Monday, January 25, 2016

Joy of Work

     Do you consider it work to brush your teeth at night before bed? So what about washing dishes after dinner—is that work or just part of eating like brushing your teeth? 

     What is work?  Is work a punishment, a hardship, a consequence, or an opportunity?

     An interesting thing happens to children in the preschool years. In not many months, children grow from helpless infants to little creatures who "want to do it by myself."  In this season when children revel in self-reliance, it's a wonderful time to teach them about work.  Many children see work as an opportunity to prove they are big and capable.

     I think it is important for children to learn that work is not punishment. Most work is simply a consequence of living. There is a really big difference between punishment and natural consequences, and understanding that difference can help children grow up to be much happier adults.

     Living is messy. Literally, in every way, living is messy. Being born is messy. Babies are messy. Children are messy. Eating, playing, living, celebrating, even sleeping makes a mess in one way or another. And messes are okay because we know what to do to take care of them. Cleaning up toys is not a punishment for playing. Washing dishes is not a punishment for eating. If cleaning up messes is work, then work is a natural consequence of living—it's part of the package of life.

     The wonderful part of all of this is that most children really do want to be grown-up and wash the dishes, mow the law and vacuum the rug. A few times when we have had a particularly messy day in preschool, I have brought in a vacuum to clean up the rug a little and found the children competing for the opportunity to be the one who gets to vacuum.

     If kids pick up on adult complaints about "How come I'm always the one who has to take out the garbage, do the laundry," and so on, they will quickly adopt the "work as a punishment" mindset, and they are destined to find a lot of grumpiness in everyday life. If children live in a world where the ordinary tasks of life are approached in a casual, matter-of-fact, cheerful way, they will find life a much happier place. Clearing the driveway of snow, putting the toys neatly back on the shelf, digging in the dirt to plant flowers—all of it can actually be very satisfying.

     Obviously, there will be resentment if everyone seems to have free time to relax and just one person takes care of all of the messes. I'd see brushing teeth as work if I had to brush everyone else's teeth for them. Sharing tasks is an important part of a healthy family life.  Mom and Dad need to air their complaints about inequities in private. Parents who bicker about chores will have children who whine and bicker about chores. Working together builds camaraderie, a sense of self-worth in children, and even good memories. Parents give a great gift when they teach their children to work.

© Diane L. Mangum 2008