Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Family Work

Oh, what do you do in the summertime, when all the world is green?

Those of you who are currently with young ones at home and out of school, your answer might be like mine….trying to be patient, loving, and to keep the TV/media stuff off for as long as possible!

One thing that I have really been pushing this summer is to teach my children how to work, and there are days that it just does not go over well around here. I have been baffled at how my children can become so lazy & whiny the moment I mention it’s time to work on their chores. Honestly, I was at a complete loss and had turned to the Lord for some major help in the patience department when Owenna e-mailed me an article she had been telling me about that her sister Kathleen (who is a professor...) wrote for BYU Magazine.

The Article is entitled, “Family Work,” and gave me a lot of food for thought. In the article, Kathleen Slaugh Bahr discusses the differences between her childhood growing up working TOGETHER with her family, and the ways that we now try to make our children work. She states:

People who see the value of family work only in terms of the economic value of processes that yield measurable products--washed dishes, baked bread, swept floors, clothed children--miss what some call the "invisible household production" that occurs at the same time, but which is, in fact, more important to family-building and character development than the economic products. Here lies the real power of family work--its potential to transform lives, to forge strong families, to build strong communities. It is the power to quietly, effectively urge hearts and minds toward a oneness known only in Zion.

Kathleen then discusses the role of work from the beginning with Adam and Eve, on through the ages to the major changes in our expectations that have come to us in the last century. Along with understanding the role of family work, she also discusses some by-products that come with working together.

Ironically, it is the very things commonly disliked about family work that offer the greatest possibilities for nurturing close relationships and forging family ties. Some people dislike family work because, they say, it is mindless. Yet chores that can be done with a minimum of concentration leave our minds free to focus on one another as we work together. We can talk, sing, or tell stories as we work. Working side by side tends to dissolve feelings of hierarchy, making it easier for children to discuss topics of concern with their parents. Unlike play, which usually requires mental concentration as well as physical involvement, family work invites intimate conversation between parent and child.

We also tend to think of household work as menial, and much of it is. Yet, because it is menial, even the smallest child can make a meaningful contribution. Children can learn to fold laundry, wash windows, or sort silverware with sufficient skill to feel valued as part of the family. Since daily tasks range from the simple to the complex, participants at every level can feel competent yet challenged, including the parents with their overall responsibility for coordinating tasks, people, and projects into a cooperative, working whole.

Another characteristic of ordinary family work that gives it such power is repetition. Almost as quickly as it is done, it must be redone. Dust gathers on furniture, dirt accumulates on floors, beds get messed up, children get hungry and dirty, meals are eaten, clothes become soiled. As any homemaker can tell you, the work is never done. When compared with the qualities of work that are prized in the public sphere, this aspect of family work seems to be just another reason to devalue it. However, each rendering of a task is a new invitation for all to enter the family circle. The most ordinary chores can become daily rituals of family love and belonging. Family identity is built moment by moment amidst the talking and teasing, the singing and storytelling, and even the quarreling and anguish that may attend such work sessions.

And at my house, there has definitely been some quarreling and anguish, but I’m hoping to dwell more on the part about building love and unity. Without actually copying the entire article here (because there are so many gems that I loved), I’ll leave you with just a few more of my favorite paragraphs that came from some of Kathleen’s research.

A frequent temptation in our busy lives today is to do the necessary family work by ourselves. A mother, tired from a long day of work in the office, may find it easier to do the work herself than to add the extra job of getting a family member to help. A related temptation is to make each child responsible only for his own mess, to put away his own toys, to clean his own room, to do his own laundry, and then to consider this enough family work to require of a child. When we structure work this way, we may shortchange ourselves by minimizing the potential for growing together that comes from doing the work for and with each other.

Canadian scholars Joan Grusec and Lorenzo Cohen, along with Australian Jacqueline Goodnow, compared children who did "self-care tasks" such as cleaning up their own rooms or doing their own laundry, with children who participated in "family-care tasks" such as setting the table or cleaning up a space that is shared with others. They found that it is the work one does "for others" that leads to the development of concern for others, while "work that focuses on what is one's 'own,'" does not. Other studies have also reported a positive link between household work and observed actions of helpfulness toward others. In one international study, African children who did "predominantly family-care tasks [such as] fetching wood or water, looking after siblings, running errands for parents" showed a high degree of helpfulness while "children in the Northeast United States, whose primary task in the household was to clean their own room, were the least helpful of all the children in the six cultures that were studied."

In a world that lauds the signing of peace treaties and the building of skyscrapers as the truly great work, how can we make such a big thing out of folding laundry? Gary Saul Morson, a professor of Russian literature at Northwestern University, argues convincingly that "the important events are not the great ones, but the infinitely numerous and apparently inconsequential ordinary ones, which, taken together, are far more effective and significant."

Don't you love that last part?  I truly believe it. I know that building character is going to take more than just one day, and that the "infinitely numerous and apparently inconsequential moments" may be the most important thing I can do for my children (I just wish they'd believe me if I told them that).

I think I’ll put more air in my inflatable bag of patience…I’m going back in for another round of family work, and this time I think I’ll join in with the kids and we’ll work together! No matter how tough it gets, it’ll be worth it, right?

Thanks Owenna for the link! (And is it any wonder that this educated & gifted author is related to our dear, wise Owenna? ;) Read the whole article here. It’s worth your time!

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1 comment:

  1. Fabulous article! Don't worry Devon and moms out there, when your children are older they will appreciate that you taught them to work, that they were an important part of the family. They'll remember the conversations, the daily rituals, and their small contributions to the family.

    And try this next time they whine, say "never the less I've asked you to do this". Never-the-less acknowledges their feelings but lets them know you expect it done. Works for things like "my friends don't have to clean at their house" "I want to play right now", and "I don't want to go". Try it!


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