Yesterday I came home from work and found a nice surprise for any parent. I walked in the front door to be greeted by a clean house. The entryway had been swept and the mountain of shoes by the door put back in their respective closets. The living room was neat as a pin and the carpet vacuumed. The dishes were done and the groceries from the night before were put away.
My daughter had been at work all day so I knew she hadn't done any of it. It was all the work of my two sons, ages 13 and 16, along with a visiting nephew, age 14. They even scrubbed the bathroom. Bathtub, toilet, washed the mirror... the whole job. They cleaned as well as if I had done it myself. And the kicker? They did it all without being asked and asked for nothing in return. That was a good, happy moment for this mama. And that was on top of their regular, daily chores of feeding the horses, the 4-H steers, the dogs, and the cats. The boys are also in charge of the yard and it is their job to mow and weed-eat once a week.
I'm sure there are many parents of teenagers out there who would wonder how in the world I can get 3 teenage boys to clean a house without being asked. I can promise you it didn't happen overnight and teaching kids how to work isn't the easiest thing to do for any parent, but it can be done.
The secret is that you have to teach them how to work when they are small. In our home, we work together as a family. It isn't mom cleaning up after everyone or dad doing all of the yard work. As soon as our kids could walk we started teaching them to clean up after themselves. "Can you put your cup in the sink, please?" "Will you throw your popsicle wrapper in the trash, please?" "Will you fold your clothes and put them away, please?" And then, "Thanks for doing that! You did a great job and it really helped me out!"
My 13-year old was very proud of the job he did scrubbing the bathtub. So I made sure to go in and see the job he did and then to praise him for a job well done. He was beaming and felt good about himself. He loved that I was happy and recognized his hard work. And then I gave all three boys a bag of Hostess donuts I had just brought home from the grocery store and told them they could share them as a treat for doing such a nice job on the house. They were happy as could be and so was I.
My boys both know how to change the oil in a car and a 4-wheeler. They both know how to operate a backhoe. They know how to clean a toilet and make a grilled cheese sandwich. My daughter knows how to change a tire, check her oil and tire air-pressure. My kids all know how to wash and iron clothes. They know how to fix a fence and saddle a horse. They know how to dig a hole with a shovel and how to plant a garden. My kids know how to do these things because my husband and I have taught them, along with grandparents, youth leaders, and extended family. We work together as a family and then, when the work is done, we play together as a family. That is another secret.
It takes consistency and follow-through on behalf of the parent. It can be hard when your child is throwing a tantrum and whining about how, "It isn't fair!" "Why should I have to do that? I didn't make that mess!" It can be pure torture for the parent! But, trust me, hold your ground and don't give up. Don't give in. As much as your child whines or complains, it is for their benefit to learn how to work and do a good job. When they learn how to work, it builds their self-esteem and teaches them how good it feels when they've accomplished something. It is the beginning of their path to independent adulthood. And isn't that what every loving parent wants for their child? To grow up to be independent, secure adults?
Take the time to sit down with your kids on a regular basis. It's never too soon or too late to start. Have family councils as to whom is expected to do what job and when. Talk about your home as if it is a small community and everyone needs to take part. We always say, "We all live here together. We all make messes. We all eat the food and live here. So we all get to work together to clean it up." We also expect them to pick up after themselves. "If you got it out, you put it back." "If it belongs to you, you take care of it." "Be considerate of every member of our family and take care of you and your things and be respectful of other people's things."
As with all kids, our kids would rebel from time to time and flat out tell us "No!" Or they just wouldn't do what had been asked of them. In those times, consequences were then enforced. "Okay. That is fine. You can choose to say no and not do what you've been asked to do, but by saying no, you are also saying no to (whatever privilege they lose). It is your choice. That also means that if we go to a movie as a family this weekend, you will stay home, because you didn't earn it along with the ones who did work." We have taught our kids that privileges aren't free. If they would like to do fun things or go fun places, they need to earn it by helping out around the house. They also learn respect because talking back to mom and dad also results in the loss of privileges. They learn really quickly that life isn't very fun when you don't have any privileges. But it will only work if the parent(s) are consistent and follow through with the consequence. If you give in and let them have the privilege anyway, you've just taught them that if they throw a big enough tantrum, they can get what they want. All that is going to do when they are adults at their place of employment is get them fired. So. Don't. Give. In. Hold your ground. You are the parent after all.
As a parent, teaching a child how to work and how to do a good job as well as being observant and willing to do a job without the expectation of something in return is a true gift. When you teach a child a skill, you give them security. You give them an identity. You let them know they are needed. And when we feel needed, we feel wanted. It is human nature to be wanted. They learn to have courage to try new things and it builds their self-confidence. When you teach a child to work, you teach a child that they are loved. They learn that they are special. So, when you think about it that way, the value placed upon teaching our children how to work is priceless, don't you think?