Yep, my part is over! I had several people ask me after for a copy of my talk so here it is. I would like to explain our “map” of age bench marks in the next few weeks like how we started our 12-year-olds with buying their own school clothes. I posted about it early in this blog but I want to update my thoughts on it. We only had 25 minutes and there wasn’t enough time to explain everything. I also promised a book list to someone so I will get that together the next few weeks as well. Whew! I am glad that’s over!
“Good Afternoon sisters! I loved how validating Liz’s talk was for me the first time I heard it. Let me just say how excited I am to speak on something that I used to feel so unsure about. I have 25 minutes of positive work experiences with my family to talk about. I don’t want it to feel like an Instagram feed that you hate looking at. I hope you can benefit from my inexperience and weaknesses as I have embarked on this journey. The fact that you are even here speaks to your willingness to learn and the righteous, positive influence you will have on your family.
Elder Neil A. Maxwell said: “Our Heavenly Father has described His vast plan for His children by saying, “Behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man”. Consider the significance of the Lord’s use of the word work. What He is doing so lovingly and redemptively is, nevertheless, work—even for Him! In fact —
— work is always a spiritual necessity even if, for some, work is not an economic necessity.”
Here is an example of this principle of work being a spiritual necessity.
Many years ago we became acquainted with a man who was the director for a BYU study abroad program. We were chatting and I asked him what his biggest problem was in managing the program. “Princesses” he said. I said, “In what way?” He said, “ Not keeping their rooms clean or picking up after themselves. In the cafeteria, Not even taking their dishes to be washed, someone else washes them— , feeling entitled to special privileges and thinking the rules don’t apply to them.” You can see why work is a spiritual necessity.
Our first week of marriage my husband came to me as I was throwing my clothes on a chair. He handed me a hanger and earnestly said, “If you hang up your clothes as soon as you take them off, you won’t end up with a big pile like this.” In those early years I realized Craig could clean much better than I could and had an amazing amount of grit. My whole motivation, initially, became to teach my children to work and be responsible so they could internalize these great attributes of their Dad. I wanted them to become a great marriage partner who jumped in and always helped like he did. The problem was, I didn’t know how to do it. I asked older mothers and asked a lot of questions. I read books. I made a lot of mistakes but I kept trying. I am giving you specifics today because that’s what I was looking for when I would come to Women’s conference and Education Week.
These are my learnings culled from 32 years of nurturing and improving. I want to tell you my 5 best practices of teaching your children to work.
#1 Be Strong to Raise Strong
#2 Family Work is God’s Work
#3 Hero’s Learn to Work
#4 Create a You Can Do It Map
#5 The Power Of Waiting
Practice #1–Be Strong to Raise Strong
My Grandmother Adams, was strong. She worked tirelessly during the Great Depression, when there weren’t such things as student loans, Pell grants or easy credit, to see her five daughters educated at BYU. She saved and scrimped and bought homes that needed fixing up at a good price and then rented them out to students in order to afford tuition for her daughters. Her whole family pitched in to make it happen. She was actually called a Fierce Mormon Mother at her funeral, because she lived the Gospel of Jesus Christ with such a full commitment and worked for the good and advancement of every family member, to help them reach their potential. Fierce was an interesting way to describe her because she was actually soft-spoken and shy–just very, very committed. She died when I was 12 and soon after her funeral, I heard my mother say when she was faced with a difficult task, “I am going to be a Fierce Mormon Mother and go take care of that.” Stories about my Grandma Adams and this affirming phrase carried me through the difficulty and commitment it took for me, –to be the one to train the troops. When I said this phrase to myself, I actually felt my backbone strengthen and realized that what I was dealing with was so much easier than my Grandmother’s world.
I could be strong!
What family stories could you tell your children to them how they can become strong?
Practice# 2 Family Work is God’s Work
Someone who really helped me discover the nobility of working with your children was Katherine Slaugh Bahr who was a professor at BYU in the 1990’s. She made the distinction with “housework” which is cleaning your house to “familywork” which is working with your children in order to teach them skills and bond with them. It totally changed my mind-set. Now there was such a purpose to working with my children! I began to see the higher goal of the purpose of work: to sacrifice for each other and learning new skills.
These are some fun ways to do family work:
One friend does “Five from Top to Bottom.” The family races from room to room, each person putting 5 things away in every room of the house. She said, “Even my four-year old can put 5 things away.” By making it a game work becomes play.
Another friend used fake money that her children earned all week as they worked together and then the money was turned in by the children for a fun activity at the end of the week, like a picnic or a movie. I liked how they worked together and pooled their cash so they could all go together.
In my family, some of our “ family work activities” are “5 minute clean-up” where after a meal, the whole family helps the person on dishes for 5 minutes. More than half or three-quarter of the dishes get done that way in that little space of time and then the child on duty can finish up easily by himself.
Hour of Power
In the middle of the 1990’s, I had a new baby, it was summer, and with everyone being home, the mess and chaos had increased. Because I am a visual learner, I sat my children down and placed 24 frozen peas in a straight line on top of the table. We figured out with each other, that after sleeping and eating we had 14 hours left in a day. 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 your work on your daily jobs ) to help our home run better.” Recently, one son, Ross, now 30, said to me, “Remember the peas you put in the 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 triumphantly said to myself, “The visual worked, because you still remember it!”
Thus, began, “The Hour of Work” which morphed into “The Hour of Power” courtesy of my husband. He said, “Let’s put a positive spin on this!” It is Powerful! We worked every week day in the summer, but not the weekends, and only Saturday morning during the school year. 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, before we worked, we started with scripture reading and family prayer .
Make your Familywork fun and not something to dread. You have a captive audience and it’s precious time these days. 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.)
Do it everyday. If you stop and start and seem in any way not committed, the kids will sense your weakness and they will needle and beg to get out of it, every morning. Trust me, and learn from my experience. It never got easier rounding everyone up. I would have children say, in the summer, “Again? We are doing the hour of power today? After years of the same pattern.
As my children have gotten older the sweet fruit of the hour of power is our just being together. Having an hour each day in the summer to talk and laugh with my last two teenagers was such prime time . They also got to experience starting a hard task, every day. They learned that precious craft of being able to make themselves do something they didn’t really want to do. 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 to live on their own.
Family Dinners Family dinners and parties are also an important vehicle for family work because we really stress the phrase “What can I do to help?”. When we see kids standing around we gently remind them to look for something to do. A family in our ward has an ingenious way of doing Sunday dinner. The husband, Dave, wanted the traditional roast and all the fixings plus enough for company and his wife, Lisa said, “That’s too much work! It’s supposed to be a day of rest.” Dave figured out how to streamline the meal. Every child had a job to do for one year. A three-year old can put ice cubes in the glasses for a whole year. A five-year old can set the table. The older children got to make the green beans, the potatoes or the rolls. Dave took the roast and all Lisa has to do every Sunday is a salad. The next year the children start a new part of the meal that is age appropriate. Brilliant!
Working by themselves
A friend of mine said, “ I grew up in a large family and we all worked together. I have a hard time working alone because I was so used to that.” Our kids also have their own daily jobs to do on their own. Over the years we have experimented on paying kids for their basic jobs and for us, we finally decided not to, because it was just part of being a family member. It’s a total of 4 or 5 jobs per child according to the child. I initially had them doing way too much. Keep it to five things at a maximum. Returning and reporting is important on their individual jobs. Some children are naturals, for others it is a long, long haul. 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?
Family Projects This is where Craig was more involved and we would tell them in the beginning, to manage their expectations, what the time frame was. These could be 2 or 3 hours or all day.
I also make a point again, to tell you that I worked mostly solo with my children because even though Craig was the steam engine, 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 this on your own.
Three social scientists at the Brookings Institute said, “A growing body of empirical research demonstrates that people who possess certain character strengths (like) working hard, deferring gratification, or getting along with others, will help them to do well in the labor market, school, family and community. This evidence suggests that character skills may count for a lot – as much, perhaps, as academic skills – in terms of important life outcomes.” Like career, marriage, and general happiness.
Smarts matter, but so does character.
Practice #3– Hero’s Learn to Work or dancing in orange pants
Many stories in children’s literature often have a guide or mentor to help the fledgling hero do their difficult task. But the guide never does it for them. The guide is with them in their struggle but allows the hero to figure out their quest so that the hero truly triumphs. There is something that builds inner grit when your child does something hard and worthwhile, themselves.
You know how to go to the manager of the store, or fight a bad ticket, or call your dentist. You need to train your child to do the very same. Even if they are shy, or lazy, or act helpless. You empower them by using teeny, tiny baby steps and encourage, encourage, encourage!
Here is a recent example of baby steps, with small triumphs along the way, in our family:
One of my daughters wanted to run for student government in high school but missed the first mandatory meeting because we were out-of-town . I heard her weeping at the computer, because she thought her chances were done. I encouraged her to talk to whoever was in charge and see if she could still run. Notice I didn’t run to the school to win her battle, but I encouraged her to do it. She was overwhelmed from the get go, yet she figured out who the gatekeeper was. She got permission to run! First baby step accomplished!
Oh, the importance of that tiny victory that she had won. It strengthened her and gave her the desire to do the next three weeks of emotional hills and valleys and hard work, which included 10 hours of picking up trash at the school. We allowed her to do that by herself. It was part of her quest! We were in her corner putting on band aids and wiping off sweat, then she would head back into the ring. Amazingly, she did win and when we happened upon bright orange pants for her to wear on Spirit Fridays, the whole experience washed over me from the first weeping scene to the joy in the dressing room, dancing in orange pants. What an amazing metamorphosis, with a lot of blood, sweat and tears!
What responsibilities are you doing for your child that they could do for themselves in order to become more strong?
Practice #4 Create a “You Can Do It” Map
Another way you teach your child be a hero in their story is to teach them the skills to be an adult. Feeling responsible and response-able gives your children a superpower that they can do anything.
Recently I couldn’t help overhearing a conversation on a cell phone. A young woman was loudly lamenting to her audience on the phone that she was going to be “dumped into adulthood.” Her in-law’s lease on a car was ending so her mother-in-law wanted the car back so now she “will have to have a car payment.” Then with graduation she would have to pay start paying for her cell phone and her student loans were also going to be due.” This young woman was used to having her way paid and as a senior in college was not feeling ready to launch into adulthood. This young woman was not a hero in her own story. She was feeling overwhelmed and fearful.
There are a thousand ways to teach responsibility. Many people teach their children discipline through sports or music. You can also live on a farm. I have a friend who gave her children an allowance to live on and then all the money from their jobs went right into a mission fund. The following is our way and it doesn’t mean it is the only way—please use what is helpful.
How did we learn to teach our children these super powers? First, we changed their expectations.
Satisfaction is a function of expectation. I invite you to change your child’s expectation that you will pay for everything they need and want in their lives. As we have changed our children’s expectations that we pay for everything, we have seen how resourceful and grateful they become. It is worth any comparing or complaining they do because the fruits are so worth it. We can also be generous with our children out of the blue, and because they don’t expect it, it is so rewarding for both of us.
Initially when we started in 1997 with a 12 and a 9-year-old , and said they needed to start paying for everything, they both started to cry. Ok, so our timing was terrible! Especially for the 9-year-old! First of all, 12 is a good age to start changing your child’s expectations and training him.– any age earlier can be paralyzing. This careful managing of learning to work for others, figuring out your own money and taking responsibility is so tricky. After that initial shock that made our first two children weep, we got better at preparing our children. We created age bench marks to set a path or map for our children. Here are some of our age bench marks . For the sake of time I can’t expound on how we did each one. Just remember the principle of baby steps and being encouraging and excited about their new responsibilities.
- At the age of 12 our child starts working for others for money. 12 year olds are eager to babysit and mow lawns.
- They start washing their own clothes when they are 12.
- At the age of 12 they are responsible for buying their own school clothes, and paying for their entertainment.
I pay for underwear, socks and church clothes. I have found kids don’t care about any of those things. I pay half on their shoes so they’ll buy quality shoes. I also pay all sports expenses including clothing and shoes. I will buy them a first day of school outfit.
- When our children turn 12 they start making their own appointments and calls. For the dentist, the orthodontist. We practice and role play. I sit with them, but they still have to do it.
This is all introduced very slowly and carefully, but you are laying the pattern for their teenage years.
- At 14 they can find 5-10 hours a week job with people in or out of our ward.
- At 14 our children can earn a cell phone and pay for it. Our children have a separate phone bill and we don’t do a family plan with them.
- At 16 they can work and get a real paycheck of minimum wage for at the most 10 hours a week. The value of interviewing with strangers and the process this puts them through is so critical. Plus it is motivating for them to see why getting an education is so important as they work these minimum wage jobs.
- Our kids do their own fundraisers.
- Our kids pay half on school trips, and we pay for Especially For Youth. .”
- Our kids also pay for the bad stuff…broken windows, library fines, speeding tickets, and other stupid stuff they get caught doing.
- With all of this gradual responsibility, we communicate and check in a lot:
- Sunday Night Interviews Are A Must. To encourage, encourage, encourage.
- Zip dates when our children were young we would take them out for $3.00 and 30 minutes for a little one on one time. This has continued into their adult lives with more time and money being spent for a lunch or dinner out. We go every week. This focus will help you see into your child’s heart. Stephen Covey said you have no agenda when you have this time with them. Be your best listener.
- We are striving through all this for them to have no debt, to pay cash as they go, and for us not to not be their creditor.
Creating a map for your child and working with them on the age bench marks with them helps them to develop strong inner qualities like commitment, thrift, cleanliness, curiosity, selflessness contentment, cooperation, and focus. The author, Ryan Holiday says,
“Character is a powerful defense in a world that would love to be able to seduce you, buy you, tempt you and change you.”
As you help your child develop these character strengths during their teenage years you can tell them you are helping them with their inner qualities that will make them shine. So much attention is on appearance and selfies these days. What if you helped them put that kind of effort on their inner selves?
I also have realized that I have to stress to my children, “You work hard, and we work hard and we can launch you together.” I have had conversations with my children when I say, “No matter how much money we have, we still want you to be successful adults. Even if we have the money to pay for everything we would not do it. That is hard for them to understand. I have heard this before, “ But if you loved me you would make my life easier.” I have said back,
“ No I am showing you how the world works so you can be successful in it. Your learning to work and loving work will be one of the greatest gifts we can give you.”
How can you create a map of self-reliance in your child’s life?
Best Practice #5 The Power Of Waiting
There is the famous experiment involving marshmallows and 4 year olds, left in a room. It’s actually kind of old news— but for me what was fascinating–was the second part of this research that hasn’t gotten as much attention. Dr. Walter Mischel, the author of the study, said it showed approximately 70% of the preschoolers couldn’t wait and immediately ate the marshmallow. “Starting in 1981, Mischel sent out a questionnaire to everyone involved with these children, who were by then in high school. He asked about every trait he could think of.
“Once Mischel began analyzing the results, he noticed that low delayers, the children who ate the marshmallow, seemed more likely to have behavioral problems, both in school and at home. They struggled in stressful situations, often had trouble paying attention, and found it difficult to maintain friendships. ”
But before you lose heart about your impulsive child who never waits for anything…
Mischel is particularly excited by the example of the large group of people who failed the marshmallow task but ended up becoming high-delaying adults. “This is the group I’m most interested in,” he says. “They have substantially improved their lives.”
Dr. Mischel has been developing curriculum to help low delayers but
He knows that it’s not enough just to teach kids mental tricks—the real challenge is turning those tricks into habits, and that requires years of diligent practice. “This is where your parents are important,” Mischel says. “Have they established rituals that force you to delay on a daily basis? Do they encourage you to wait? And do they make waiting worthwhile?”
My daughter sent me a post a few months ago from the Humans of New York Blog. The page my daughter sent me showed a picture of a young woman, and underneath her picture she said:
“I think I need to learn discipline. I don’t think I ever learned it when I was young. I had one of those typical inner city stories. My mom was addicted to drugs so I had no bedtime. No wake-up time. No chores to do. Those sound like simple things but they aren’t. I’ve seen a lot of people in college who are able to work really hard at something even if they aren’t very interested in the subject, and I think that’s because they learned discipline.”
Here are a few ways we worked on helping our children to wait.
- Daily rituals like waiting to eat breakfast until your room was clean and the kitchen is closed an hour before dinner.
- No privileges until your work was done
- They saved money for the things they wanted and we didn’t rescue them if they didn’t earn the money..
Dr. Martin Seligman said in his book, “Flourish”,
“If we want to maximize the achievement of children, we need to promote self-discipline. My favorite social psychologist, Roy Baumeister, believes it is the queen of all the virtues, the strength that enables the rest of the strengths.
Learning to wait is also critical for you as a parent—You need to wait for your children to bloom. Sometimes we as an American culture feel like the senior year in high school is the capstone of all of your and their efforts. Not so. All of my 6 children have struggled to bloom in this or that area. People that know my family know that we have had many challenges. My hope for my children is that when they are ready to realize debt is something to be avoided, or how important it is to finish a hard class, or see the value in car insurance, they can make themselves do what they don’t want to do. When the student is ready, the teacher appears. I have seen seeds that I planted in their teenage years suddenly bloom in their 30’s. What I have learned is that you teach and work with your children as much as you can and then let them choose what they will do with it. I believe Joseph Smith when he said, “ I teach them correct principles and let them govern themselves.”
Lastly, The Fruits of being a Fierce Mormon Mother
This year in January one daughter worked past finals through Christmas on her portfolio for the advertising Lab here at BYU because it was due on January 26th. Future employers were making the trip to Utah to look the portfolios over. She requested a double zip date with both of us there. We talked about how amazing it was that she was done early and how intense the last few months had been for her. . Then she turned to my husband and me and said, “ You taught me how to work! The last project we did was with puppets in front of sets we had to design, build and paint and a song we had to write. I didn’t know how it would come together. What I knew is that I could do it. You have taught me that I can do anything I put my mind to. Then she kept repeating, “You two! You taught me how to work!” It was a payday!
It made me think of those hard-won confidence muscles she had earned by babysitting at 12, getting a job when she was 14, calling people herself for fund-raisers, making her own dentist appointments, figuring out her classes for college, and serving a mission. As you expect them to step up to their own plate of adult life, you gracefully and willingly recede and allow them to be their amazing, independent selves. It’s a magnificent changing of the guards. The little worker bee is growing up and becoming the new Queen of her very own kingdom.
“By small and simple things are great things brought to pass.”
Good Luck in your Fierce Mormon Mother efforts. Think of my Grandmother Adams in her small corner of the world quietly working towards her goal of educating her daughters. She didn’t give up despite raising a family in terrible economic times. I have such a testimony of God’s plan of Happiness that has put us into families. As we work with our children we are helping them to be strong and able to serve in God’s Kingdom.”
The Daily Stoic, (page 132)