5 June 2012

The value of work - for children

We had a lovely visit with Kerry, Sunny and Jamie recently, just before Sunny and Jamie left for a trip to Korea to visit family. We talked, marvelled at how fast Jamie is growing, watched him crawl around, stand up and giggle, picked vegetables in the rain and generally spent time enjoying being together. I had an interesting conversation with Sunny about disipline - I am dead against smacking (Sunny is too), and I told Sunny how we raised Kerry and Shane with a strategy of firm boundaries, encouragement and teaching them our values and how to live in our family. Children need to be taught almost everything - and living in their family is one of the most important parts. I tread a fine line being the mother-in-law and I'm well aware that my way might not suit, but I think my role as joint head of the family brings the responsibility of gentle adviser. So I talk about how I parented but don't expect that what I say will be acted on because I know that all children are different and all families have their own ways.

But that started me thinking about spoilt children I've known and that we are at the ideal time right now to start thinking about this because children aren't born with an entitled attitude, it's modelled for them and learned along the way. What is my role as grandmother in helping our two beautiful boys, Jamie and Alex, be happy and content without them developing that sense of entitlement?

Some of the things I can teach them is:

The value of money. The most obvious money difference between us and children is that we know how hard it is to earn money and that there is usually a limit to how much we have.

Teach them how to choose wisely, show them there are boundaries. There are always boundaries in life. It's good to know that early so you can build confidence and learn how to live with them.

The value of work. I want to see my grandsons happy to work along side us when they visit and stay with us. I have no doubt Shane and Sarndra and Kerry and Sunny will expect their boys to do certain jobs around the house, I will continue that while they're here too and from a young age, expect them to set the table, offer hospitality to visitors and their parents while they're here and to be a real part of a real family. And that means they do their little jobs as they become capable of doing them and they contribute to the family in a meaningful way. I can hardly wait for the time when we can teach them how to sow seeds and read stories to them about gardens and the wildlife here. Self-esteem is developed by knowing how to carry out tasks and that they are being relied on to look after certain things. That is not a burden for children; it builds character, confidence and courage; and they are strong foundations on which to build a life.

And I can model that behaviour for them in what I do in here and in the gifts I choose to give them. I am really saddened when I see young children out at events with mobile phones, iPads, iPods and computers. I don't think there is anything wrong with a child using the family computer, iPad and iPod. I expect children to be given the family mobile phone sometimes. But to be given those things as gifts at a young age is unnecessary and using them in a social situation is rude and disrespectful. I still remember going out with Tricia at Blackheath last year and having dinner at the local pub. There I watched a couple of families, obviously making the time to dine out with family and friends, but allowing their children to sit at the table with iPads and phones. The parents were all talking to each other and enjoying the outing. Their children were tied up in computer games and talking to their friends on the phone and didn't have a clue what was going on right in front of them. If children aren't expected to listen and speak at such a gathering, when do they learn how to do that?

This is a new area for all of us. Our rules for acceptable behaviour have developed over the years and  the capacity to take a phone or computer out in public to a family gathering has only been with us for a few short years. Maybe there hasn't been enough social comment on it yet, maybe families haven't yet decided on their own values and how they want their children interacting with technology.

Or am I being a fuddy-duddy? Are my hopes for grandchildren who speak at the dinner table and who leave their technology at home, not only when they're five but also when they're 25, completely opposite to how most people see it? Am I crazy to expect Jamie and Alex to grow up satisfied with what they have? I would love to hear your views on this. How are you raising your children to live simply in a techno-obsessed world? How are you, or did you, raise children who are happy without having everything their friends have?

Helping boys develop into caring, responsible men and girls into thoughtful, intelligent women starts when those children learn to walk. Games, play, books, make believe, dressing up and simple tasks that grow with the child, work side by side in developing well rounded people who know the value of work. It is difficult when you're listening to your five year old refuse to do what you ask and even more difficult when your teenager walks away when you're talking to them. But it is less likely to happen if you teach them, from a young age, that as well as being an individual, they're also an important and loved member of a family and in that family, everyone cares for the others and everyone helps. I have been through the five year old refusals and the difficult teen years and have two sons who are the finest men you could ever meet. Now they're both good family men, they have fine work ethics and they learned the foundations of those values many years ago when I first started asking them to help and showing them how to live in our family.

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