By Tonya Cox
Growing up as the oldest of six children, Saturday mornings consisted of family work. It was the day to deep clean our home and attend to the yard and every family member had their own assigned tasks. Family work became part of our family culture and is a value I passed down to my own children. From the time they were very young my children had jobs and they knew that the completion of their work was not optional. This kind of family work ethic was the norm in Western society for generations. My mother grew up on a dairy farm and she and her family of eight worked together to run the farm. She often shared how her family enjoyed working together; often their work became their play! While there are still families and homes which industry, most of today’s homes do not require it. Raising children that understand the value of work, and know how to efficiently complete their tasks, takes concerted effort — effort that many families do not make because they are too busy or distracted.
Today most family members do not work together and are physically isolated from each other as they individually engage in employment, education, extracurricular activities, social engagements, and personalized media. Children do minimal work within their homes and the work they do is usually focused on themselves. There is very little cooperation for the communal care of the family. Children no longer work alongside their parents to learn how to cook, mend clothing, change the oil in the car, or fix a leaky faucet. As a result there is a generation of young adults that have not learned basic life skills.
It is time for parents to collaborate in meaningful family work. There are many benefits to be had within the family as children are taught and prepared for adulthood. Research shows that as families work together on household duties, unity and emotional bonding is occurs.i This strengthened bone minimizes stress and generates a happier family life. Children learn values, empathy, responsibility, competence, self-reliance, and self-worth that stays with them throughout their lives.
These great benefits do not come automatically. Parents must begin to teach children how to work within a family when they are young. Marty Rossman, family education professor emeritus at the University of Minnesota, discovered that, “the best predictor of young adults’ success in their mid 20’s,” was their involvement in family household tasks when they were three or four. Waiting until they were teens to get involved was actually detrimental to their success as young adults. The earlier parents get their children involved in family work the easier it is for them as teens to stay involved. Rossman also found that how children were taught to work within their families affected their success as young adults. Children need tasks that are age appropriate. They do better when they are involved in choosing what family tasks they perform. Family meetings are a great way to work out who is responsible for what specific chores. Having a chore chart is helpful in directing the family work. Rossman also suggests parents not pay their kids for the household work they as everyone is working to contribute to the welfare of the family because they are a part of the family unit, not to collect spending money.
Parents need to work together in training their children with patience and understanding. I know as a mother it is often much easier to do a tasks myself than to take the time to teach my child. However, it is more important how work is done than what gets done. For example, I once became frustrated with my son because he could not seem to clean bathroom the way I wanted. Then I realized my ultimate goal is to raise a boy, not clean a bathroom. If repetition and reinforcement were what was needed then, as a mom, that is what I would give. Fathers set the example for their children in family work and have a greater positive impact on their children than mothers. University of California, Riverside sociologists Scott Coltrane and Michele Adams report that kids, “who do housework with their fathers are more likely to get along with their peers and have more friends. What’s more, they are less likely than other kids to disobey teachers or make trouble at school and are less depressed or withdrawn.”
It is time family work is reintroduced into the culture of modern families again. What was naturally a part of family life in years gone by now takes intention, effort, and planning but the benefits to the family and the rising generation are well worth the dedication and sacrifice. As parents and children work together to foster an attitude of industry within the home, our children, our families, and our world will thrive.
i Doherty, W.J. (1999). The intentional family: Simply rituals to stregnthen family ties. New York: Avon Paperback.