Thursday, June 17, 2010

Teaching Life Skills to Sons

Library of Congress: Son of Sharecropper, 1940 Southeast Missouri Farms

As the Mother of two sons, ages 12 and 17, I've found that boys are far easier to raise than girls. My three daughters (ages 15, 21 and 22) have been a handful! (smiles) In this post, I want to share stories of the things I've done to train life skills to sons. I will use Matthew (17) as my example.

From the time he was very young, he was my biggest helper. I taught him how to clean as soon as he could walk. He was adventurous, active and busy! Someone once said that the definition of literacy is having the ability to teach someone else what you already know. Well, when it came to cleaning, Matthew (at age 4) taught his 2 year old sister to clean and he did a great job. He always worked very quickly. I remember him sitting in the kitchen one day, while his older sisters were preparing supper. He just sat there, playing and waiting for the food to be ready. The rest of us were sweeping, setting the table and cooking. We thought he was the cutest little sweetheart ever. But we noticed he had far more free time than the rest of us. This was because he learned to "manage" and "guide" from a young age. He also had a powerful sense of humor. I said, "Why aren't you cleaning?" He grinned and said, "I'm not supposed to." He was busy telling us all what to do!

As he got older, I needed work done around the house. There were loose doorknobs, loose hinges and leaking sinks. I had no idea how to fix any of this stuff and my husband worked so much, he barely had any time for home maintenance. So, when Matt was 7 year old, I started asking him to see what he could do. I gave him Daddy's toolbox and offered some suggestions. He quickly learned how to make simple repairs. He didn't always do things correctly, but at least everything functioned. He learned more about repairs as he got older and Dad or Grandpa had time to teach him.

When Matthew wanted to earn money, he noticed a need and filled it. We girls (my daughters and I) were so tired caring for the family and I was recovering from cancer, that we didn't always have the energy to make homemade treats, or do extra housework. One day, Matthew came into the living room with a sign he had made. It was called "The Go-To Boy." He was 8 years old.  There was a list of jobs he was willing to do and a price beside each job. He was willing to make beds for the other children for 10 cents. He was willing to make homemade baked potato fries for 25 cents. He was willing to clean out closets, wash floors and a variety of other jobs in exchange for a few cents. Needless to say, that boy was BUSY! We all hired him to work for us!  I LOVED being able to say, "Matthew, I'd like to order some potato fries," anytime I wanted. He would grin and get right to work. You should have seen his face when I paid him!

As for learning to cook and bake, Matt was right there with us taking turns with the kitchen chores. He knew how to knead bread dough, cook and bake. To this day, I can count on him to make homemade pizza from scratch while I am away from home. It will be ready when I arrive and delicious! Mr. White is also an excellent cook and helped teach our children to cook. Matthew knows how to invent recipes. He makes delicious suppers and we are all grateful for his creativity and talents!

More entrepreneur skills - When we bought a store,  we lived in a 3 bedroom apartment above the store. It was easy and convenient to run downstairs and get any snack or treat we wanted. We could also get dish-liquid, laundry detergent, milk, paper towels or anything we needed. About a year later, we bought a large 1850's house across the street.  Suddenly, it was a lot harder to get something from the store. We started to send Matthew. The girls even did this. Rachel was 16 (the oldest) and she would give him money and say, "Go buy me a soda and some chips." She always gave him extra and would say, "keep the change." Well, after hearing every single one of us say this to him, day-after-day, he finally came up with a brilliant idea. I saw him searching through the ads for the local supermarkets. He wanted to go shopping with me. He had saved up his earnings and money the girls had paid him and was ready to "invest." He bought 12 packs of soda, snacks and chips - all on sale. This was all much cheaper than our own store's prices. Here is what he did:

He set up a large table in his bedroom (his room was enormous - this is an old house!). He laid out all the treats and drinks.  He had picked out all the favorite items he knew we couldn't resist. His set up his prices and opened his own store in our house!

Dad would come home from work on break, hungry, and head right to Matt's room. He would buy soda and chips and walk away happy. I would buy my favorite cookies, drink and chips from him. Every day the girls went to Matt's store to buy whatever they wanted. His prices were very reasonable. He only marked them up to what we would have sold them for in our own store. He made an incredible amount of money and here's the best part - we were all grateful and happy. I fondly remember those days. We all miss Matt's store. . .

On another occasion, Matthew decided to make homemade muffins to sell in our store. This was something I did the first year we owned it, but when we moved across the street, I got too tired and busy to bother. Matthew set his alarm clock to wake him up at 4 am. Our store opened at 5 and he wanted to have everything ready. The first couple of mornings, I got up with him and helped. I showed him how to do everything. Then he was on his own. He did this for about a week. He would get up every single morning, bake the muffins, wrap them up, and then take them over to the store before sunrise. He would put them in a basket at the check-out counter, label them and then head home  to go back to sleep.  Whatever didn't sell by the end of the day (there were always a few left) we would get to eat later.

In regard to sewing skills- I taught all the children how to hand-sew when they were very young. Matthew knows how to sew on a button, fix a hem, repair a rip in a blanket, fix a stuffed animal, and use the sewing machine to make anything he wants. When he was around 6 years old, he would make clothes for his GI-Joes, using camouflage fabric. Then, when he was 11, and we lived in this house, across from the store, he made "punching guys." I bought him plain muslin fabric for this. He created a pattern and made a 4 foot tall "character," using the plain fabric. He put old clothes on his creation and then used a permanent marker to draw the face. These were so cute! To tease me, he used to leave one of these guys, sitting on a chair, late at night in the shadowy dark, so I would scream when I suddenly saw one!   He named these characters. All the other children wanted one too. So he made a bunch of them. We still have some around here somewhere.

Money skills - Matt has been taught to avoid all debt. He works for all his money. He also knows how to go without when necessary.  After spending 4 years working for us in our store, he got a job in a restaurant and worked there for a year. He then became seriously ill and unable to work. He took several months off to rest and recover. He is not quite back to himself yet, but we keep him busy here at home. He is my one-man cleaning crew. He paces himself, but does most of the heavy cleaning here at home. He is an excellent organizer, planner and diligent worker. He often inspires the other children to see who can have the cleanest room! I pay him for small jobs around the house. He is more than willing to work for pay. He also budgets his money. He is an excellent shopper. He knows how to buy cheap ingredients to make a meal. He knows how to find just the right store when he needs inexpensive clothes. He is also my biggest adviser when it comes to financial concerns. I believe in sharing our money issues with my children, so they can be a part of the solution and help plan and economize.

Child Care - Matthew has been an incredibly loving brother to his 2 older sisters (who adore him) and his 2 younger siblings. He is their best friend. He has always helped me take care of the younger ones. We also had a daycare in our home from the time he was 12 years old, until he was 16. He is excellent with babies, toddlers and preschoolers. He is patient, understanding and a great babysitter. I have been right there, all along, to guide him.

Hard work -Every member of our family had to help with the store. We all took shifts. Matthew spent hours over there helping Dad. He started when he was 10 years old. He stocked shelves, handled inventory, swept floors, mowed the lawn, and helped Dad come up with new ideas for our commercial kitchen's menu.  Matthew has always worked here at home as well. I had the children working from the time they could walk. We enjoy rest and relaxation more when we are proud of our accomplishments and are worn out from a hard, productive day.

What about you? I'd love to hear what you are doing to prepare your sons for life. What skills are they learning?

Be sure to read my Series on Teaching Home Economics to Daughters.

Mrs. White

Find Home-keeping Inspiration, in Mrs.White's book -Mother's Book of Home Economics .  Paperback, 312 pages.

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TerriG said...

Wow, I am in awe. These are some great ideas. I must throw off my controlling ways of doing things myself. Thanks for the inspiration. I have gleaned much today!

Krystal said...

What an incredible and inspiring post!

Lisa Noel said...

GREAT post. some of these things I'd have to teach myself first but we're trying hard to make our boys well rounded boys and some of these stuff that I don't know they're getting from outside sources. we're finding the cub scouts is a great program for us as it gives us precise goals of tasks to work on for them to learn much of what you're talking about/

Cher said...

Great post!

Following you from Mama Bzz group!

Anonymous said...

I love reading about your lovely family and this is the first time I've read much about your wonderful older son. You must be so proud of him and all your kids.

Dawn said...

You sound like an awesome mom! Thanks for coming over to visit today - I always wonder how people find me - it has been a fun 4 years.

Beth E. said...

Oh, my...Matthew sounds like a wonderful person! You've done a great job raising him.

Thanks so much for becoming a new follower on my blog, and for leaving such a nice comment! :-)

Coolestmommy said...

As my oldest boy is just entering the teen years, these are some great ideas to use as he grows and matures.

Glad to find you from the buzzhive. I'm now following and hope you'll follow back at


java girl said...

Oh Mrs White...

I keep thinking about what I want to search for next in Vintage Home Ec. I had thought about maybe some of my moms old old old cook books. But when I went shuffling through those last weekend, I couldn't find the one I was thinking of...

So I guess I'm a slow work in progress. Maybe I will be inspired today and get one out this week. I sure need to!

Hope you are all well. I love this picture of abe lincoln.


Simple Beauty

John said...

I saw your link when you visited my wife's blog (Bells, Candles on Lace). I enjoyed your post very much although it is so unlike my own childhood. Times have changed as have roles of family members. You have a beautiful family and your life sounds full and enjoyable. :)

Unknown said...

WOW, I must say you are braver than me. I don't know that I would want to give my 7 year old a hammer or tool box. LOL.

He is a good helper (sometimes) and does like to bake with me!

Heather said...

Good Morning:) Thanks for your supportive comments! I skimmed this post last week, and found it again this morning. This really is an inspiring post and it is so nice to know there are such good guys out there! My boys have done many of these things and I am proud of them...but I have not instilled good things when it comes to financial planning/carefulness. That is something all of us have to work on here! Tell Matt we are impressed! PS: I agree. Boys are MUCH easier, I think

Tracy @ Hall of Fame Moms said...

What great lessons and character training! Who knows what great things he will do throughout his adult life. Great job, Mama! Found you at Raising Homemakers today, btw :)

Anonymous said...

Wonderful post Mrs. White, your son seems to have a servant's heart as well.

Ms Eva said...

Wonderful story! :)

(Here from HHM)

Rachel said...

Great reminder post. My 3 yo son *loves* to clean and will run around willingly doing all the things I hate to do. Not well, but better than not done. It's so easy to forget that our job as mothers is to teach them, not to do it all for them.

Visiting from HHH.