Edited to add: Obviously I didn’t handle this topic well, so please read Part 2: Laziness and Arrogance for a more balanced picture.
First of all, we don’t tolerate our children working, obeying or just hanging around with a lousy attitude ever. We don’t tolerate this in the one or two year old, in the eight year old or in our teens.
We’ve taught our children to obey cheerfully from the beginning and generally our older ones simply need a reminder if they are struggling with cheerful obedience. I also think that this is mainly an issue of God’s grace working in the lives of our children. While the Proverbs do say that the rod gets to a child’s heart, ultimately (even if the outside appearance is cheerful) none of us can have a right attitude toward God (or any other authority) without God’s mercy.
As I’ve pondered this post, I’ve struggled with what to say. Most of you don’t know me and don’t know my children.
You have no idea whether or not our children work hard and you have no idea whether our children are cheerful.
You also have no idea what my definition of ‘hard work’ is.
It’s much easier to answer this question when people we know ask it.
- “Why are your children always so eager to help?”
- “How have you taught your children to see what needs to be done and do it without asking them?”
- “How have you trained your children to serve each other cheerfully?”
They know our kids and know what to expect if they ask for our advice. But you don’t know our kids, so allow me to give you a glimpse into our home.
The beginning of my pregnancy with Valor was tough and while I did post on here that I was in and out of the hospital struggling with dehydration, I did not post (and don’t intend to now) how extremely ill I was. Let’s suffice it to say that it was a “good day” when I was able to be upright (sitting) for more than 4 hours in a 24-hour period. I was so sick that I was back in the bedroom sleeping even when our family Bible study group was meeting in our home.
The house functioned without me for 3 months and the children figured out how to cope without me on their own.
Amber (15 at the time) managed all the food. She planned all the meals, prepared shopping lists and put 3 meals a day on the table for 12 people.
Kaitlin and Matthew (13 and 11 at the time) tag teamed the responsibilities with the younger children (5, 3 and 1), keeping them cleaned, entertained and cared for.
Everyone pitched in and continued to do our basic cleaning and home maintenance routines and of course Mark supervised and kept up with everyone’s school work.
Not only did they keep the basics going, they hosted large groups in our home several times.
And after that experience, our children still pray that God will send us more babies. So overall I would have to say that we are making progress in this area.
So how did this happen? How have we helped our children to become happy servants? The simple answer is, “We’re still working on it and I’m not sure.”
This is one of the main goals of our parenting.
We want to teach our children to be humble servants of Christ.
So this whole blog is really an answer to this question. We try to make all of our parenting decisions lead to this end. If our children are humble servants of Christ they will humbly and cheerfully serve others. Also note that if WE are humble servants of Christ, WE will humbly and cheerfully serve others, and yes that is convicting to me.
That said, here are some things that I think have contributed to the work ethic we see in our children (and trust me, it’s not perfect. It’s so hard to speak of these things to those who do not know our children, their strengths and weaknesses):
We expect our children to contribute to the family welfare. In addition for taking care of their own things (brushing their hair, keeping up with their school work, making their bed, etc.), every member of our family spends time serving the whole family. We do this regularly with daily chores.
We expect our children to serve others by denying self. One example of how we do this is that whenever there is a line for getting food, we always allow others to go before us. Our family is nearly always one of the last to get food.
This is true even when we have little children who are overly hungry and/or tired. The truth is that learning to be a servant is learning to do things we don’t want to do and often that will mean dealing with being uncomfortable.
I realize this is completely contrary to our culture where we excuse poor behavior in children with “they’re overly hungry” or “they missed their nap today” and we rush grumpy children to the front of the line. A lack of physical comfort is absolutely no reason for poor behavior, disobedience, selfishness or even fussing (for children who are verbal).
We encourage our children to be productive. I’ve mentioned before that we don’t go in for much of this entertainment society that surrounds us. Generally our children’s non-productive screen time is limited to one family video each Friday evening.
Currently, our older children (age 7 and over) spend their ‘free time’ learning music, drawing, running cross country, cooking, planning and planting a garden, reading, wood carving, taking care of the baby and sewing. This is what they do for fun. Our younger children spend a lot of time playing outside, drawing, building with Lego’s, playing with the babies and watching/helping the bigger kids.
Our children have progressed naturally from the play type activities of the younger years to the more productive type activities of the older years. They actually desire to be productive.
We do NOT require our children to participate in non-productive activities. I say this because I think it contributes to how our children decide to spend their time. If, from the time they are small, we occupy our children’s time with purposeless, repetitive tasks (I’m thinking of all that preschool busywork that we throw at our children) then it will be natural for them to continue to choose non-productive activities when they are older. (6 Distinctives of our Homeschool)
It’s for this reason that we delay formal instruction in math and grammar. We teach our children those skills that they need and use as they are needed and wait until they are older and have a good grasp on how they use grammar and math on a daily basis to introduce formal instruction and workbooks. So far, all of our children have enjoyed and excelled in both grammar and math.
We do expect a lot from our children. While we don’t require a lot of busywork and we try very hard not to fill our children’s time with meaningless activities, we do require a lot from our children. Hopefully, what we require reflects our purposes and goals for our children’s lives, so while you won’t see Olive children completing myriads of worksheets or other time consumers, they have plenty of opportunities to practice diligence.
Our children memorize scripture, lots of it. It takes us over 30 minutes each morning to recite our review passages from the ‘big kids box’ and a couple weeks ago, several of the children memorized the first chapter of Ephesians within 3 days.
Our children read the Bible. All independent readers spend about an hour reading their Bible everyday.
Our children help around the house. My role is more managerial these days and I’m able to focus on parenting and educating our children, most everything else is delegated.
Our children help with the younger ones. – They actually beg and squabble over who gets to do this.
Our children serve others. Look around, there are lots of opportunities for this for any child between 7-9 or older (even younger ones can be helpful, but when it comes to helping with younger children, a little older is better). Most kids are too busy playing to notice, but if parents are aware they can see the opportunities and direct your children. People who drop something at the store, opening the door for ladies, helping other families with small children, walking a fussy baby, cleaning up after a church meal, carrying packages or boxes for others, helping prepare food for others, babysitting, mowing yards, etc., etc. The needs are vast!
We work alongside of our children. We love to tackle projects together as a team. It’s amazing how quickly things can get done when you have a bunch of people working together. Our children help with whatever is happening in the home. Some kids help with the little ones (2 and 5 months), some kids help mom, some help dad and some may help an older sibling.
Also, those needs that I mentioned above and more are needs that are often not being met by the church body. Often families could use help as they struggle with illness, welcome a new baby, tackle big projects, etc. This is where the body of Christ can come together and lend a hand. The key here is not being so busy with your own life that you have no time to help others. When you go to help others include your children. Not only can they be very helpful, they are also watching you.
As a word of encouragement, there was a time when we were not seeing the results that we wanted. Namely, that we were always having to point out to our children the needs of those around them. I think that this is a problem that simply resolves itself with maturity and practice. Keep on keeping on and don’t be discouraged. Gently point out how they can help those around them and soon they will begin to see things themselves.
I would say that things should probably change if your children are not obeying you cheerfully whatever their age. Even Valor (5 months) understands the meaning of the word ‘no’ and doesn’t touch things that we tell him are a ‘no’.
Also, children who are capable of speaking should not be in the habit of crying when they are not hurt. I suspect that allowing this will make it more difficult to teach cheerful obedience in the future.
How have you helped teach your children to work hard with a happy attitude?
You may also be interested in:
- Large family chore lists
- 6 Distinctives of our Homeschool
- Memorizing system
- Bible reading – why and how
- Bible reading schedules
- Colby’s Attitude Change – a pictorial tutorial of how we teach our children to obey with a sweet attitude
Visit the other moms of many to see what they have to say: