Another Familywork vehicle was doing family projects, where my husband, Craig, was more involved and we would tell them in the beginning, to manage their expectations, that it was a 2 or 3 hour project, or a 4 or 5 hour project. For a “newbie worker” the time element is really important. Keep to your time frame! Really, your workers depend on you doing what you will say you will do. These family projects would include making jam, painting, or renting the canner from the LDS church cannery and doing our own food storage production line.
I also make a point again, to tell you that I worked mostly solo with my children because even though Craig is a hard worker, I don’t want to paint the picture of Familywork bliss where Craig came out in his overalls and I in my apron and pitchfork and we sang through the chores as a family. His work life involved a lot of travel so if “it was to be, it was up to me”. If your husband isn’t as committed, or not excited or available, you can still do it on your own. It adds an element to your Fierceness, or dedication, to raising your children to be workers.
One Monday morning a few years ago my children had a school day off and I told them the night before I needed them from 7 am to noon. I started the night before so that it wasn’t a shock to them that part of their day off from school I needed their help. There were still moans and groans. But they were much less vocal the night before. We needed to paint the kitchen and I told them we all had to help and then I would take them to our favorite hamburger place afterwards. We worked until noon because that’s what I told them. I had set their expectations ahead of time. Again, there was probably another hour of work to do but I stuck to the time frame that I had told them, I finished up, and delivered on the promised hamburgers.
I got five hours of work out of two teenagers and two children, a newly painted kitchen and time with my kids. They got to work together, listen to music, laugh, watch my son Chase paint the walls with funny designs before the new paint went on, learn how to paint for their future homes, and contribute to the family, plus the memory and bonding that endures.
Another wonderful consequence is that they treasure their time after the work. You have helped them do something hard. They can feel my gratitude and love for contributing to the family. It’s like how good your body feels after you exercise. You are left with this amazing physical well-being even though muscles might be sore. Similarly, after a good family work party there is a “rush” of family duty and the happiness that the contribution of effort brings. They still had the whole afternoon to do what they wanted to do and relish doing it. The work frames the play and makes it more enjoyable. I enjoyed reading the following highlights from an article in the New York Times in October 2015:
“This weekend, why not get a big household job done — as a family?’
“Clean the garage. Prepare the yard for winter, clear out the storage unit, paint the family room, pick 50 pounds of apples and turn them all into a winter’s worth of frozen pie filling and, while you’re at it, turn 50 pounds of tomatoes into sauce. Pick something that is hard, that demands a contribution from every member of the family, and won’t be done until long after everyone is well and thoroughly sick of it, then see it through to the end.’
“Research suggests that characteristics like drive and prudence can matter as much as academic skills to a person’s adult economic success. That fits with our instinct as parents — we know it’s not enough to know how to do something. You have to be able to get the thing done.
“This is hardly a revelation: most of us would think it a matter of common sense that being able to work hard, defer gratification, or get along with others will help somebody to do well in the labor market, school, family and community. Why the interest now? Three reasons: First, there is more concrete evidence for our intuition that character matters, thanks to the work of Jim Heckman, Angela Duckworth, Carmit Segal and others, summarized in Paul Tough’s recent book, How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character. Second, this evidence suggests that character skills may count for a lot – as much, perhaps, as cognitive skills – in terms of important life outcomes. Third, given their proven importance, it seems to many observers (including ourselves) that too little attention is paid by policy-makers to the cultivation and distribution of these character skills.’
The last reason to me, is amusing. “Policy-makers” aren’t the ones I listen to when I’m working with my husband to build character strengths and grit in our children. “Policy-makers” can’t throw enough money or programs to help make a family strong. My husband and I listen to God and what He wants, we listen to Prophets and Apostles, and we build on the wisdom of our parents and grandparents. We are choosing to pay a lot of attention to “the cultivation and distribution of these character skills.” A lot of attention.
Family dinners and parties are also an important vehicle for family work because we really stress the phrase “What can I do to help?”. We really gave a child a lot of attention when they learned how to assess the situation, saw the water glasses needed filling and, on their own, filled them. Those dinners are so important to family unity but they are a lot of work. I remember once my 13-year-old daughter saw we didn’t have dessert and said, “Do you want me to make brownies?” I did! I told her, “Thank you for noticing!” I’d had a hectic day at church and this big family dinner and she was paying attention and noticing what we needed without me telling her. When we see kids standing around we gently remind them to look for ways to help. This is an incredible way to teach children not to be told what to do on every single thing.
The Boyce family in our church congregation recently gave a presentation of what they do on Sunday. One of the things they do as a family was to prepare a large meal and invite people over. The husband, Dave, wanted a traditional Sunday dinner and his wife Lisa balked at the idea of a big meal what would take too much time and be too much work, on what we, as Mormons, feel is a day of rest and worship. They examined the meal and brilliantly simplified it. Dave decided if they did the same meal every Sunday, they would get very efficient at it. They also increased the efficiency by assigning each one of their 6 children a job to prepare the meal for the whole year. The same job. A 3-year old learned to put ice in the glasses the first year. All year. Then as a 4-year-old you got to make lemonade and pour it into the glasses. You then could graduate to setting the table, making the mashed potatoes, the rolls, and the roast. Happy Lisa, the mom, got to make the salad every Sunday, and that’s it! That felt like a rest to her after cooking all week. What an amazing example of Familywork, where everyone has their own job and is working together to make something delicious and fun with company coming over. Lisa also said because of their many moves over the last 10 years, this Sunday tradition really rooted them, no matter where they were. Her children have written school assignments about it, that this tradition is part of their family identity.
I watched my mother-in-law for many years make family dinners a priority and be such a magnet for her adult children to be attracted to and make coming home a priority. The reason they have been so successful is she didn’t do all the work. She had trained her children to bring food and all jump in at the end to finish up the big mess together. When you are working with your children on big dinners they are learning so many skills. Setting a table, cooking, serving, seeing to guest’s needs, when to clear, how to clean-up. When you put on a dinner without requiring any help from them you are setting up years of martyrdom and hard work for yourself because your family just keeps getting bigger. Require them to help, even after they move out. It’s a critical way to keep traditions going and to teach them to serve. In fact, we still need to remind our adult children every now and again to get off the couch and help. It surprises me still, that we have to ask, but we do.
As you figure out what works for all of your Familywork vehicles, just remember to…
1. Manage expectations. Be clear about the time and the quality expected. With the Hour of Power, I had fast workers that were always angling to finish and be gone. I told them I needed them for an hour and we would all work together. No doing it in 20 minutes, even though they could work circles around a younger sibling. Then we would stop in an hour. My focus wasn’t teaching them to work fast but to work with them in order to teach them to do a job thoroughly, and be with them bonding throughout the hour.
2. Make your Familywork fun and not something to dread. Reinforce with music, praise, tell stories and if it’s a bigger project reward with a movie out or ice cream. You have a captive audience and it’s precious time these days. Make it feel good so they want to be around you. That means you have high energy, purpose, and praise when you work with them. I would rotate the hour of power in the summers from hard(yard work) to fun(cooking something) to interesting (working on their scrapbooks.)
3. Returning and reporting is important on their individual jobs. You are training them to be stewards, to do a job well, to take pride in their work. Some children are naturals, for others it is a long, long haul. It takes commitment to check their work day after day, to keep holding them to a high standard. I often moan at the commitment of the continual checking off of some children, but then I think, if I don’t have the patience to work with them, who will?
4. Most importantly, you are teaching them to sacrifice for the family. You are teaching them to be self-sufficient with skills they’ll need to be an adult. And, according to the above New York Times article, working together as a family helps build our character and to learn to finish and have grit . As you make work a priority in your family, it will become a priority as they look for a mate and just as important, they will marry someone who is worthy of them! You aren’t raising them to be high maintenance individuals. You don’t want them to be attracted by that. You are helping them to gain the confidence they’ll need to navigate the world and be a successful adult.
Any suggestions on family projects or dinners? Please comment below. Friday I am posting about my “most favorite’ book I have read this year.
2 thoughts on “Work Consistently and Cheerfully with Your Children: Family Projects and Dinners”
Hi Suki –
Really enjoyed reading this article. It reminded me of the Saturday mornings where we’d have the kids help us with our weekly house cleaning chores like mopping the kitchen floor. I’d put the Bette Midler CD on, crank it up and lead the way with the mop. Two of our kids would follow me with clean water mops and two would follow their siblings with drying rags. It would only take us about 30 minutes but we all had fun doing it as we jived to the music. My kids still have fond memories – believe it or not – of these Saturday mornings.
You and Craig also had a major influence on our family when you introduced us to the concept of “token economy”. It was a framework for teaching the value of money and for accountability. Heidi and I no longer had to ride the kids to get their individual chores done nor did we have to decide what clothing items we should buy for them. Instead of them feeling like they were entitled to the latest and most expensive clothing fads and pestering us to buy everything they thought we should buy for them, they took control of their finances and buying habits. I saw my oldest daughter always perusing the paper for sales. Robby started shopping at DI! Heidi no longer had to beg and cajole the kids to make their beds and get their weekly chores done. Because of this tool, all of our kids know how to properly manage their finances. (I will say that they were not too particularly pleased with me when I was asked to teach the concept at Homemaking night to the sisters in the ward!)
Anyway- keep up your writing! I think a lot of families will be able to take some of your pearls and apply them to their own situations.
Thanks so much for reading and commenting! I appreciate you sharing your good memories of working with your children. They DO appreciate as they get older, not always in the minute. Yes, we are still doing the “token economy” with our last son. James Jones introduced his program to us at Education Week. We adjusted it to fit our family, but it is a powerful tool. Thanks for reaching out, Bob!