A strong work ethic is a characteristic that is important for all children to develop as they grow. It is unfortunately difficult for parents to establish this characteristic in their children as we function in our present culture. It seems so many of the natural needs around us are met with little or no visible cause and effect relationship being noted by children and even some adults. When we want food, we buy it. When we want it hot or cold, we push buttons. When we need clothes, we buy them. When we are through with them we discard them. When we want to go somewhere we get in a vehicle and sit till we arrive. If we don’t like where we are, we, without much thought, get in the vehicle and go somewhere else. Even the idea of having to put work ethic into practice, by planning well, seems a thing of the past. Spur of the moment decisions, once thought to be whimsical and adventurous, are now the norm for how we eat, play, travel, and make purchases. Our children and even our spouses see little of what we do in the work place and find it difficult to consider what we do as significant to the daily function of the family. Yes money is made, somewhere, someway, sometime but the actual performance of the task is seldom witnessed and the concept of making money is, in their mind, separate from what was once seen as providing for the family in a more concrete, cause and effect visual demonstration of work ethic. We grew or raised our food and then spent time and effort preserving and preparing it. We watched those responsible for us make our clothes and valued the work that went into them. We watched and participated in the event of building or repairing our homes and furnishings, increasing our understanding of their value. We cared for and even appreciated the animals responsible for sharing in our work load and providing opportunity for travel. It was even in the visible work ethic of our parents that through simple daily events we learned to value our parents and not just love them. We also realized how important we were to them by the demonstration of their labor and not just the words on a gift card that say “I Love You.” Yes, these days are gone for most and we are glad of the progress made but a side effect of the disappearance of natural opportunities for daily, in home, cause and effect work ethic is the absence of our ability to model for our children the blessings of work ethic, the understanding of the value each person holds, and an appreciation for personal worth.
We come home at night tired from work or with more paper work to do behind closed doors in a study or on the computer. We verbalize how we need to rest after a hard day’s work leaving everyone “on their own” for supper. We go out to eat or order in to avoid work. We throw laundry in a machine and sit and watch TV between loads. We put the dishes in the machine and complain that we have to get up to load or unload it. We want small lawns, less flowers, fewer pets, fewer kids, wash and wear clothes. We use restaurants, automatic car washes, timers to start the coffee while we are still in bed (unless we save even more effort and let Starbucks do it all). The message seems to be we want less to do and we want to do less work so we have more time to do what we want and more time to rest from doing what we did not want to do. We even make sure that those in our family understand that their choices or perhaps mere existence are responsible for adding unwanted tasks to our lives. They hear us talk about all we could do if we didn’t have to do “all this work.” They hear us say how silly most of what others ask us to do at work is and what a waste of time many tasks are. They hear us grumble as we get out of bed and have to go to the job from which we can’t wait to retire. No wonder our children are confused as we talk to them about the importance of a strong work ethic when approaching school work or chores at home. Much of our most productive work is done while away from the family and much of our work that is done with a positive attitude is the work we are paid to do, well out of view of our children. The most familiar experience for a child in a home while watching a parent in the evening, after work, is seeing them rest, relax, and avoid additional work when possible. They see us look for entertainment, activities to be enjoyed, and hear us talk of the need for winding down. It is easy to see why this happens. It is normal for anyone to want to relax after a hard day’s work. It is the normal work cycle. The difficulty in establishing a strong work ethic in our children today might be that unlike past cultures, where children witnessed and participated in both the work of their parents and the fruit of that work in real time and in real life, our children don’t experience the full cycle.
I know we can’t go back in time nor would we want to. It is great that we have the conveniences of today. Their presence gives us opportunities to do so much more with and for our families. It’s great we have paying jobs to go to that give us money to support our families. It is great to have designed our life with less work to do outside of the workplace but it is not so great that our children seldom see what a strong work ethic looks like. They are often confused and mistake success for work ethic. They look forward to vacation as the only good thing about work and spend more time trying to make things easier and less time being committed to completing a task. By seeing us after our work day is done and not experiencing it alongside us, they are left to see us model the down time and the tired time where we spend what little energy is left from the day trying to avoid any extra work. This may sound strangely familiar to those of us with children, especially the teenage variety. I hear that they don’t want to do homework and chores in the evening. I hear stories about children not wanting to do work during school vacation. I hear that children procrastinate, complain and refuse to do work when it makes little or no sense to them of why they should do it. My question is …Should it surprise us that they are modeling what they have seen and heard from the adults in their lives?
I realize this may seem like an attempt to over simplify a situation that is multifaceted but I still think it is worth our consideration at some level and perhaps even a shift in our behavior at home. As we have heard many times, the first step in change begins with us.
Since we can’t take our kids to work easily we must be more attentive to the time we have in the evening and on weekends to expose them to the type of work ethic we desire for them. They can’t just see us “resting up” for the next week while being negative about our job. Let’s think about this and watch what we say and do. We might begin by creating opportunities in the evenings for our children to work alongside us in tasks that will benefit the family and or the community. Be sure to speak well of the authority at your work in front of your children and share often the value of your job as it pertains to the bigger picture of the community. Seek ways to give internal value to the tasks in which your children participate. Engage in self growth and development each evening and require your child to do the same. When talking with your children about other individuals remember to speak of the respect seen in their work ethic and not just the results. Children need to know what it takes to get the job done and that people pay attention to it and will respect the journey as well as the product.
Perhaps entertaining this thought will provoke us to consider the model of work ethic we have been displaying while in the presence of our children, and not just the great job we do each day while we are away from them. Later on they will understand and appreciate the life we have led to provide for them but for now they are rather limited in their understanding to what they see and hear in the present.
It’s just a wild and Savage thought…..