Do you know what values motivate you? Years ago Dennis and I made individual lists of what mattered to each of us. Then we combined those lists into one page of values we used to make decisions about how we raised our kids, what we taught them, and how we spent our time as a family.
It wasn’t as easy as it may sound. We disagreed, of course. As I wrote in my book, Letters to My Daughters, “Different ingredients don’t blend easily.” But once we created a single list we had a mutually agreed upon starting place. Over the years we modified it as we remembered qualities or learned a truth from the Bible that we had to include. (We wrote about how to do this in our book, The Art of Parenting, chapter three.)
It will make a huge difference in your marriage and your parenting if you take the time to create a unified list of values. Once you do, you will be operating literally off the same song sheet. And if you are a single mom this will be easier for you but especially important because you need the help.
We included a list of 40 character qualities we wanted to teach our children before they turned 18 in our book.
One of my contributions to our top five values was the importance of our kids learning to work.
God put us in His creation to work with it, manage it, and steward it. All occupations that are needed in our world—from driving semi-trucks, to service jobs, parenting, ministry work, or selling insurance—are good and can be a daily offering to God as we labor for His glory.
Our children worked from the time they were little. They loved helping me when they were old enough to carry things for mommy. Of course they made messes and it would have been easier if I’d just done it, but if we don’t introduce them to the joy of working when they are little it will be much harder when they are older. Hence the modern #adulting. It’s not so hard to be an adult if you learn it slowly over the first 18 years of life.
Work is a holy calling. God declared in the Garden that Adam and Eve were to work for six days and rest on the seventh. And work isn’t optional either.
Here are some of the jobs our kids did and the ages when they began.
1. At age three they began to run little errands for me: get mommy a diaper for the baby … take this pile of clothes (a manageable one for their size) to your sister’s room. I also gave them small jobs like emptying the silverware holder from the dishwasher into the drawer. It’s a great “matching things” exercise. And I let them carefully move eggs from the carton to the container for the refrigerator. My daughter, Rebecca, who went to culinary school, began teaching her twins to cut and chop foods at age three with child-safe knives.
2. At age four or five they began to pick up their toys, clean their room and put on their own clothes. None of this is easy. Instruction takes endless repetition, but these small tasks are the beginning steps of learning to work and be responsible.
3. In early to upper elementary age, our kids began to do regular chores. Emptying the dishwasher, carrying folded laundry or grocery sacks from the car, making their beds, feeding the animals, etc. I made charts for years to help them see their progress and earn rewards. They learned to rake leaves, help Dad with the mowing, wash and dry dishes, load the dishwasher, help with baby sister by reading her a book or getting her some toys. Whatever I did I constantly looked for opportunities to teach my children, knowing one day they would be adults whose lives would include all of this kind of work.
4. We also gave them the responsibility at 12 or 14 of doing all their own laundry. By paying for a brand-new pair of expensive jeans with their own cash, they were much more careful when washing them!
5. At 14 we increased our kids’ allowances so they could begin to budget and learn to buy their own clothes. We had many interesting conversations as personal preferences came out. Like the time our son decided he wanted the hottest new tennis shoes. It was more than his entire monthly allowance but he saved and bought them two months later. But it meant he couldn’t purchase anything else.
Their personal taste also made them realize they needed extra income, so getting jobs babysitting, mowing lawns, or at Chick-fil-A became a much more needed decision. I remember Dennis telling our teens, “You are becoming an adult and we are not responsible to satisfy your adult tastes.” Learning to stretch their dollars was valuable training for their futures.
6. Then we let them work for others. Answering to a boss is important learning. One of our sons worked at 16 for a small construction company and learned to do roofing. In the hot southern sun. It was the summer he became a man.
Most of my kids are teaching theirs to work too. And they’ve lowered the age level for some of these jobs like laundry and I say “Way to go!”
The tendency today to extend adolescence into the late 20s is not good for anyone—parents, the young adults or society. This is especially unhealthy for boys. One of my favorite verses for parenting was, “It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth” (Lamentations 3:27). Teach your kids to work. Don’t pamper them or over-indulge them.
Help them learn to celebrate the goodness of God in giving us meaningful work in His creation!