a treat.  It can be the promise of playtime later.  It can be an opportunity for one-on-one attention.  The Bionic Man often starts a day of projects with a discussion of what we'll get to do after the project is complete.
  • give lots and lots of praise.  And not just immediately after the job is done.  Days later, remark about how glad you are that the child helped with a job, pointing out the long-term benefits.  "Wow, I'm so glad you helped me mop the floor last week.  It was so nice to have a clean, shiny floor when our friends came for dinner." 
Yes, the Bionic Man is amazing!  I found this footage in the family archives of Endeavor and Justone working with their daddy.  It is one of my all-time favorite family movies.  

3.  That video really illustrates one principle that I feel is key about teaching children to work.  If you really, really want your children to not just learn to work, but to value their own efforts and be able to enjoy working, then you have to have realistic expectations and be willing to sacrifice perfection.  I could clean my children's rooms in less than half the time it takes them, and do a better job, too.  But then they wouldn't have the opportunity to learn to clean their rooms.  

It took us a while, but the Bionic Man and I eventually had to learn that if we were really going to have our children learn to feel satisfaction and pride in their efforts, we couldn't come along after them and complete the task to our own standards.  We have come to the conclusion that it is best to have realistic expectations for the completion of the job, and then live with that outcome.  So, when they wash the car, we don't worry about the streaks.  If the vacuum lines are completely haphazard, I reflect on how nice it is that I didn't have to spend any of my time vacuuming.  Let go of perfection, and you'll find that you gain children who are more willing to help.

The above video was made during the time that we were renovating our Connecticut Cottage.  Those were the shutters that hung on the front of our cottage.  Endeavor was 4 and Justone was 2 years old when they helped paint them.  The transformation of black to blue shutters may seem minor, but it was a big deal to those little kids.  Because they helped.  Because they made a difference.  Four years after the shutters were painted, we were visiting our friends in Connecticut and drove past the cottage.  "There are the shutters that we painted!"  Justone exclaimed.  He could still remember the feeling of accomplishment that he had from completing that task.  

4.  Which introduces my next tip:  it makes children feel really, really important when the jobs they complete are visible or important to the family's well-being.  Like the shutters, it feels good to be able to see the task you completed beautifying the home or benefiting others.  Yes, there are mundane jobs that need to be done whether they get recognition, or not.  But give kids plenty of opportunities to handle things that get some attention: planing flowers in the front flower bed, organizing the shelves in the front room, decorating the Christmas tree. 

5.  Teaching children to work is hard work.  It requires a great deal of patience.  It requires creativity.  Sometimes, seeing them to the end of a task is much, much harder than doing the task yourself.  Sometimes, there are tears involved.  Sometimes, you'll feel like the meanest, most slave-driving parent EVER before a task is complete.  Persevere!  Remember, the long-term results of your efforts are worth far more than the extra time you spent giving your children the opportunity to see a job to the bitter end.

6.  Different children work (and learn to work) in different ways.  Endeavor will do almost anything if she knows there is a reward in store--praise, a special treat, money, or an activity.  Justone is a little harder to inspire, but does excellent work if we can find a project that appeals to him in someway.  (I once told him that the dandelions in our yard were an alien species that needed to be destroyed before they overtook the earth.  He dug them out with relish.)  Superkid.....I'm still trying to figure out.  

So, what are the benefits I've seen from getting our children involved in household chores and projects at an early age?  I can honestly say that the older two have become incredibly helpful.  (Superkid is getting there, too.)  Not only are they helpful, but they are appreciative.  As they take on household chores, they gain an understanding of what it takes to keep up around here.  As the years go on, they are getting better at preventing messes, because they recognize what it is like to clean up those messes.  

I don't think I completely realized how much my children had learned about work until we had to spend a lot of time at the hospital.  My children really pitched in and helped to maintain our home.  They were amazing helpers when we had our Li'l Angel at home, and she required a lot of my attention.

Last year, a minor surgery turned into almost two weeks at the hospital for Superkid.  I'll never forget how proud I was the night the Bionic Man called me at the hospital to tell me that, after working out in the yard all day, he'd come inside to find Endeavor preparing dinner all by herself.  She had resourcefully looked in the pantry and refrigerator to find ingredients for a meal she knew she could make: a baked potato bar.  Endeavor had washed the potatoes, microwaved them, prepared toppings for the baked potatoes, and made a salad.  By herself.  Without anyone asking her.  Endeavor had just turned 10.

Things like that don't happen overnight.  They are the result of hours of patience (and even frustration) as you, the parent, work to teach your child the value of work and contributing to the well-being of your family.  And, when you begin to see the results, they are so, so, so worth it.


  1. I love this post. Here in my neighbourhood the most kids are just lazy and don't want to go to work, Lay on their beds playing videogames the hole day. I want to do this different with my son, but that also is hard work because of the examples he see... BUT I will reach the goal of bionic man......
    Have a nice week,

  2. I followed you over here from a comment you left on Shawni's blog. I loved reading your ideas about teaching kids to work. It seems this is a topic many moms worry about which I think is so inspiring! Thank you for all your ideas and motivation. I'm glad I found your blog.