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Being Paid for Breathing

A friend recently described a business owner who had to retire because she couldn’t find workers willing to sweep and mop floors. The employer was too advanced in age to do it herself. Those workers weren’t willing to do physically demanding tasks because “it hurt their backs.” (A little eye-rolling here.) At our house we joke about people who want to be paid for breathing.

Our daughter and her husband went to a self-serve carwash. The guy who checked them in asked for a tip just for taking a brush to their windshield. He appeared to be another who wanted to be paid for breathing.

One of our children began her first job at an office supply store. She assumed everyone was raised with the solid work ethic she learned as a child. It didn’t take long for reality to strike. She found herself doing her job as well as the tasks of those around her.

When did people start thinking they should be paid for breathing? And how does one teach a solid work ethic?

It begins in the home with small children. Wise parents will teach children that work can be rewarding. Helping Mom put away clean laundry, “helping” Dad wash the car (even if Dad later has to go over what Jr. did), gives children the sense that they are useful. They are needed.

Toddlers can learn to take dishes to the sink after meals. Our two-year-old grandson loves to help clean. Give him a rag or a tiny broom and he’s happy (and our daughter hopes he never outgrows this).

Did you ever notice how excited children become when working outdoors? If they can dig in the dirt, they can help plant flowers or seeds in the garden. The best part is seeing things grow, a good lesson in cause and effect. Even feeding the fish in a fishbowl can be rewarding; the child is doing something to meet a need for someone or something else. And giving him or her genuine compliments for work far outweighs lavishing empty praise.

Children and teens need to know what it feels like sometimes to develop callouses on their hands and aching muscles in their backs from physical labor when they are able.

My dad made us pick up rocks out of our farm fields in the spring. It was boring but we did it anyway. When my smaller-than-average brother grew into his teen years, he bucked 50-pound hay bales and loaded them on a flatbed trailer. The result? A proper sense of pride for a difficult job done well.

Someone did an experiment years ago with spoiled young adults. These people literally never had to work in their lives. The leader of the experiment sent them to live on an Amish farm for a month. What a shock to all involved! They discovered the girls had never used a broom or a dustpan. The Amish mom had to show them how to wash and drain dishes. (One girl was accustomed to sitting in a lounge chair in the sun, having her nails painted by her mother.) The boys openly admitted they never had to work and didn’t know how.

What happens when we rob the next generation of meaningful work? They drift into the entitled mindset, of course. Like the able-bodied people who refused to mop floors because "it hurt their backs."

Your turn. Any thoughts on teaching children responsible work habits? Use the comment box below and share your thoughts.


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