The Real Power of Family Work

The Real Power of Family Work

by Rachel Allison
An article I read many years ago still remains embedded in my memory. At the time of reading I was in need of the philosophy it espoused to support my efforts in getting my children involved in family work projects.

Prior to reading I sometimes doubted myself, and wondered if I was over reaching when I asked my children to help trim trees, haul rock, paint walls, or plant and weed gardens.

The article was entitled “Family Work” and it took the reader through the history of work and its purpose.  It began with the biblical reference of Adam and Eve.

“Family work actually began with Adam and Eve.  As best we can discern, they lived a life of relative ease in the Garden of Eden…There were no weeds, and Adam and Eve had no children to prod or cajole into watering or harvesting, if such tasks needed to be done…When they exercised their agency and partook of the fruit, Adam and Eve left their peaceful and labor-free existence and began one of hard work.  They were each given a specific area of responsibility, yet they helped each other in their labors.”

“Traditionally, many have considered this need to labor as a curse, but a close reading of the account suggests otherwise.  God did not curse Adam; He cursed the ground to bring forth thorns and thistles, with in turn forced Adam to labor.  And Adam was told, “Cursed shall be the ground for thy sake.”  In other words, the hard work of eating one’s bread “by the sweat of thy face” was meant to be a blessing.”

This general pattern of hard labor has remained dominant among many peoples of the earth, including families who lived in the United States at the turn of the last century.  Mothers and fathers, teenagers and young children cared for their land, their animals, and for each other with their own hands.  Their work was difficult, and it filled almost every day of their lives.  But they recognized their family work as essential, and it was not without its compensations.  It was social and was often carried out at a relaxed pace and in a playful spirit. Children shared much of the hard work, laboring alongside their fathers and mothers in the house and on the farm or in a family business.  This work was considered good for them—part of their education for adulthood. Children were expected to learn all things necessary for a good life by precept and example, and it was assumed that the lives of the adults surrounding them would be worthy of imitation.

By the turn of the twentieth century, many fathers began to earn a living away from the farm and the household.  Thus, they no longer worked side by side with their children.  In today’s world, it is not uncommon to find both father and mother out of the home for considerable parts of each day.

The wrenching apart of work and home-life has resulted in consequences that can hardly be overestimated.  The results are ever apparent, as too many children and youth cannot work, do not want to work, and expect parents and society to take care of their wants and needs.

Unfortunately, there are voices that tell women that unless they are childless and marketable in the work force, they are oppressed and living beneath their capabilities.  These same voices espouse the idea that because money is power, one’s salary is the true indication of one’s worth. And that the important work of the world is visible and takes place in the public sphere.

Others have tried to convince us of the importance of family work by calling attention to its economic value, declaring, as in one recent study, that a stay-at-home mom’s work is worth more than half a million dollars.

Should we not be concerned with those who see the value of family work only in terms of economic value?  More important than money is the family building and character development that takes place in homes where families work side by side.  Here lies the real power of family work—its potential to transform lives, to forge strong families, and to build strong communities.

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