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Dear Family Whisperer: Take a Holiday and Let Your Kids Work

We need a new national holiday: Give Your Kid a Real Job Day. I'm all for Bring Your Child to Work Day. It's vital to model persistence and creativity for our children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews.
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Family Eating a Meal
Family Eating a Meal


We need a new national holiday: Give Your Kid a Real Job Day. I'm all for Bring Your Child to Work Day. It's vital to model persistence and creativity for our children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews. And increasing evidence suggests that when mothers work, their children benefit. But to prepare them for adulthood, we also need to give kids opportunities to improve their thinking and skills. They need real jobs.

Why? Modern parents typically run their households without giving children any responsibility. We no longer talk to children about what it takes to run a family or how we do things around the house. Such conversations, once commonplace, are now family patter only in laundry commercials ("See how I'm using Clorox to get this mud out of your baseball pants?")!

We run our homes in silence. We make the grocery list, mop the floor, scour the frying pan without thinking, no less saying, why or how we do it. It's rote work, we reason -- boring. Our kids wouldn't be interested.

Parents do all the thinking and most of the work. If two adults are at the helm, they might battle over who does what and how. But even as their "chore war" rages, neither one thinks to involve the children. In some households, parents "assign" odd jobs, but that's not the same as giving children responsibility and a voice in management.

Asked to do chores, kids often say (to their parents or behind their backs), "I don't see the point." That's because they don't have a personal stake in care-taking family space. Their parents do it for them.

How can things change?
Family life would be different if parents saw how capable their kids are. It would be different if the children were in on the planning. It would be different if everyone in the family, adults and children, viewed running the household as a team responsibility.

We already talk to them about how other teams are run. During a televised sports event, we go into great detail about plays and strategies. Now here's the irony: Only a handful of children actually will play on sports teams beyond high school. Almost all of them will be members of team family. So doesn't it also makes sense to teach them the rules of cooperation and the strategies they'll need to participate in the "game" of household management?

Celebrate Give Your Kid a Real Job Day at least once a year. Sit down as a family. First, decide what needs to be tended or looked at in your household. Then, actually let your child or children help figure out how to do it.

Whatever the problem, let them ponder it. The dilemma might be how to organize garage clutter, or downsize the number of toys in the playroom. It might be a management and logistics problem, getting through the morning time crunch or making pick-up arrangements. It could be a seasonal project like leaf-raking or snow-clearing, a summer project like building a tree house. Or it could be a relationship issue -- how do we support each other better or not fight as much?

What can each family member do to help? What supplies will we need? What must we make and/or buy? How much time, energy, and money will it cost us? Which relatives and friends might help us? No one likes to wash floors or dust out bookshelves or scrape the crud off the steps. But being "in it" together makes the drudgery a little more palatable.

Parents, take a step back. It's hard. You'll want to guide and make suggestions and (probably) micromanage, just as you do on the other 364 days of the year. Stop yourself.

Offer to help and plan with them. Remind them you're a resource. But don't overstep. Trust them. Count on the strength of the team. If you're tempted to interfere, think of the skills they'll learn, the grit they'll develop, and how competent and confident they'll feel afterwards.

When you allow children to step up to responsibility, they thrive. If they can handle the household on Give Your Kids a Real Job Day, they can handle life. Working together will make the family stronger, too. And as for you, Mom and Dad, enjoy the rewards. You might surprise yourself and want to do this more often than once a year.

Hi, it's Melinda. I welcome your comments and suggestions about Give Your Child a Real Job Day and, if you try it, would like to know how it worked in your family. If you have questions, send those, too. No topics are off limits, and it's all anonymous. Ask via Twitter @MelindaBlau #DearFamilyWhisperer, or click on this link. And if you want to learn more about running your family like a co-op, read Family Whispering.