Working hard is one of the trickier things to teach children. At least it is for me. But I am lucky to be married to a man who has high expectations. He has always looked at himself and our family and believed we could do more, no matter what the task!
When our kids were very little, Geoff and I would have days where we would be out and about, and we’d end up getting home very late at night. I used to get mad when we got home because he would not carry all of our little tired sweeties into the house. He would wake them up and not only expect them to walk inside without being carried, but he would also expect them to carry in groceries or bring their food wrappers and empty water bottles into the house with them. I used to whine at him and romanticize, “Honey, they are so tired, they just need a big strong daddy who will scoop them up and take them to their cozy beds.” But as a general rule, my husband would not do that. He told me that the small act of walking, all by themselves, to the house was teaching them good lessons. It was showing them that they could do things that were uncomfortable; that even when they were tired they could go the extra mile by bringing in groceries; that it was not somebody else’s job to ensure a constant stream of comfort. The small act of taking themselves into the house was one of many lessons that showed them they were stronger than they thought they were.
There were times Geoff would carry the kids in, but he let me know—and this always stuck with me—that he would not make it a general habit because he never wanted our kids to “expect it.”
Anyone who knows my husband knows that he is very kind and patient and tolerates a lot (he’s still married to me, isn’t he?). But one thing that he cannot help noticing is lazy, good-for-nothing children. These are kids who never help, and when they do help they offer only sloppy, careless, hurried work. It makes him crazy. He cannot understand why parents don’t train their kids to be useful.
I’ve heard parents state that they want life to be easy and fun for their kids because “they learn soon enough that the world is full of hardship and woe and childhood is the only time they will ever have to just be kids and have fun.” I reject this nonsense wholeheartedly. These parents have it dead wrong. We only have a very short time to train our children while they are young. What they learn in these formative years is what will stick with them later in life. It will shape their worldview as adults. If they are used to being catered to, playing excessively, and not being expected to do anything useful, do you think that when they hit 22 all of a sudden an instinctual hard-worker gene will kick in? No, on the contrary, they will spend the rest of their lives longing for the “good old days” and trying to manipulate their situation so as to always do as little as possible.
This was a lesson that my dad was also good at teaching. I remember he expected my best, not just words like “I tried my hardest.” He once drew a large pumpkin on a huge piece of white paper. I must have been about 5 or 6, and he told me to color the entire thing orange. I scribbled about half of it orange and then went running to my dad to show him I had completed the task. But he turned me around and said, “Go back to the table with it; you didn’t finish your job, make the whole thing orange.” I must have come back to him ten times before I finally figured out that he really expected me to do exactly what he said. By this time, I didn’t want to color the pumpkin. It wasn’t fun anymore, it had become a chore. But when I was done, my dad taped that pumpkin to the window for everybody to see. It was a job well done and a job worthy to be praised.
That was a good feeling that lasted. A job well done is very satisfying. Dad would not accept a lazy job for anything. Did I like that? No, not a bit—but nonetheless, he persisted in teaching me to do things that were hard. I spent hours pulling rocks out of our yard and hauling them to a ditch, I spent hours watering trees because we didn’t have a sprinkler system, I spent hours practicing my guitar “because he said so” and helping to carry heavy furniture up and down the stairs when we moved. I realized later that there was something more important than me “liking” to do something, and that was learning that I was capable of doing more than I thought possible, of doing a job thoroughly and of doing a job right.
As parents, it is hard for us to see our kids unhappy, but we are unwise if we let this dictate how we raise them. A trait that I see too often in parents is they underestimate how much their children are capable of doing in terms of work (cleaning their rooms, doing dishes, scrubbing toilets, making beds, cleaning out cupboards, taking care of animals, etc). They imagine that they see “the strain in their little one’s face” and they “just know little Hannah could not manage any more,” and so they clean up the toys for her. It always makes me cringe, because it is obvious that the kids are learning a lesson on how to get somebody else to do stuff that they don’t feel like doing. Parents also seem to overestimate their child’s virtue: “My child would never steal, lie, treat other children badly, look at pornography, act out inappropriately, etc.” But that is another subject for another day.
So are your children learning to be hard workers? Or are they learning to live an easy life? There is an easy test to see where your kids land on the Lazy Meter. You can gauge an awful lot by what they expect and whether or not they are thankful for what they have. If you told your sleepy children to walk up the stairs and put their own selves to bed, would they cry and whine? Why do they cry? It is because they expect you to do it for them. Do they cry when you tell them to clean their room? It’s because they don’t expect they should have to. Do they whine when you tell them they can’t play on the slide? Then they have a worldview that expects to get what they want when they want it. Do they complain when you give them green beans? An unthankful child expects something better. Train them now, while they are young. I know you’ve met ungrateful, complainey, whiney, expectant adults, and they are never pretty. They expect you to go out of your way to make their life easier somehow. These adults were probably children of parents who “just wanted a sweet easy life” for their little pookie-pie-honey-melon. It’s an easy trap to fall in to, but it is the child who suffers. May we teach our children wisely while we have the time.
Jenefer Igarashi is married to Geoff the Great and homeschools her six children (ages 4–19) near the Smoky Mountains in East TN. Visit Jen at her blog, http://jeneralities.com/
This article was originally published in the Sep/Oct ’08 issue of Home School Enrichment Magazine. For more great homeschool help, download our FREE report—The Secret to Homeschooling Freedom! Click here to download: http://HomeSchoolEnrichment.com/resources/report.htm