The next few posts deals with barriers in our culture that our parents didn’t have to deal with when it came to teaching their children to work. If you are over 40 you might remember playing outside all the time. Summer, winter, the children of the 1960’s were out there. Alas, that freedom is an anomaly now. Well publicized kidnappings, a rising crime rate and our desire to protect our children from things we fear, real or imagined, has taken its toll on childhood freedom. As children have come indoors to be safe, that parental fear has blanketed the work and play they did outside for thousands of years. The following eight barriers in this and the following posts, are some of the challenges we face as parents when it comes to teaching your children to work.
Barrier #1–Our American culture promotes entertaining your children.
Somehow, from our parents generation to mine, we have become responsible for our children’s entertainment all the time. It’s part of the monitoring to keep them safe, and my generation of Baby Boomers want our children to have better lives than we did. We fill their lives with lessons, sporting activities, and organized play dates. The shift in media showing productive children to leisurely children is real. I remember watching “Little Rascals, when I was little, which was a television series where the children growing up in the Great Depression were always angling to make money. They would collect soda bottles for pennies. They would put on a show and charge a few cents admission. Their parents were not handing out money to them, so they had to be resourceful and creative. Movies and television now show children at many leisure activities, like being on the computer or listening to music, speaking rudely to their parents and being exasperated if they are asked to help.
The only other programs that I remember showing daily chores are reruns of “Little House on the Prairie” which was a show about pioneers or “The Waltons” which shows a large and loving family and their trials during the Great Depression. Even the Brady Bunch had good old Alice doing a lot of the Familywork.
From my viewpoint, requiring work from and with your children in addition to the constant structured schedules of lessons and sports is just as important for their self confidence and self ability as the outside lessons which are used to promote that. The other end of the spectrum, which is allowing children to entertain themselves with video games and television constantly without any boundaries is irresponsible. (See letters from my very first post.) Work frames the play and makes it richer because they have accomplished and contributed to the household and now are free to focus on an activity they enjoy.
Barrier #2–We don’t live on farms anymore.
Another barrier to Familywork is that our children aren’t needed to support the family like they were on the family farms of yesteryear. Because 98% of us aren’t living on farms requiring every able-bodied human and every extra pair of hands, we can bypass work more easily, or they can talk us out of it, or it’s easier to do it ourselves. I was deeply interested when I read Mildred Kalish Armstrong’s book, “Little Heathens: Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm During the Great Depression”. She lays out in great detail how it took everyone, before indoor plumbing and electricity, to keep shelter overhead and food on the table. Even the toddlers were taken out to the garden to help pick the vegetables. Her mother was divorced and needed every hand on deck. The children were divided into “Big Kids” and “Little Kids” and brought water, filled the wood box, worked long hours in the fields, took care of the animals, helped with wash day, and made meals three times a day with the dishwashing after, to name just a few of their responsibilities. Over and over in the book is the theme of family unity, self-reliance and confidence earned from being so skilled. I am not promoting 12 hours of manual labor for our families a day. We all want to live “The Good Life” and work hard to excel in the workplace, with time for relaxation. But reading this memoir made me realize just how far the pendulum has swung the other way.
What do you think? Do you feel responsible for your child’s time and entertainment?