Some things are best taught by coming alongside and sharing an experience. A solid work ethic is one of them. It is a constant battle to raise kids in our affluent culture without promoting a sense of entitlement. Unlike prior generations, most children never really know what it means to go without. We have plenty of food, clothing, and a decent home in a great neighborhood in Duluth. Compared to most of the rest of the world, we have won the lottery.
And yet, our children frequently fall prey to an entitlement attitude. When they see what other kids have, and they do not, naturally they feel jealous and that something is unfair. To combat this it is crucial to instill the values of hard work, saving, thrift, and generosity.
The importance of working hard is really one of the easier traits to instill in young children, because they have an abundance of energy and a willingness to work. They want to have purpose and to work hard like their parents. Too often we grownups fall prey to coddling our little ones, or we are too tired and busy to provide enough chores and odd jobs. I haven’t had the patience to provide nearly enough work for my own kids.
I was spurred into action recently by a conversation with family friends. Their son, Ben, started mowing lawns for the group homes his dad managed when he was just nine years old. Employees would stare out the window at the tired kid pushing the lawn mower’s middle bar to keep it moving, and grumble about “child abuse.” His dad, who grew up working even harder on a farm, stuck with it and gave his son encouragement as needed. He confidently shared the huge sense of accomplishment Ben felt in completing such a task, and gradually Ben’s can do spirit became an inspiration.
Seven years later, Ben is a confident teenager who has parlayed his experience into a thriving lawn mowing business in the Lakeside neighborhood. He found it necessary to invest $3000 in a commercial grade lawn mower, trailer, and trimmer. He continues to work hard, and has learned about budgeting, paying taxes and other expenses, and saving for wants and needs. He saves a large percentage of the earnings from his growing business for college, and has an eye for the future, not just the wants of the here and now.
What’s more, he isn’t simply an employee making minimum wage. He’s able to grow the business as large as he would like, and could even sub-contract work at some point. All this started when the excess energy of childhood was harnessed into a meaningful job.
To this day he looks back on that experience with fondness, and still appreciates the feeling of turning a shaggy lawn into something that could appear in a magazine. Seeing the results of an afternoon of hard work, and experiencing that sense of accomplishment is vital.
Observing that my own son was needing gainful employment, we spent the most recent Saturday afternoon doing simple hard work in a neighbor’s back yard. Though this was the first beautiful Saturday in a long time, this was the best way to seize the day. Numerous branches had fallen, so we cut and hauled them away. Also, a full winter’s accumulation of digested dog food allowed us to enjoy the first contract work for a business we have been meaning to launch: The Poop Snoops.
Think of all the bags of dog food a good sized dog will eat throughout a long winter. What goes in must go out. The simple work of cleaning the yard of this unwanted waste is something just about anybody can do, but nearly nobody wants to. This is especially the case after the glacial ice pack receded, leaving five months of canine bowel movements to attend to!
My young business partner and I earned a good wage for this labor, and though it was tiring and tedious work, he had fun doing it. His first paycheck produced a beaming smile, and will help him connect the dots between money, work, and the true cost of perceived needs and wants.