Spiders weave. Squirrels seek. Ants lug.
All around us there is busyness, all around us there are jobs. But for who?
The Man goes off to work each day, bright and early and comes home when sun is nearing the horizon again. He comes home, bearing the gift of his sweat in paper form and heads to the woods to toil and split ax against wood. These things he does so that we too might become warmed and filled. He can do this each day with confidence because as he leaves, he trusts that those things within house and home will be taken care of without him.
The Woman sets about weaving and washing, seeking truths and pursuing them, lugging from garden to grocer. Her own responsibilities never waver. They are the same each morning. These things have always been, even as animals were named and fruit was plucked from tree.
In some homes, this is enough. God made it so, and so it is perfect.
In other homes, Woman sets about with children about her feet, nipping at her heels and tugging at her sleeves. It is more difficult but God made it so, and so it is perfect.
But what are these little creatures to do? What is THEIR job? Do they have one? Surely NOT, they are SO little!
And yet: aren't they someday Men and someday Women? I sit with them all snuggled in, reading and teaching them the alphabet not just because snuggling feels good (though it does) and not just because it is fun (though it is) but because I want them to have a love for reading and for learning and I want them to have access to them when they are grown. Little ones, they cannot stay.
Just as we teach them reading and writing because it is important to them as adults, we must prepare for their adulthood now in matters of CHARACTER as well. To assume a child's job is to play and enjoy themselves solely is to say that you want them as adults, to play and enjoy themselves solely.
It is vitally important that children learn (and this, by being taught) how to be diligent and hard working in order to ensure the next generation (who will be taking care of us old fogies) will be the same. Their role as children, considering of course their frame and limitations, is to be practicing adults.
Do not misunderstand! Children ought to play! Children ought to explore and imagine and devise and pretend and do all other manner of childish things. But that is not their sole purpose in life. Children need to have responsibilities so that when Manhood and Womanhood comes, they will know what to do with them.
But God fashioned it so perfectly! I find it in the crawling bright eyed baby pulling herself up my leg, in the three year old boy who finds me in the kitchen and leans on counter just to watch me cook. Every. single. meal. I find it in six year old girl, who imitates me in every manner possible: organizing her "kitchen" shelves, toting around sweetlings, pleading to make grilled cheese all by herself. Everywhere I turn, there they are, begging to be included, PLEADING to be involved.
Perhaps God made them so eager to ease us into this thing called life-training. Children are eager to learn and do and imitate when they are small. Every time. It is in their blood. In their being. It is who children are.
If they are no longer interested in being involved, then they have been denied too many times.
Their eagerness is our ticket to an easy(ier) ride. When they are eager, when they start out PLEADING...that is the perfect time to begin. They think they are so big and are so proud~they never realize it IS a job. They think of it more as fun. A priviledge.
Giving children responsibilities of their own gives them ownership, a feeling of importance, and most importantly imbeds in them a desire to please, work hard, and give (time and sweat) for the benefit of others.
Sometimes it is easier (and neater) to put clothes away yourself, or to make beds. But this is NOT easier in the long run, especially when children grow up realizing you've always done it for them so why start now? And when they are older, that earnest desire to be WITH you is not as strong, so your window of opportuntity has already begun to shut. It's going to take a LOT more work to open the window up again.
The Man of the house works hard for the good of the family. The Woman of the house works hard for the good of the family. The Children, also, need to work hard for the good of the family.
How do these things play out? My way is not the only way, only mine. With that in mind, here are some of the things we do.
The Man and the Woman need to work hard as an example. Little ones want to imitate you so let them imitate the good.
- Little Ones need to be encouraged around, and made to feel welcome with you. If you are working in the kitchen, enjoy them when they come in or ask them to come and sit and chat with you while you work. Let them know you enjoy their presence and they will make it known more. (Even if they aren't working alongside you, you are teaching them to be close. Eventually, the wanting to work alongside you will come.)
- Try very hard not to say : "GO PLAY!"
- Start EARLY. No child is TOO young to help out. If you start them young, it will be a way of life for them and not at all burdensome.
- Give them responsibilities that they can handle.
My three and six year old help to hang clothes and get better every day at folding clothes. They take their clothes to their room and put them away. They both learned VERY early to clean up the toys they were playing with. They help bring in groceries. They set the table (the three year old doesn't get the right placement of the silverwear but, hey, that's ok!) They hang their coats up and put their shoes away. They make their beds. They sweep under the tables. They dust. They help cook. They wipe the sink, hold doors open for people, push in their chairs when they are done eating, wipe down tables, they have even asked to do dishes once or twice! The list is neverending.
- What is important is that I don't expect perfection (sometimes that is hard!) and that I involve them in what I am doing. They dust when I dust. Not because they are now "officially" in charge of the dusting....rather, to get them working alongside me.
- Expect much. We OFTEN shortchange our children, not realizing how capable they really are. We don't ask them to do something because we figure they can't do it. You might be surprised! If you are unsure, ask them to do it, then watch. If they do the job with no problems, CHEER! If they struggle, sit with them and do it with them, explaining as you go. You'll know for next time that it is a wee bit too difficult for them.
- We don't pay them for the work they do. We work together for the good of the family. They work out of obedience, not for reward. That said, we do occasionally give them money for jobs out of the ordinary or to surprise them. Just because.
- If they do a job well one time, expect it to be done well EVERY time.
- Never forget to thank and praise. Thank them for their help and praise them for their abilities and willingness.
Say you dropped the ball and you've got older children who grumble and complain, who haven't been made to do a (stinkin') thing. This is what you need to do.
Apologize to them. Make your (new) expectations known and be consistent. Be firm, but kind. Give them something in return. Don't reward them with money because at this point, they NEED to learn to work hard out of obedience since they never got that lesson before. Instead, reward them with YOU. Take time out of your schedule to do what THEY want to do, go out with just THEM, have intimate conversations. Thank them for their help and praise them for their willingness.
Character building ISN'T like the alphabet~where once you know it, you know it. You will be building character every day of their childhood. You are practicing character building every day of YOUR life, too, come to think of it!) It is interesting, though, because at some point, they start to "get it" and you can see the fruits.
Several months ago, I took a job cleaning a church once a week. I am not above cleaning (ha!) and every little bit of extra money helps. It is fabulous because I can take my children with me to work and not worry about a thing. As we began, I gave the children jobs to do to occupy them while I worked. Since it was a PAYING job, this was one of the times I have chosen to pay THEM for their work. They each get a dollar for completion of their jobs; Andrew must clean the pews of bulletins and paper and straighten the bibles and psaltors, Corynn must wipe down all the chairs and tables in the fellowship area. When they are done their jobs, they can play in the nursery until I am done (as long as they then clean UP the nursery before leaving).
One day a few weeks back I was sweeping under the tables and Corynn was wiping the chairs down, both of us humming along as we worked, when she stopped and said "You know Mama. I think working is fun. But it is SPECIALLY fun when I am working with you."
That was a very big fruit.