Debbie Bowen of Hooper is a veteran when it comes to raising children. But the mother of 10 remembers a time when her graduate student husband was rarely around and she felt utterly overwhelmed with caring for her first four kids — who were then age 6, 4, 2 and a newborn.
One evening, as she expressed her frustrations to her husband, he told her she needed to get more help from the children. Bowen was sure that a 4- and 6-year-old didn’t have much to offer in the “help” department, but just to prove her husband wrong, she put them to work cleaning the bathroom and mopping the floors.
What she discovered was that they were capable of doing more than she had realized.
“It wasn’t perfect, that is where being tolerant came in, but I was surprised at what they could do,” she said. From that moment on, Bowen became committed to teaching her children how to work.
In her book “From Pampered to Productive: Raising Children Who Know How to Work,” Bowen shares her insights on how other parents can be successful at teaching their children the value of hard work.
“Getting our children to work really eases the burden on the mother, and it is also a blessing to the children,” the author said.
One section of her writing deals with excuses — those made by children and parents, too. Bowen finds that many parents fall into the trap of thinking that they can do it better, or faster, or at least without having to listen to their child complain. While this may seem easier in the short-term, Bowen said, it robs children of important lessons.
“Parents do not realize what they are doing in the long run,” she said.
In Bowen’s family, they live by the motto, “He who works eats.”
Simply put, she teaches her children that since everyone in the family is contributing to the messes, everyone is also expected to help clean up. And, she doesn’t offer them financial compensation, either. Instead, she teaches her children that they are reaping other rewards.
Now that her children are a bit older (her oldest is now 28), Bowen said she is starting to see her efforts pay off. She sees her children taking charge of their lives, providing service to others willingly and helping her out around the house without being asked when she is feeling sick or stressed.
Bowen’s book begins with four rules for teaching children to work: Be firm, fair and flexible; be patient; be tolerant; be specific. After she explains those in detail, she outlines the “Six D’s of Delegation,” which includes holding a family council to “deliberate” and give kids a say on how they want things to be done.
Next, she addresses the 15 most common excuses she hears for why parents are reluctant to require their kids to work and kids are equally uncommitted. This helps parents be prepared when their kids balk at the work, and helps kids overcome their own mental barriers.
One common argument she hears from a parent is that they have waited too long and their kids are now too old to be trained. To this, she says: It’s never too late. With older children, it may take a little more explaining about the advantages of hard work, and she suggests more give and take between parents and children during the deliberation process to come to an agreement.
On the flip side, some parents believe their kids are too young. But, Bowen says, a child as young as 1 or 2 can help carry in one small grocery item.
“That way, they grow up thinking that they are helpers,” she said.
The chores they are assigned grow as they grow.
When her kids were small, Bowen asked the youngest children to sort and put away socks and underwear. She found it was easy enough for them to do and helpful to her.
While Bowen gives her children only a few small chores on weekdays — like making their beds, helping with dishes and sweeping the floor — on Saturdays the house gets a thorough scrubbing from top to bottom before the kids are allowed to play.
It’s not as bad as it seems, Bowen said, and only takes about an hour when everyone is pitching in.
“If we give our children adult responsibilities we won’t end up with adults who act like children,” Bowen said.
Here are the top 10 reasons to get your children working, courtesy of Debbie Bowen’s “From Pampered to Productive: Raising Children Who Know How to Work,” available at bookstores and amazon.com:
1. Discover a more beautiful you by delegating to your children. You will feel less ornery, less grumpy, less stressed and less ugly.
2. You can’t do it all — you’re not an octopus.
3. Saves your sanity — you’re not Wonder Woman, either.
4. You will have more time for yourself — there is life after housework.
5. Keeps children busy — gives them something to do besides tease, fight, and text.
6. Many hands make light work — together, you can accomplish twice as much in half the time.
7. Promotes greater family unity — the type of unity gained while working as a family can be gained in no other way.
8. Enhances children’s self-esteem — the tasks we assign our children tell them our perceptions of themselves. Give them tasks that imply trust and approval. Where there is no challenge, there is no growth.
9. Prepares children for the real world — by giving your children adult responsibilities, you won’t end up with adults who still act like children.
10. Work is a blessing — teaching your children to work is one of the greatest gifts you can give.