Grrrr! ALL of the tiny corn seedlings, except for one perfect row, had emerged in one six-inch-diameter circle. I immediately knew why.
Two weeks prior, we had spent the day planting part of our garden. We meticulously laid out all of the soaker hoses, assigned each child a different crop to plant, and showed them how.
I had helped Drew, our oldest son, then 8 years old, plant the first row, which had all emerged like perfect soldiers, seedlings standing neatly in a row, and then left him to plant the rest while I helped a younger child plant tomato plants. I remembered back to that night and how a friend had called over the fence to Drew. We told the neighbor boy he could come over and play as soon as Drew had finished planting the corn.
Drew, the smart but devious little stinker, had immediately buried all 2 pounds of the corn seed in a small hole and called his friend over to play. This was not the first time something like this had happened. In fact, Drew was the entire reason we bought our farm.
Let me back up.
As a young, new mom, I read this article about Family Work and had my entire paradigm shifted! I loved the article so much I copied it and mailed it off to all of my siblings–and read it over and over myself. I have used it for countless talks and lessons for church, and have shared it with multiple friends. Over the years, as our family has grown, it has grown increasingly dearer to me.
I’ll do my best to summarize, but will also directly quote lots from the article.
Our Heavenly Father, who is God, gave us work as a blessing and to help save us. He cursed the ground to bring forth thorns for Adam’s sake (Moses 4:23). Heavenly Father could have created the Earth to eternally only bring forth delicious and perfectly nutritious fruit, without any work. Or He could have created our bodies to be like reptiles, and only eat once per week. But instead, He created the Earth so that it needed to be toiled over in order to bring forth food and our bodies so that they needed to eat multiple times per day. Heavenly Father did this because He loves us and wanted us to have the blessing of work, which would help bring about our salvation.
Tilling the earth for food and laboring to rear children are what the author calls family work–work that sustains and nurtures members of a family from one day to the next. Throughout the history of the Earth, until the turn of the last century, mothers and fathers, teenagers and young children cared for their land, their animals, and for each other with their own hands. Their work was difficult, and it filled almost every day of their lives. But they recognized their family work as essential, and it was not without its compensations. It was social and was often carried out at a relaxed pace and in a playful spirit, with joy.
By the turn of the century, many fathers began to earn a living away from the farm and the household. Thus, they no longer worked side by side with their children. Where a son once forged ties with his father as he was taught how to run the farm or the family business, now he could follow his father’s example only by distancing himself from the daily work of the household, eventually leaving home to do his work.
Historian John Demos writes:
The wrenching apart of work and home-life is one of the great themes in social history. And for fathers, in particular, the consequences can hardly be overestimated. Certain key elements of pre-modern fatherhood dwindled and disappeared (e.g., father as pedagogue, father as moral overseer, father as companion). . . .
Of course, fathers had always been involved in the provision of goods and services to their families; but before the nineteenth century such activity was embedded in a larger matrix of domestic sharing. . . . Now, for the first time, the central activity of fatherhood was cited outside one’s immediate household. Now, being fully a father meant being separated from one’s children for a considerable part of every working day.
By the 1940s fathers were gone such long hours they became guests in their own homes. The natural connection between fathers and their children was supposed to be preserved and strengthened by playing together. However, play, like work, also changed over the course of the century, becoming more structured, more costly, and less interactive.
WW2 took many fathers to war and mothers to factories, leaving families broken. Even in families where mothers chose to stay home, however, there were still huge changes, because the nature of a mother’s work had changed. Houses and wardrobes expanded, standards for cleanliness increased, and new appliances encouraged more elaborate meal preparation. More time was spent shopping and driving children to activities. With husbands at work and older children in school, care of the house and young children now fell almost exclusively to mothers, actually lengthening their work day. Moreover, much of a mother’s work began to be done in isolation. Work that was once enjoyable because it was social became lonely, boring, and monotonous.
Even the purpose of family work was given a facelift. Once performed to nurture and care for one another, it was reduced to housework and was completed to create atmosphere.
At the same time that expectations for children to work were diminishing, new fashions in child rearing dictated that children needed to have their own money and be trained to spend it wisely. Eventually, the relationship of children and work inside the family completely reversed itself: children went from economic asset to pampered consumer.
Thus, through Satan’s machinations, each family member’s contribution to the family became increasingly abstract. Today, sadly, men feel free when they can avoid any kind of physical labor and women feel free when they choose a career over being a mother.
So how does ordinary, endless, mundane work like feeding, clothing, and nurturing a family actually bless our lives? Because family work links people and encourages love.
Mindless chores that can be done with a minimum of concentration leave our minds free to focus on one another as we work together. We can talk, sing, or tell stories as we work. Working side by side dissolves feelings of hierarchy, making it easier for children to discuss topics of concern with their parents. Unlike play, which usually requires mental concentration as well as physical involvement, family work invites intimate conversation between parent and child. Because it is menial, even the smallest child can make a meaningful contribution. Children can learn to fold laundry, wash windows, or sort silverware with sufficient skill to feel valued as part of the family.
Almost as quickly as it is done, it must be redone.
Some people insist that family work is demeaning because it involves cleaning up after others in the most personal manner. Yet, in so doing, we observe their vulnerability and weaknesses in a way that forces us to admit that life is only possible day-to-day by the grace of God.
We are reminded that when we are fed, we could be hungry; when we are clean, we could be dirty; and when we are healthy and strong, we could be feeble and dependent. Family work is thus humbling work, helping us to acknowledge our unavoidable interdependence; requiring us to sacrifice “self” for others. God gave us family work as a link to one another, as a link to Him, as a stepping stone toward salvation that is always available and that has the power to transform us spiritually as we transform others physically.
Family work is an opportunity to become Christlike. When Christ instituted one of the most sacred of ordinances, one still performed today among the apostles, what symbolism did He choose? Of all the things He could have done as He prepared His apostles for His imminent death and instructed them on how to become one, He chose the washing of feet–a task ordinarily done in His time by the most humble of servants. When Peter objected, thinking that this was not the kind of work someone of Christ’s earthly, much less eternal stature would be expected to do, Christ made clear the importance of participating: “If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me” (John 13:8).
How can we implement Family Work in our own families?
Kathleen Slaugh Bahr and Cheri A. Loveless, the writers of this article, give us some ideas:
Exemplifying the Attitudes We Want Our Children to Have. Until we feel about family work the way we want our children to feel about it, we will teach them nothing. If we wish to hurry and get it out of the way or if we wish we were doing it alone so it could better meet our standards, they will know it. Most of us have grown up with a strong conviction that we are fortunate to live at a time when machines and prosperity and efficient organizational skills have relieved us of much of the hands-on work of sustaining daily life. If we wish to change our family habits on this matter, we must first change our own minds and hearts.
Refusing Technology That Interferes With Togetherness. As we labor together in our families, we will begin to cherish certain work experiences, even difficult ones, for reasons we can’t explain. When technology comes along that streamlines that work, we need not rush out and buy it just because it promises to make our labor more efficient. Saving time and effort is not always the goal. When we choose to heat convenience foods in the microwave or to process vegetables in a noisy machine, we choose not to talk, laugh, and play as we peel and chop. Deciding which modern conveniences to live with is a personal matter. Some families love washing dishes together by hand; others would never give up the dishwasher. Before we accept a scientific “improvement,” we should ask ourselves what we are giving up for what we will gain.
Insisting Gently That Children Help. A frequent temptation in our busy lives today is to do the necessary family work by ourselves. A mother, tired from a long day of work in the office, may find it easier to do the work herself than to add the extra job of getting a family member to help. A related temptation is to make each child responsible only for his own mess, to put away his own toys, to clean his own room, to do his own laundry, and then to consider this enough family work to require of a child. When we structure work this way, we may shortchange ourselves by minimizing the potential for growing together that comes from doing the work for and with each other.
Working Side by side With Our Children. Assigning family work to our children while we expect to be free to do other activities only reinforces the attitudes of the world. LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley said: “Children need to work with their parents, to wash dishes with them, to mop floors with them, to mow lawns, to prune trees and shrubbery, to paint and fix up, to clean up, and to do a hundred other things in which they will learn that labor is the price of cleanliness, progress, and prosperity.
I read a study about work around this same time period comparing African children, whose jobs in their families included carrying water miles each day, and American children, whose chores included things like picking up their rooms and making their beds. American kids’ chores were very self-centric, while African kids’ chores were more family-centric. The African children actually exhibited higher self confidence because their chores were critical to their families’ well-being and they felt important and valued within their family heirarchy.
So I would add to the above list that we parents should conscientiously choose chores for our children that are family-centric rather than self-centric.
Let’s return to my story. Drew had exhibited his lazy tendencies as a toddler, which was funny and endearing, but we knew it wouldn’t always be. At the time, we lived on 1/4 acre, although did have a garden and fruit trees. Because of the article, we had our children help make meals and we all cleaned dishes afterward by hand as a family. The dishwasher became a storage receptacle. But we still didn’t see the changes in Drew we wanted, so we prayed over him and felt that, for his sake, we needed to buy a farm.
We searched real estate listings and realized that in the suburban area we lived in, land was very expensive. But we needed to stay close to Kendel’s work so we wouldn’t lose more of his time to a commute. We were able to buy an acre and begin farming, and then later we were miraculously able to purchase the farm we currently own.
Following the corn incident, I had Drew come out and help me transplant all of the misplaced corn seedlings to the rows where they belonged, and we had him care for and harvest the corn that year.
We also bought cows for Drew to milk (and so we could drink the good, raw milk) and chickens for the kids to take care of. We have planted hundreds of fruit trees to start an orchard. And we plant a huge garden every year so we can share the produce with family and friends, though we also plan to sell that from our farm as well as soon as we hurdle that learning curve. We aren’t perfect, but we do try to have our kids work alongside us, as we talk with and teach them, completing chores that benefit the entire family, for exactly the reasons outlined in the above article.
At 18 years old, Drew earned an associates degree while in high school and started at BYU with most of his general requirement already filled and three full-tuition scholarships in his account. He worked full-time over the summer to earn the $6000 he would need to pay his rent and buy groceries during the school year, so he wouldn’t have to work during the school year. Drew is human and still has setbacks, but don’t we all? Overall, he has made very positive changes to his work ethic that will benefit him, and his future family, for eternity.
I am so grateful for the principles of Family Work we have learned and for the positive changes those principles have blessed my family with.
How do you apply principles of family work in your family? Are there some you need to work on?