A few nights ago, I was flipping through the channels and came across an old episode of Everybody Loves Raymond. Since I’m a sucker for the crotchety old grandfather’s one-liners, I settled in to mindlessly watch as I scrolled my phone. The episode was about main characters Debra and Ray’s oldest daughter taking on more responsibility in the home, and it caused Marie, Ray’s mother, to go into conniptions when she heard that her granddaughter was doing chores like laundry, cooking, and babysitting. Naturally, hilarity ensued and resulted in the little girl going on a strike, managed by her grandfather.
While the episode was humorous, I got to thinking about our household.
My kids do a ton of chores around our home, and we don’t pay them to do so. They are responsible for things like mowing the lawn, making their own lunches during the school year, and emptying the dishwasher. They are expected to keep up with their homework schedules, and they know that they can’t hang with their friends if their rooms look like an explosion at a mattress factory.
They toe the line around here not only because it’s expected, but also because we reward them with lavish praise for their work ethic. And let’s be clear: They don’t always do their chores with a smile and gladness in their hearts. They are normal, rule-pushing, eye-rolling teenagers, but for the most part, our kids are pretty helpful with our day-to-day routine.
And I tell them that I’m grateful for their hard work as often as I can.
I can’t tell you the last time I complimented my kids on their physical appearance, but I can tell you the last time I told them I appreciated how hard they worked when they cleaned their bedrooms, and how much I appreciated them — because my husband and I decided a long time ago that our kids are more than pretty clothes and trendy haircuts.
That’s not to say that we don’t let them know how handsome, beautiful, and cute they are. We do. That’s just not our default. We want them to feel successful from within, not because of their outward appearances.
In this social media age, we are bombarded with images of societal perfection all the time. Kids today see celebrities losing baby weight in the blink of an eye, and they see airbrushed models at every turn. It’s very easy for a kid to simply assume that if they look the part, they’ll get ahead in the world, and we don’t want our children falling under that spell.
Being successful takes honest hard work and motivation. I want my kids to know that Hugh Jackman was a physical education teacher before he was the Wolverine and that Jennifer Hudson worked at Burger King before she hit it big on the music scene. I want them to know that a successful career is built over years of hard work, perseverance, and a willingness to learn from failure.
And I can do my part to foster that work ethic in my children by complimenting them for a job well done, and other character qualities, as much as possible.
This is not to say that I subscribe to the “every kids gets a trophy for participation” style of parenting. I am certainly not going to tell my son that he did a good job if he half-assed washing the car, and my daughter isn’t going to hear “Awesome work!” if she did a half-assed job cleaning her bathroom.
But I won’t belittle them, either, because a work ethic doesn’t just materialize in your children overnight. Just like learning to ride a bike, kids have to be taught and encouraged to finish projects well.
Teaching your kids about work ethic and character means helping them to see where they have made mistakes when they are accomplishing a task. Taking the time to say, “Hey, son, I see that you got most of the car, but you missed this section. Let’s fix that real quick,” not only encourages them to finish a project properly but helps to foster pride of workmanship.
When I see my kids pitch in at my mother-in-law’s house during a family gathering without being asked, or being asked by a neighbor to care for a pet while they are out of town because “your kids are so responsible,” it means more to me than any compliment someone could give me about my kids being handsome or pretty. And when they beam with pride when their father tells them that he noticed that they cleaned up the kitchen after dinner, I know that they are learning valuable skills that will carry them through a lifetime.
Of course, I think my kids are adorable, and I will always be envious of my daughter’s long, lustrous hair and my son’s winning smile. I look at them every day and wonder how on earth I was gifted with such perfect creatures, despite their mother’s family nose and their father’s baldness. But when you are able to look beyond your children’s physical attributes and see that they are becoming young adults who care about their community and their surroundings, I am filled with pride beyond words.
And it makes the eye-rolling when I force them to clean their rooms a little bit more tolerable, I have to admit.