SLR 089: Own Your Work
Play • 5 min

“If you want your children to turn out well, spend twice as much time with them and half as much money.” – Abigail van Buren

My Uncle Russ once told me about a neighbor who sent his son over to ask if he could wash his car.  My uncle told the boy he would pay him $5, but the boy declined, saying his father paid him $20 per wash.  When the boy got older and went to apply for his first job, he could not find an employer who would pay him what he thought he was worth. He eventually became a drug dealer and a thief.  The last my uncle heard, the boy was in prison.

The father of the young man had set an unreasonable expectation…convincing his son that he was entitled to an enhanced reward for his labor. I suspect the man created unrealistic expectations in other areas of his son’s life, as well.  He probably meant well.  Maybe he thought his son needed a boost in ego, but of all the things we want to encourage in our children, inflated pride, or a sense of entitlement, is not one of them.  We should never confuse inflated self-pride with hard-earned self-confidence.  Self-confidence is an attribute that is earned.  It grows naturally over time from having gained the knowledge and experience.

Encourage your children to do regular chores around the house.  You might choose to compensate some extracurricular chores with a small amount of money, while most chores, you can explain, are to be done as a contributing member of the household.

Teach your children to focus on the job at hand.  It is the work that matters, not the monetary reward from having done the work.

The Big Picture

When giving your child work to do, give them the big picture of what needs to be done.  For example, “the lawn needs to be kept green”, or “this area needs to be picked up”, etc., but tell them that how they accomplish the job is up to them.  If they have any questions, or need some help, they can ask, but the job belongs to them.  They are the boss.  Once or twice a week you will walk the job with them to see how they are doing.

I like Stephen Covey’s “green and clean” principle from his book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”.  See “green and clean“.

There are “methods” we learn over time to do certain jobs, but if you offer your child too much help, or supervise too closely, with specific instructions, you stifle their sense of “owning the job”, their independence and sense of accomplishment.  The benefit they might derive from learning “the method” of doing the job a certain way, will in large measure be lost when you take control, because they no longer feel invested in the job.   Sit back and observe, unseen.  Watch how they do the job, and don’t interrupt, even when you know you could show them a faster, better, more efficient way to do it.

At these early stages of teaching your child to work, they need to feel it is their job, not yours with them doing it.  At this point all you want to do is set a reasonably high expectation that the job will be done thoroughly and completely, i.e., “no part of the lawn missed,” or, “everything picked up and things put in their proper place,” etc.  If they can accomplish the job doing it their way, leave them alone for now to do it.  If they do a good job, praise them.  If they miss something, calmly point it out and set the clear expectation of completing the job.  Encourage them to always finish strong.

There will be time later to ask them if they’d like a tip on how they could do a specific thing better in the job they do.  They can choose to accept your advice, or decline it.  If they want to be shown “the method” of doing something a certain way, then show them only that one thing, even if you know you could show them so much more.  If they ask you to show them more, do so.  Let them figure out as much as they can on their own.  By doing this you will build independence, confidence, resourcefulness, and a pride of ownership in a job well done.

Owning the Work

The emphasis should always be on “owning” the work, not on what they will get once the work is done.  As a practical matter, we all must work for compensation at some point, but if taught at an early age that the work, itself, is the valuable thing, regardless of the kind of work it is, then you have done your job as parent.  This work “ethic” should transfer to other areas, as well, like gaining knowledge studying in school.

If your children learn these lessons with loving guidance, you will have taught them so much more than the subject of work.  You will have taught them how to guide others, having been guided well by you.

“Too many people spend money they haven’t earned, to buy things they don’t want, to impress people they don’t like.” – Will Rogers



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