The Wisdom of Work

Dear Mother Friends,
It seems so long since I have chatted with you. I am a grandma now twice, and my little band of followers has become much smaller. The oldest two are married. One daughter is often gone to help other mothers cope and survive, and our son is out on his lawn-mowing job. Once again our children at home daily are fourteen, twelve, nine, seven and four years old. How quickly the ten years have passed since the last five were that age! How many lessons we have learned.

Reflecting over my twenty-five years of marriage, I can see things we could have done differently. But I also see lots of joyful, happy times and many beautiful memories. Stop and savor each minute that you have. Smile, sing, smell the roses, cuddle your little ones and work beside your growing up ones. I see many hidden blessings in the principle of hard work. When we mothers seek to instill this in our children, it has a way of multiplying our time. Anybody out there need more of that?

The wisdom of work is so fruitful. It is a practical theme built upon a spiritual principle. Ecclesiastes 9:10 says, “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with all thy might.” In another place, in the New Testament, Paul says we should work “heartily as unto the Lord.” Proverbs mentions many things that an industrious women can and should do. The principle of working with our hands is found all through the Bible and is a major theme in the life of the Proverbs thirty-one woman.

Working Together

It is up to us whether our children are going to be able to carry out these commands joyfully. We, as parents, are their teachers and role models. The best way for them to learn is right beside us.

First, and foremost, we must like to work ourselves. There is a tremendous satisfaction in a job well done. A clean, neat house is a blessing and an accomplishment. If we do not enjoy rolling up our sleeves and filling the sink with hot, soapy water and leaving the kitchen shining, then we must begin with ourselves. Who can hope to have children who work with a will and sing as they scrub, if they do not set that example themselves?

So dear mother, if you are struggling with this, stop and consider. No one taught you the joy of a job well done. No one trained you to clean up your mess before making the next one. Here you are, twelve to thirty years later, and the mess has multiplied. You still do not like to work but your work has multiplied. What then can be done?

I believe that you need to seek the Lord seriously and cry out to Him to help you change. Study the Lord’s instructions about working. Memorize them. Then realizing that you cannot teach that which you do not enjoy, set out earnestly to get rid of these hindrances.

Take a close look at the time wasters in most of our homes. We all recognize the phone as a major one. With your husband’s consent and blessing, plan a one hour slot every morning and evening when you take the phone off the hook, or use the answering machine, so that you are free to work with the children.

Make 7:30-8:30 a.m. your clean up time (you set the hour) and list the tidy-up morning chores that should be completed. At our house they look like this. Everyone helps.

  • Check to see if beds are made.

  • Do dishes.

  • Shine refrigerator, counter and stove.

  • Sweep floors, vacuum rugs.

  • Empty all trash.

  • Clean and shine bathrooms.

  • Put in a load of laundry.

  • Comb little girls’ hair.

Then when these chores are done, you could stop and read a story to the children for half an hour from that interesting book you just purchased. You will be amazed at how fast they can whisk away the chores with only a small incentive. If you repeat the process immediately after lunch and again after supper, varying the chores to suit the time of day, you will find that the house begins to stay a bit neater.

Limit your phone time all the time. You will have more time to work with the children. If you must talk, try setting a timer for fifteen minutes and excuse yourself when it rings. Use a cordless phone and walk from room to room picking up things and putting them away. Teach your children, by your example, to be tidy.

The computer is also a huge time thief. It was not available when our older children were small. There was no email or Internet. Now I watch many young mothers (and older ones, too) glued to the screen on email loops and surfing the net for information. No matter how good the communication or information, no matter how much good you think you are serving, if you are not meeting your first responsibility, you are making a mistake. No one else will teach your growing daughter how to make a good meal and keep a neat, tidy house. No one else will teach your young son to pick up the broom when the meal is over and quickly and neatly sweep the floor and empty the trash. The day may come when you may have the time for the phone and computer, but you do not have it now. I do not have it now. As much as I love to read and write, I am not on email loops. I do not have the time. These children of mine are only here for a short while. I see this more keenly now than ever.

It is up to me to create many of the good work habits in my children. If I teach them to feel comfortable living in a mess with jobs half done, who will teach their children? Many, many mothers in the last forty to fifty years had a profession as their priority. They were not in engaged in making mothers and homemakers. They had escaped that drudgery. You may be the fruit of this professional mothering. No one taught most of you to bake fresh, crusty homemade bread or even keep a tidy kitchen. Now five, or even eight, children later you are throwing up your hands in despair.

Although it will be a painful process, I believe you can change this. How special it would be if each of you dear sisters could have an older mom come and show you how to do this for a few weeks, but it simply cannot be done. Most of us are still training our own nest full. Perhaps with my paper and pen, I can inspire you and show you the way, bit by bit.

The Freedom of a Schedule

Schedules are a real help at our house. Let me share with you what usually works for me. Sometimes I need to re-evaluate and change things a bit. You may need to use different times or add other chores. I am fond of saying, “My schedule is only a framework. It is adjustable.” It gives us a comfortable goal to work for. It is a proven fact that those who use a schedule can get more work done than those who do not.

We eat our breakfast at 7:00 A.M. since our daddy works at home. Then he sits down and has worship with us. After that, each of us gets a chore to do.

7:45 to 8:00 a.m.

  • 7-year-old does the dishes.

  • 9-year-old cleans and shines the bathrooms.

  • 12-year-old sweeps the floors and vacuums the rugs.

  • 14-year-old works with the laundry and combs hair of 7-year-old.

Mom oversees, picks up here and there and in general works beside the children. I might rinse and stack a few dishes for the seven-year-old and check on the bathrooms and floors. Often I help a bit sorting wash or hanging up dresses in the laundry. By 8:15-8:30 we are done, and the house is neat. Remember, there was not a big mess to start with. If you do have a big mess, you may need to stop everything for a few days. No using the phone or computer. Simplify meals and concentrate on getting things back into order. Then begin to try and keep them there.

  • 8:30 A.M. Finds us ready for school or projects, depending on the time of year.

  • 12:00 Lunch.

  • 12:30 We go through the clean-up routine all over again.

  • 1:00 Free time for everyone, usually quiet reading or projects while Mom and the four-year-old take a rest.

  • 2:30 Time for school or projects.

  • 5:30 Supper meal.

  • 6:00 Rerun chore time.

  • 7:30 Read aloud story.

  • 8:00 Bedtime for little ones.

  • 9:00 Bedtime for fourteen and up.

Afternoon chores also have a bit of order according to the day of the week.

  • Monday: always a big wash day, boys work for Dad.

  • Tuesday: project day: sew, bake, landscape and mulch.

  • Wednesday: odds and ends of jobs, stop early for prayer meeting.

  • Thursday: clean bedrooms, remake beds with fresh sheets, clean upstairs bathroom.

  • Friday: clean main floor and windows, dust and do laundry.

  • Saturday: clean out refrigerator, bathe children, lay out Sunday clothes, prepare food for Sunday.

We try to wash every day except Wednesday. Sometimes we even do then. We always do a huge wash of about eight loads on Monday. Tuesday there are usually one or two loads. Thursday there are quite a few if we wash the bed sheets, and often there are five loads on Friday. If we do this consistently we can keep our heads above water and “Mount Washmore” seems more conquerable. This means the twelve or fourteen-year-old spends a lot of time doing laundry. I help some. We all help with folding. The littlest ones fold table napkins and washcloths. The next one folds dish towels and towels. We sort the wash into piles by owner as we fold. When the laundry is completed our “UPS men” deliver them to the right rooms for the owner to put away. In reality, laundry is a huge chore for big families. It is lots more fun to do it, fold it neatly and put it away, than to have smelly piles lying around or clean wash heaped here and there unfolded. That is downright depressing. Our laundry person (8-14) is supposed to start one load when she rises in the morning (sometimes I do it for him or her). That way, after breakfast, a new load can be put in and we are on the way.

You Do Not Have to be Perfect

Our house is not spotless, mind you. Sometimes I drop by with friends whose families started when ours did, and they have four or five children. Their homes are spotless. There are no toys or little shoes in sight. The window panes are not smudged or the wash overflowing. I still have little folks who flatten their noses on the windows and leave sticky handprints on the door. They love bug collections and pressed flowers. Sometimes they do not sweep in the corners or wash the dishes clean. They forget to take a load of dresses out of the dryer and hang them up promptly. They track in dirt. But we are learning, and we will get it accomplished. I must remember that this too will pass.

Day after day, I must train my children gently, consistently and patiently. That is where the rubber meets the road for me. The gentle, patient part. It has been a lo-o-ong day. I am weary—and, oh no—someone has finished sweeping and there are still crumbs underneath the table. Do I come unglued? Or do I patiently teach and train again? God has been working in my heart the need to be a more patient mother, blessing as I train. When I am joyful, the children joyfully respond to me. When I am critical and demanding, their response is very poor.

Join me in learning to love working with your children. Do it enthusiastically. Sometimes make a game out of it. Make chores a family-together time when possible. Bless the children for their efforts. Over time, you will find your workload lightened and your home a more tidy, restful place to be.

Take the phone off the hook, shut off the computer, and you will be amazed at how much more time you have in your day. Try it for a week, maybe two. You may never want to go back to being “plugged in” again.

God is so patient with us. He teaches us again and again. He leads us on so gently. Let us strive to be like Him as we teach our small bands of followers. Let us lift up our eyes and our hearts and be joyful and bless His name.

A Job Well Done

Childhood is your golden opportunity to teach them to enjoy the satisfaction of a job well done. My husband’s mother always said, “Let the child help you when he wants to (he is usually very young). Then by the time he is old enough to do the job well, he already enjoys helping.”

I find this is so true. Four-year-olds can do breakfast dishes by making a big mess, but they love it. When they are seven, they can be depended on to do them pretty well.

Inspire your younger child (six and down) by making some chores fun. They love to become mailman and deliver picked up items to their proper places. They enjoy becoming a horse and pulling the wagon up the drive to dump the trash (keep the bags small). Every three to five-year-old loves to stand at the sink and wash breakfast dishes. This is our smallest pile of dishes. We fold a towel over the edge of the sink and put a plastic apron on the child so he doesn’t get totally soaked. I show them how to wash cups, and I come back every so often to rinse (and wash!) and stack them to dry. Then we work at the silverware. It takes a long time, but it occupies them so well. When we are done, we wipe every thing dry. Sometimes we even end up changing Johnny’s clothes, but he had fun. Who says work isn’t fun? And always, if possible, let them stretch to do a chore that is almost too big for them. That is the one they usually want to do. Then praise them for a job well done. Our dishwasher can hardly wait to clean the bathroom. Our bathroom cleaner is so anxious to graduate to doing the laundry. Each step up indicates a growth in character and person. When they beg to be transferred, we tell them, “As soon as you can do this job cheerfully and without reminder, you can move up.” It is amazing what an incentive that is. By the time they are fourteen, they can run the house fairly well even if Mom has a special day off. They love to show me they can do it. They have everything clean and everyone happy when I come home.

Blessing a child for a job well done is a great incentive. I remember very clearly my childhood from ten to twelve. My mother was not well, and as the oldest of the five children, I had to go ahead. She often says to me now, “I wish you would not have had to work so hard.” I am thankful that I did. I never really minded it. Mother was always so grateful for what we accomplished that we felt special.

Teach each child to clean up his own mess. Even at two, he can be trained to pick up his Duplos or put away his Playdough. When he is done with a project, require him to put away his scissors, glue and colors. There can be penalties for projects that are not cleaned up. Be innovative. Just be sure you teach it. Do not let them throw their caps and coats on the floor. Be sure there is a place for them and require them (as young as two) to put them there. Never let them throw candy wrappers or other trash on the floor. These go in the waste can. You may think this goes without saying, but this is not always so.

Teach them to wipe up their own spills as soon as they can run for a towel. Be there and help them, but let them do it. This minimizes carelessness and sticky messes. When garbage is on the counter, empty it. Do not let it set there overnight to smell and draw flies.

When dishes are dirty, wash them. We expect our cook and baker to clean up their dishes and bowls when they are done baking. This is part of their job. We do not let it for the next meal. This cuts down on major kitchen messes.

When we have a big cooking, canning or baking day, we do have a big mess. But our day is not completed until the dishes are done and the floor is washed.

Teach each child to make his own bed, hang up his nightclothes and dispose of his dirty laundry properly. Work together weekly to clean up outside. Pick up trash and sweep the sidewalks and porches. Pull weeds together. Pick beans together and sing while you work.

Children work better with you than alone. There is a secret here. They do a better job, and it is more fun to do it together. The prophet says, “And the people had a mind to work.” I find this happens much more easily when we do it as a family. Sometimes we will make a meal for someone, and we all take part. The smaller ones do little jobs, and someone makes the dessert. We all get involved in cutting, chopping and frying. We enjoy it so much that occasionally the children will plan a special meal with lots of festive dishes and invite a few families over to join us. Perhaps we will serve an Indian feast or a Mexican fiesta meal. Or maybe we will just have a baked potato bar with lots of toppings. Of course it takes time to get it all ready, but we spend a whole day of fun doing it. Then we spread the table with a nice cloth and cut fresh flowers for a centerpiece. We have an exciting evening of fun and good food. The children will be learning to work, and they won’t even know it. Sometimes we will take an afternoon off and go help another mother. Each child gets his marching orders, and because we are blessing someone, floors, dishes and laundry seem like fun.

What Can the Children Do?

There are so many things that children can do, if we will put our mind to work on it. Here is a list compiled by Karen Johnson taken from Vintage Housekeeping for the 20th Century Christian Woman. It is broken down into categories of age. You can see at a glance that there are great possibilities here. You can make your own list by taking some time to do creative thinking.

18 Months to 3 years

  • Help pick up and put away toys.

  • Fold and put away washcloths.

  • Run get and put items as directed.

  • Set spoon and cup on high chair for meals.

3 to 5 years

  • Dress self.

  • Fold and put away clothes.

  • Empty small garbage into bigger pails to take to the dumpster.

  • Take laundry to washer from hampers.

  • Finish straightening pillows and coverlet.

  • Feed and water family pet.

  • Bathe self with some help (hair and back).

  • Set table for meals.

  • Clear table after meals.

  • Empty silverware from dishwasher without sharp knives.

  • Clean spots from floor.

  • Stack books for bookcase.

5 to 7 years

  • Make bed completely.

  • Change sheets.

  • Vacuum room.

  • Dust room and lower furniture.

  • Wash, rinse and dry general dishes.

  • Sweep and mop small rooms or entryways.

  • Fold towels.

  • Sort and load washer.

  • Straighten drawers and closets.

  • Care for personal care unsupervised.

  • Fold top bed blankets, afghans, etc.

  • Take buttons off old garments.

  • Hang simple clothes from dryer to hanger and on line.

  • Make rolls from bread dough.

  • Cut biscuits for pans.

  • Mark cook-ahead dishes.

  • Help pick up around house.

  • Hand embroidery work.

  • Sew a 9-patch quilt.

  • Transplant plants into garden.

  • Weed garden.

  • Water plants.

  • Bring in wood.

  • Pick-up yard.

  • Harvest vegetables from garden.

  • Help prepare and pack canning jars.

8 to 12 year olds

  • Cobweb inside and outside house.

  • Sweep inside and outside house.

  • Sweep and/or vacuum under dining room table.

  • Vacuum.

  • Water lawn and garden.

  • Rake flowerbeds.

  • Hoe garden and flowerbeds.

  • Bring trash to curb.

  • Stack cook-ahead meals in freezer and get daily.

  • Pour drinks for meals.

  • Start washer.

  • Put all laundry on laundry line (expect sheets or other big items).

  • Fold most clothing articles.

  • Make simple lunch meals or cook-ahead meals.

  • Prepare and make cookies, muffins and cakes.

  • Sew basic patterns.

  • Iron basic clothes carefully.

  • Stack wood.

For Those Who Have Failed

What do you do if your children are beyond the age of excitement and eagerness? What if work is drudgery to them? How do you turn the tables around and enlist their cooperation?

Here a few suggestions:

  • Learn to like work yourself.

  • Work with them. Do not spend long hours doing other things while they plod along.

  • Sit down with them and confess your faults. Tell them what God is showing you. Enlist them to help as you both learn these lessons.

  • Give them time off as rewards for jobs well done, or plan a Popsicle party when the weeds are pulled. Use your imagination.

  • Set to work fixing one room at a time, and then try to keep it neat. You may only get the kitchen and dining room done the first week. Don’t forget to scrub the stovetop and clean the cupboards and refrigerator. Keep it neat for at least one week before going on to the next room.

  • Enlist your oldest child first and train him. Then move down. Soon you will all be working together.

Do not despair. Begin now. Work at it slowly, and slowly you will see a difference. Teaching your children to work will take a long time, but one day they will be your best helpers. When you are sick, they will carry on. You will go away, and they will cook and clean. This is what I call the reward period. It will come if we are diligent. When it does come, it is a great blessing.

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