Years and years ago, one Saturday morning in spring, my husband, Paul, and I had an impromptu discussion. In truth it was an argument, but since we were in the front yard, in the sight of God, our neighbors and anyone who happened to be driving by, we kept things civil … ish.
I can’t remember what we were fighting about, but I know we were in the midst of a major yard cleanup — something we both abhorred — and, to ratchet up everything, we were trying to work together with the children. In retrospect I realize, merely considering this sort of project, we should have had flasks or nitrous tanks on hand, but we didn’t. It’s probably just as well, because standing there clearheaded, I had an epiphany: Although we were both conscientious and hardworking, we didn’t work well together. We had not yet evolved in our relationship beyond the adult and working version of parallel play.
How were we ever going to be able to teach our children?
The solution was easier than I imagined. Just recognizing that we both approached big home projects with our backs up (I’ll spare you the whys; in short, we blame our parents) helped so much. We learned that basic kindness and patience go a long, long way. Eventually we worked it out, literally and figuratively. We aren’t perfect, but we can get things done. Helping the children to navigate working together has been more challenging. This is what we have learned over the years.
Avoid speeches, lectures and family meetings. Gather the children and get to work. You may have the urge to pontificate (“In this family …”). Don’t. Bite it back. Matter-of-factly tell everyone the job at hand and figure out who is going to do what.
Stay upbeat even if there is complaining and resistance. Don’t worry if your children aren’t lined up singing and whistling like characters in an old-school Disney cartoon. Attitudes are important, of course, but the occasional moan isn’t a big deal. If you make your own attitude your main concern, everything else will work out. And just be honest. When your child whines, “I hate yardwork,” it’s OK to say, “I do too!” And just keep working.
Let your children take the lead. It’s easy to break down into two teams: the parents/overlords and the children/unwilling masses. “Are we done yet?” should be answered with a simple no, and the best response to “What do we need to do?” may be a question like, “What do you see that still needs to be done?” Remember to stay upbeat. It’s so easy to be a jerky parent. The best idea may be to assess the job beforehand and together make a plan for doing it.
Keep the project manageable. Even if the job is big, don’t try to tackle it all at once. Break it down into smaller projects or take frequent breaks. You may find yourself wanting to do “just a little bit more,” but don’t — or set the children free first. The ability to break big projects into smaller steps is an important life skill. This is what you’re teaching along with the particular task at hand.
Ditch perfectionism. This is an excellent life goal in general and is especially important when teaching your kids. Of course you want them to do things properly, but take the long view and be patient. Take the child’s age into consideration. This is vital but easy to forget. If you find yourself being too exacting, back off. Ask for forgiveness if necessary and keep going.
Enjoy the small moments. We work so hard to create bonding experiences for our families and too often overlook the natural camaraderie that comes from working together. Talking helps the time pass during tedious work, and topics come up that may not be addressed when you have a conversation face-to-face.
Be grateful. Express your gratitude for your children’s hard work and effort: “This is a tough job! I’m so glad to be doing it with you.” Tell grandparents or loving aunts and uncles who will happily join the chorus of praise. Yes, it should be enough to just work hard, but it’s nice to have your effort acknowledged and appreciated.
Don’t compare. It can be frustrating how different our children can be, but it’s not good for anyone to compare a child to siblings. Every child has strengths and challenges. Encouraging the former and helping the child overcome the latter will not happen through unfavorable comparisons.
Look at the big picture. When it comes to children, a friend of mine says there are no small things. The task at hand may be raking leaves, but in the bigger picture it’s really about building muscle — literally, and in terms of developing perseverance and a strong work ethic.
By: Alison Hodgson (Houzz)
Alison Hodgson, original photo on Houzz