Caution: Kids at Work

The friendly bagger shook open my reusable bags on Saturday, and eyed the flood of goods making its way down the conveyer belt toward him.

“How heavy should I make these bags?” he asked.

“Load ’em up,” I replied. “I’ve got kids at home to bring them in.”

The cashier paused her scanning. “Your kids help you unload the groceries?” she asked, wide-eyed.

“Only if they want to eat,” I replied.

Her surprise baffled me. If I work to earn money to buy the food, and then shop for it, and turn it into delicious meals, why wouldn’t my kids at least carry the groceries into the house and put them away? It’s called being part of a family.

I’ve been amazed by how many parents I’ve encountered who don’t expect their children to help with the most basic tasks of family life. On the contrary, they’re struggling to do it all so their kids can have it all. But the newest video games, the fastest computers, the sleekest phones and being part of elite club sports teams can’t replace lifelong lessons learned at home.

Specifically, skills learned while wielding a toilet brush or vacuum cleaner. Those skills will be far more useful in daily life than the super speedy thumb work needed to unlock a new achievement in “Gears of War 4.”

Work has never been a forbidden four-letter word at our house. The adage “Many hands make light work,” is so true, and with four sons, we had plenty of helping hands.

Toddlers love to help, so while our kids were still in diapers they learned to set the table for dinner. Picking up their toys before going to the park or watching a video became a breeze thanks to a simple song all four of them can still sing.

“Clean up; clean up, everybody, everywhere!

Clean up, clean up, everybody do your share”

Of course, as they got older getting them to do their work became an onerous chore for me. Arguments about whose turn it was to clean the bathroom, who was supposed to mow the front yard and who didn’t empty the dishwasher ruined many a Saturday morning.

That’s when I bought a white board and hung it in the basement. Each kid had a list of tasks. No television, no video games, and no hanging out with friends until their work was done.

This worked great until they became teenagers. Suddenly schoolwork, sports and socializing, made holding them accountable difficult, but as priorities shifted, so did the workload.

Thankfully, habits ingrained when they were younger paid off. Simple things like rinsing their plates and putting them in the dishwasher after a meal, or taking the trash out on Tuesday before leaving for school, were already second nature.

When I complained to my sister-in-law about my middle-schooler having a fit one morning because his favorite shirt wasn’t washed she said, “Why on earth are you still doing his laundry?”

Bingo! The next day, I gathered all four of them in the laundry room and showed them how to use the machines. To avoid fights, I assigned them each a laundry day. No one ever yelled at me again about not having clean clothes.

The only drawback to raising kids who know how to work is that as soon as they’re able, they want to work outside the house. You know, where people actually pay them money for their labor.

Our three older sons got jobs while still in high school. As long as they maintained a respectable GPA, made time for sports or social commitments and didn’t seem overwhelmed, we encouraged their efforts even though it meant a re-division of the workload at home.

Now, Sam has followed their example. Two weeks ago he started working at Shopko. As if that wasn’t enough change in our household routine, our middle son Zach is moving to Nashville.

I might want to start having my grocery bags packed just a little bit lighter.

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.” You can listen to her podcast “Life, Love and Raising Sons” at SpokaneTalksOnline.com. Her previous columns are available online at spokesman.com/ columnists. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval

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