Friday, November 2, 2012

Essay about Housework and Teaching our Children to Work

So I’ve gotten so many responses about my cleaning lady question (a couple months ago, I asked various family members if they had a lot of friends that had cleaning ladies regularly come and clean their homes--I was quite surprised to find in my area, it is the new normal for most stay-at-home moms even, to hire cleaning ladies at least twice a month) , it’s prompted me to write a short essay. I am not sending this to everyone in the family. I don’t have the energy to deal with possibly offending anyone. And just so you know, I did already send it to mom and dad and Sorbes. In fact, much of my response is because of some very thought-provoking points and questions that Chris brought up. (And just so you know he totally agrees with making your kids work hard—his point was HE didn’t want to have to do the gritty work—which he had very valid arguments supporting.)

“I guess for me it’s not so much an economic issue as it is a character one. I believe that work sanctifies us. I had a class at BYU (Yes, I know—here I go!) that taught how imperative our daily rituals of work are—for the stability of our home, and the stability of our children. In order to raise responsible, independent, helpful, conscientious adults, we have to teach them to work. And do the ugly jobs, too. (And I’m sure you were raised this way.) If all we ever made our kids do is pick up their rooms, and run the vacuum through it, they’ll never learn HOW to do much of anything else. And someday their wives will quietly wonder at their mother-in-laws and think, “why, oh why, didn’t you teach your son how to clean a toilet or scrub the inside of an oven?” (Just as a disclaimer, I am not referring to Trent here!) The moms in our ward that have cleaning ladies have justified the maids because they say things like, “oh, I still make my kids clean up their own rooms!”

Now, I know I’m preaching to the choir on this. You guys make your kids suffer every Saturday morning and do lots of chores. And that’s great. I’ve actually been quite slacking in this lately, and I’ve been inspired to stop doing so much cleaning around here!

When is it okay to cross over to the dark side and have someone help you around the house other than your children? I think it’s when you personally know that you have taught them how to work hard and get a job done well (and they’re older), and when extenuating circumstances enter a family. Or when they’re teenagers and are truly working their tails off trying to ace AP classes, hold down a part-time job, participate in choirs and bands, and other extracurricular activities. However I was involved in all those things, and I remember every Saturday growing up, still having to sign up for our chores and complete them before anything fun could be done. I didn’t like Saturday chores at all. But I know one thing—I sure as heck enjoyed my time afterwards, and felt much greater satisfaction in being lazy and/or having fun knowing how hard I worked all morning. Somehow, it makes the pleasurable activities, even more pleasurable.

Also, when kids don’t have to do chores (the hard, gritty chores), then they don’t take ownership or pride in their belongings—in other words—their own house or yard or anything inside of it. When you know you’re the one that’s going to have to clean that bathroom sink on Saturday, you’re going to be much more careful on how haphazardly you spit out that toothpaste each night. It builds awareness and selflessness--which can be transferred into all areas of life—most importantly, relationships.

Let’s compare it to how we wash our cars. We wash our own cars about 75% of the time. The other 25% of the time, because of lack of time, or weather being too uncooperative, or whatever, I’m willing to fork over $10 for a nice wash. And it feels great. I just saved us an hour or more’s worth of time! However, when we do pay to get it washed, I always feel like we need to wash it ourselves the next couple of times. (I know, I’m weird.) The kids help me. We make a big, fun time out of it. They like it—but not all the time because I make them scrub really hard for a long time before we turn the hose back on. They’ve learned something. It’s all about what you value. Do you value your money? Do you value your time? (Most people might say time is more precious than money because it’s usually a more scarce commodity). Or do you value lessons to be taught? Character to be refined and the satisfaction of a job well done?

You might be thinking (or not—what do I know?) that those same lessons can be learned in building something great and profitable out of nothing (like a business). I’m not going to argue about that. That’s valid. I just happen to think that because of the way my emotions run (and heaven knows I have a lot of those), then for me, I find greater satisfaction in looking to my future and thinking things like, “it’s okay if my kids have to do their own chores every week until they leave home.” I really don’t have an ultimate goal of never being able to look after my own clothes, my own home, my own belongings. For me, it’s about ownership.

Let me share a little quote I’ve had on my fridge for the past two years:

“Work builds and refines character, creates beauty, and is the instrument of our service to one another and to God. A consecrated life is filled with work, sometimes repetitive, sometimes menial, sometimes unappreciated, but always work that improves, orders, sustains, lifts, ministers, and aspires.” Elder Christofferson. Nov. 2010 Ensign.

One could argue that work literally brings us closer to God. Now, I’m sure you agree with me on that. I know you can still teach your kids really valuable life lessons in things like how to perfectly balance an Excel Spreadsheet with all financial details shown. Making them come along with you on a sales pitch, and making them do it too, when they’re older. However, there is value in physical labor, that the world doesn’t really recognize anymore as valuable. When we push our bodies and make them do physical things (I think I sweat more sometimes washing our windows outside than going for a run), it consecrates us in ways that no other type of work can.

The Savior washed his disciples feet because he wanted to do something that was ordinarily done by humble servants. He showed his humility. The daily work of feeding, clothing, and cleaning up after each other (because the whole family is involved), has the power to transform us spiritually while we transform others physically. It is only through humbling work that helps us acknowledge our interdependence, and encourages us to sacrifice “self” for the good of the whole.

I don’t think I ever want to be sitting outside watching (or even playing with) my kids while they kick a ball around because someone cleaned my house so we don’t have to. (Of course if we went and played ball together as a family after we did all the work together, then I’m all for that!) The lessons they can learn while doing housework together as a family are irreplaceable and not something I’m willing to give up. It has little to do with money, and more to do with what you feel are the most important lessons we can teach our kids.

Now, I’m not going to say “No, I never, ever want a maid someday!” Of course I would—I’m not going to deny that! However, something would start to grate under my skin after awhile, and I know I would lose something in the pride you can only get from working hard and teaching my children to work harder. You know what my dream would be, though? To have someone come in every quarter, and do a serious deep-cleaning. I’m talking toothpicks along my baseboards.

But only for a special occasion— like, the greatest Mother’s Day present ever!