The Newest (Pretty Old) Path to Success

When a ‘groundbreaking’ study comes out that contradicts my values and beliefs, I view it with a healthy dose of skepticism. When a study comes out that presents a new idea that neither contradicts nor supports my worldview, I consider it, though my approach tends to be one that recognizes that lying with statistics and proving just about anything is easily done. At the same time, I confess to a feeling of satisfaction when the ‘latest, breaking news’ confirms something that I have been promoting all along. 

Hence, the feeling of gratification when Saturday’s Wall Street Journal presented this headline, “Why Children Need Chores: Doing household chores has many benefits—academically, emotionally and even professionally.”  As you can see from my youngest grandson’s incredulous look upon being told that infancy is no excuse for not participating in Passover cleaning, we take chores seriously in the Lapin household.  



Our motivation for our children doing chores was not so that they would achieve academic or professional success as adults. I don’t think that is the motivation of farm families whose children typically shoulder responsibility in a way that urban children don’t. Our children pitched in because that was the best way for our house to function and thrive. In the process, they became competent human beings and thrived as well. 

Furthermore, we know that God created us to be givers and not takers. When we are only takers, our souls corrode, leaving us moody and resentful. Few things fill us with as much exuberance as giving. This is one reason people have children. They allow to be givers in the most meaningful of ways. However, the danger is that some parents, with the most loving intentions, raise children who are only takers. Ensuring that we allow children to give to the welfare and smooth running of the family is vitally important.

We focus, today, too much on individualism. Not the individualism of Thoreau at Walden Pond, but an individualism that says that we are entitled to happiness, a high standard of living, self-actualization and anything else we desire at the expense of others. Either our family, the government or our employers should supply our needs and spouses and children should show up and disappear on demand. We are the centers of our universe and others exist to serve us. 

I don’t think that chores, as the article puts it, teach children directly to “care for others.” I think chores teach children that they are part of a greater community; one that stands or falls together. When our children were growing up we had a home full of fascinating guests, amazing summer vacations and a lot of fun. None of this would have been possible if we were each focused solely on our own pursuits, expecting to take from the family and not contribute to it. 

Chores shouldn’t stand by themselves as a “to do” item. Laundry, cooking, cleaning up are all a part of the flow of life, necessary things that must be done just as eating and paying the electric bill needs to be done. As I said above, It saps the human soul to constantly take and never to give. Children are by definition needy takers. As early as possible (all right, two months may be a tad premature) children should be given the privilege of contributing to the well-being of the family – not so that they can go to a good college or have a good career, but so that they can grow up healthy in body and soul.



4 thoughts on “The Newest (Pretty Old) Path to Success”

  1. Lora, I can’t pretend that my kids didn’t sometimes complain about chores. But other times they turned them into games. They once set up a ‘mopapalooza” competition (we are a competitive family) and divided our very large kitchen/dining room floor into segments. I had to judge their mopping on style as well as cleanliness, We had kids doing figure skating steps as they dried the floor with rags. The floor got mopped and everyone had an evening’s entertainment.

  2. * Work can bring us far greater rewards than the obvious clean dishes or finished report. It can open us up to opportunities.
    * Work takes faith: that it means something, provides something, serves with goodness.
    *Work protects us, especially from ourselves. “Idle hands…” and all that.
    *Work has its place, and needs to be done as wisely as possible so we don’t overwork.
    *Sometimes my kids have commented that they can’t always tell the difference between work and play. That’s a great thing to hear. They enjoyed working, well, those times when they enjoyed it, and they learned, talked, laughed together, grew together, loved together. That’s easier done when working than when everyone is plugged into their isolated personal devices.
    * I really like your last paragraph especially. I wish I had read that years ago. I often have operated under the idea that chores should exist in and of themselves. But along the way I found that chores are simply part of the daily flow, the rhythm of life. So, work can be poetry, right? That would have been a beautiful thought to carry in me when I was young.

  3. Quite right. When I was a kid I failed to understand why I had to perform those onerous ‘chores’ instead of playing all the time. But I grew to accept them and over time, not to hate them perhaps quite so much. And then a funny thing happened. Just like we hate spinach as kids and then suddenly as adults, we passionately love and could KILL for spinach, I turned around and was amazed how I had developed a work ethic. In my case, I think it was just as you theorize in your best case scenario: that we become aware of the integral role we play in the greater human community. How it motivates you when you realize, like little Hans Brinker, that your little finger in the hole is keeping the entire dyke intact. How you can work with dedication when you know it all depends on YOU!
    It is amazing how our work ethic sprung up mysteriously and seemingly unaided in both of our children. They watched Father and Mother labor as if it all depended on them (and in fact often it all did depend on them!).

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