Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Building a Strong Work Ethic in Our Children

Library of Congress: Children helping with housework, 1943, New York.

Mr. White and I come from blue-collar, working class families in suburban towns south of Boston. We both grew up working around the house, working in the yard, and working in our neighborhoods.

I don't remember my parents giving me spending money. But I always remember working for those extra things I wanted in life. I used to walk at least one mile every day to elementary school, and then later to the bus stop for the higher level schools. When I was in high school, I walked several miles a day (yes, even in winter). This was part of the work ethic. This was part of learning not to depend on others for things we should be doing for ourselves. Of course, this was before we feared crime, as this current culture has to worry about. This was when neighbors knew neighbors, knew your parents and watched out for all the kids. This was when communities were stable and safe. It was before broken homes became rampant and people moved in and out of neighborhoods faster than we could get to know them.

There was a tiny store on the corner near our school. Everyday, we kids would stop in there to get a drink, an ice cream or a little candy. We would use our own money. This was earned babysitting, doing yard work,  and selling papers or magazine subscriptions.

When I got older, I worked at a few companies. This provided me with money for clothes, the movies, or eating at restaurants. All my friends worked for their money too. Even though we lived in a relatively wealthy community, we all had a strong work ethic. Our parents didn't give us our spending money. We all earned it.

When I met my husband, at the age of 17, I was working as a secretary in a marine insurance agency, right near the water. It was a lovely place and a great job. Clients would come in to pay their insurance premiums for their yachts. I was surrounded by wealth and privilege but I still worked for what I had, as we all did. None of us thought the rich clients had a free ride. We all knew they worked for what they had.

When I became engaged, I quit my job and started to prepare for a family of my own. Mr. White and I had a contract and I never had to work (at a job) again. Both of us still worked hard, but in different ways. Me at home, and him at a job. This example to our children was invaluable.

When we started to have children, we taught them the value of money and the value of hard work. They had ways of earning money around the house and helping me with any home-business I had undertaken for their sake. Part of homeschooling, over the years, was learning to be productive, and how to run a business.

Later, we bought a country store. Our children, from as young as 5 years old, worked to help us in our business. They had plenty of opportunities to earn money by working for us.  

When the children were very young, I gave them extra work around the house everyday. This was optional work and paid anywhere from 5 cents to 25 cents. They thought this was a fortune and eagerly earned their spending money. I still remember the pride Rachel (now 24, but then 5 years old) had when we walked into a little restaurant to pick up our take-out order. She wanted to buy herself a drink and used her own money. She looked at her little sister and said, "I worked hard for that money!" I could tell the lessons were sinking in.  And while others, at times, would scoff that I required the children to work, they cannot deny that my children all have a strong work ethic. These children are dependable and reliable and put in a good day's work.

This is the blue -collar working class. These are the kind of values that made America strong.  Sadly, children of today don't understand about delayed gratification. They want everything before they earn the money to buy it. This is dangerous to their own livelihood and for our society.  One of the greatest things we mothers can teach our children, is to wait and to work and to save, and then to spend. But never before the money is earned. . . Never.

Mrs. White

From the Archives

The Lovely Things We Do At Home - Domestic Occupations.

A Little Visit - The Parlour in the Morning.

You Don't Have to Be Rich - The Humble Home.

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For old time encouragement in living simply on a limited income, order Mrs. White's book:

"An Old Fashioned Budget: Humble Financial Management for the Christian Housewife"

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Mary P said...

These days most children are growing up with the "entitlement" mindset. My parents owe me, the government owes me, etc. It is so important to teach good work ethics and personal responsibility. Thank you again for such an encouraging post! I don't check your blog every day, but about once a week I get on and read ll your posts that I missed :-) Bless you!

Tiffany said...

Very good... a lot to think about!

Mrs. Stam said...

Love this post,and these are very valuable lessons to teach our little one!

Carrie said...

Mrs. White, I love this story. It is true that today's youth are given eccentric gifts freely, and handed many things that we were not as children growing up. It is very common to see this happen in today's world, and it is sad. We can all try so hard to teach our children all of these practices, but it is even harder for them to maintain this as they go into the world.

Cathy said...

This is such a good thing to encourage parents in, because it's so tempting to "give" our children everything. Thank you.

Deanna said...

Great post with a very important message.
God bless,

Meaningful Mama said...

Thanks for this wonderful reminder as I'm just in the beginning stages of raising little ones.