One of our most enduring and successful Familywork “vehicles” in our family is the “Hour of Power”. In the middle of the 1990’s, I had a new baby, my fifth child, and was overwhelmed by how much there was to do. It was summer, and with everyone being home, the mess and chaos had increased dramatically. In a flash of brilliance, or desperation that is given to us mothers who are ‘in the trenches’, and because I am a visual learner, I sat my children around our kitchen table and placed 24 peas in a straight line on top of it. I had been frustrated in trying to get us all to work and wanted to try out a new concept. I asked, “How many hours are in a day?” “24” they all chirped. “How many do we need to sleep, or to eat?” Well the older children figured maybe that was 9 or 10 hours. I set those over in another part of the table. I said, “How many are left?” They decided there were 14 hours left. I pointed to the remaining peas, and said, “Look at these hours that you can play, or read, or watch a movie! All I need is one hour a day (plus their work on their daily jobs ) to help our home run better and all of us working together.” They looked at me, I looked at them and I reached out and plucked one pea from the line to make my point. I’m sure they thought, “One little pea, how hard can that be?” In the context of the other twenty-three hours they looked at the row of peas and they agreed. Recently, one son, Ross, now 26, said to me, “Remember the peas you put in a row? You showed us one little shriveled pea and said, “This pea stands for one hour of work!” We laughed and laughed about that. But I said to myself, “The visual worked, because you still remember it!”
Thus, began, “The Hour of Work” which morphed into “The Hour of Power” (not to be confused with the popular evangelical program!), courtesy of my husband. He said, “Let’s put a positive spin on this!” We work every week day in the summer, but not the weekends, and only Saturday morning during the school year. Again, this is driven by me because my husband works and travels year round and his schedule doesn’t shift like the children’s. If I didn’t feel strongly about Familywork it wouldn’t happen with such regularity. When my children were young and woke up early, we started early. Because of a family’s example in our neighborhood, we started the morning with our scripture reading and family prayer. We also spent the first 10 minutes cleaning the kitchen together. Facing a dirty kitchen after the intense effort of the Hour of Power was always discouraging to me.
As the children got older I would let them sleep in until 9, unless we were doing yard work. At first when we would spend an hour cleaning out the garage, my husband would say, “But you’re not finishing the project!” And I would respond by telling him that we would take three days to finish the work but we would finish it. The hour was a manageable time frame where the kids could participate in the work but also see the end. I could see the end too. I could get things rolling and make it through the complaining, teasing, and whining part that would show up a lot . It wasn’t endless work and the beauty of it is it made the rest of the day so great. The work framed my children’s day so they valued their free time more. There was no “Mom, I’m bored.” They couldn’t wait to get away!
Oh, the power of the “group endeavor” as learned from “Little Heathens”! There is a collective force at work when you have these little bodies running back and forth. We did so much in that hour! We pulled weeds, sorted rooms, deep cleaned refrigerators and freezers, put their school papers into scrapbooks, painted rooms and furniture, made bread, did sewing projects, laid brick for a patio, and on and on. We all got better at gardening, painting, and cooking. I learned along with my children. Someone always had to tend the baby or toddler and in that hour everyone wanted that job. It was percieved as the easiest one to do.
We have the Hour of Power everyday in the summer. If a teenager was involved in an activity like our church’s girl’s camp or other summer camps offered, that one child would miss that week of work because they weren’t home. They always felt gleeful about missing the week of the hour of power. They weren’t homesick ever. That was another reinforcer that made it easy for them to leave because they were getting out of work. We also do service—do things in secret for my Aunt Elsie’s yard or my Mom’s cabin in Provo Canyon.
On the few hectic mornings when I could not work with them, I would give them an easy list that took half the time and they were thrilled. But being consistent is important. It is the whole secret. Put on your Fierce, Mormon Mother shoes and do it everyday. If you stop and start and seem in any way not committed, they will needle and beg to get out of it, every morning. Trust me, and learn from my experience.
My children would groan when I said it’s time for the Hour of Power, but when my 21-year-old son applied for a job on campus where he went to college, he attributed the Hour of Power on his application to teaching him how to work. I also spied a mention of it on my 8th grader’s junior honor society application that she wrote on our computer. What a payday that is when you come upon an unexpected tribute in front of you on the computer! Really for them, it’s a huge “bank account” of hours where they saw it was a priority in our home. It’s a broad foundation that they can fall back on as they go forward and apply or are interviewed and can say with confidence, “I know how to work”.
As my children have gotten older the sweet fruit of the hour of power is just being together. Having an hour each day in the summer to talk and laugh with my last two teenagers was so amazing for me. Being together is such prime time .
With an older son, the last June he lived with us, doing the’ Hour of Power’ with him was the only time during the day we would have any conversation. He would inevitably wear his ear buds and listen to music when we were weeding, to be his own teenage self in his own space. I noticed he would still listen a lot because he would startle us with his unexpected comments bursting into our conversation and he would talk louder than we were over the music he was listening to. It was like he couldn’t help himself, talking with us, even though he brought out his music to give himself that teenage distance. The rest of us would look at each other sideways and hide our smiles from him. It’s a great memory for me.
They are also learning so many skills that will help them in their future lives. They will have to start their lives in humble circumstances and bad furniture. You can teach them to fix-up, clean up, cook, sew and most importantly, how to finish strong. Your children will feel comfortable and ready for the world of work.
My next post will be on family dinners and projects. How do you handle getting your children to work in the summer? Please share!