“What is the most important thing I should teach my children so they will have successful and happy lives?”
That is undoubtedly the most common question parents ask when they speak with the author of a book about parenting skills.
The answer is simple: More than any other skill, parents should teach their children to work. That means working hard by every imaginable definition: doing things the right way, being smart and not taking shortcuts.
Legendary football coach Vince Lombardi said, “The dictionary is the only place that success comes before work. Work is the key to success, and hard work can help you accomplish anything.”
The best method to instill this trait entails parents regularly working alongside their children.
Before becoming Utah’s lieutenant governor, Spencer Cox gave up a prestigious career as a city lawyer and took a big pay cut to move to a small town and work in a family business. He told a newspaper reporter he made the change because he was concerned about how he would be able to teach his children to work. He knew the task would be simpler in a rural area with acres of land and animals to tend.
In an agrarian society like that which existed throughout the U.S. and most of the world until the middle of the 20th century, it was easy for parents and children to work side by side. Today parents usually work away from the home. They go to an office for many hours, and when they return home they are frequently tired and want to relax. They often hire a service to maintain the lawn and someone to come in and clean the house. Repairs and maintenance are also hired out.
The result is that many children grow up without seeing their parents do much work. They see them leave in the mornings and come home at night.
Teaching children to work must go beyond a chore list tacked to the refrigerator, although making children responsible for daily tasks is a good starting point. One requirement of the family life merit badge asks Boy Scouts to “prepare a list of your regular home duties or chores (at least five) and do them for 90 days. Keep a record of how often you do each of them.” It is one of the toughest merit badges for boys trying to earn the Eagle Scout rank, the highest award for boys in scouting. One reason is that few boys today are required to regularly do five home chores.
Family First, a non-profit organization focused on strengthening families, recommends that parents assign daily chores but advises against paying children for doing those tasks. “Work in the family is an intrinsic value and is fundamentally worthwhile. Compliment; encourage; throw in the occasional treat… . Admire their good work, but don’t reassign the value of expected work to the false value of cash. However, consider paying your children for jobs that go above and beyond their normal responsibilities.”
One benefit of teaching children how to work hard is that it translates to success in any field or endeavor. Inventor Thomas Edison said, “The three great essentials to achieve anything worthwhile are: hard work, stick-to-itiveness, and common sense.”
Parents who are concerned about how they will pay for their children’s college tuition could perhaps provide greater lifetime value by teaching them to be dedicated workers. The best Ivy League education is of little worth to someone who is unwilling to work hard.
Pope Paul VI, who headed the Catholic Church from 1963 through 1978, explained that, “All life demands struggle. Those who have everything given to them become lazy, selfish and insensitive to the real values of life. The very striving and hard work that we so constantly try to avoid is the major building block in the person we are today.”
In modern society many children and adults suffer from stress-induced maladies — physical and mental. Nothing relieves stress better than hard labor. Hard work cleanses the soul. It’s like a reset button for bodies and minds. It is equally curative for children, adolescents and adults.
As Thomas Jefferson is credited with saying: “Determine never to be idle. No person will have occasion to complain of the want of time, who never loses any. It is wonderful how much may be done, if we are always doing.”