Teaching A Work Ethic Is One Of Parents' Most Important Jobs

By Jen Holman


Someone’s always grumbling about millennials, people born after 1980—the first generation to come of age in the new millennium. No one under 30 wants to work for a living. They grew up in a participation medal world and they’re too entitled. They’re narcissistic. Cocky. Lazy. They think the rules don’t apply.

Ouch. I think this is the very first time I’ve ever been glad I wasn’t born after 1980.

That millennials are a bunch of worthless avocado toast-eaters is not a forgone conclusion, though. I would argue that this has always been the way of things—old-timers have accused young pups of lacking commitment and will since the Stone Age. Is all the generalized smack talked about millennials too broad and unfair? Does each generation have both its rock stars and flunkies? I think so. This is just the first time any of us has been on the side of the old-timers. (Yeah, I said it.)

But if millennials were all entitled brats, did their parents create them? If my kids turn out to be unemployed 30-something gamers, is it my fault?

I was reared on a working cattle ranch in southwest Arkansas. My father raised my sister and me like boys, hauling firewood and helping bale hay. I raised livestock from an early age through 4-H and FFA. My husband grew up working on his family’s cattle, chicken and hog farm in Johnson County. Strong work ethics? Yeah, we’ve got them.

So, how do we instill those same life lessons in our children when we no longer live on farms? How do we show our kids the intrinsic value and worth of hard work inside the city limits?

Here’s a sobering statistic: A survey by Braun Research in 2014 found that while 82 percent of parents had regular chores growing up, only 28 percent reported asking their children to do any. Their reasons? Increasing pressures on kids from school and extracurricular activities, and a reluctance to heap more responsibility on them.

I’ve had those same thoughts, I admit it. My kids work so hard in school and on the soccer field, I’ve told myself. So what if they didn’t do anything productive today? They deserve a break. But while breaks and quiet, creative time are healthy and necessary, I think there’s a happy medium to be found between free time and learning responsibility.

Everything in my house came to a screeching halt last month as the summer break began. I introduced a plan that had my 9-year-old helping with the laundry and dishes, and the smaller two picking up their rooms and play areas on a regular basis. My God, you’d have thought I was sending them to a sweatshop. Oh, the gnashing of baby teeth! When the older one complained, I told her she was lucky I didn’t have her scrubbing toilets. You know what she said? That she didn’t need to know how to scrub a toilet; that she could always hire someone to do it. Even in her college dorm. Face. Palm. Parenting. Fail.

Importance of giving kids chores

According to experts, having children help with household chores (even as early as 3 or 4) is instrumental to their success in their twenties. Chores, they say, instill in kids the importance of contributing to their families, and help develop empathy as adults. Children who grow up doing chores are more likely to be welladjusted, have better relationships with friends and family, and to have more successful careers.

Needless to say, things are changing at my house. Already I’ve given in-depth tutorials on the intricacies of toilet cleaning (with audience participation). And here’s a tip I learned pretty quickly: Have kids do tasks that benefit the whole family, like putting up dinner dishes or vacuuming the living room. A chore outside of their own bedroom squashes arguments that they prefer their space messy.

Both among people I know, and from what I’ve read, opinions vary on tying monetary rewards to household chores. Some say an allowance gives kids an early understanding of money management, and the earlier the better. Others consider chores as partial payment of the privilege of living and eating rent-free. Some parents use a points system that can be cashed in for ice cream or special days.

Methods, like people, vary. The important thing—at least for me—is that my kids aren’t lifting their noses above their iPads to watch me clean up their messes. The important thing is that I give them the tools necessary to be the rock stars of their generation.

 Jen Holman is determined to be a voice of reason in the cacophony of reality TV and mom-judgment- gone-wild. She is often irreverent and frequently imperfect. But she’s happy, by God, and that’s what matters. She lives in Little Rock with her husband and three (im)perfect children.