Last Updated on February 28, 2024

Yesterday found me placing rags and spray bottles of homemade cleansers in my older boys’ hands: A very limited, age-appropriate version of Bathroom Cleaning 101. Get this: They loved it. Spraying stuff down, conquering unseen gross germs, making something look instantly better. After scrubbing the toilet, my oldest actually said, “That was easy! I could do this every day!” Remind me of this when he is older.

It helped me to remember a few of the things that work does for our kids. Because of the exploitation of so many children in slave labor around the world, I sense a trend toward completely “free” childhood, meant only for endless hours of play and creativity, of carrying out a little heart’s desires. But at the risk of sounding laughable, I guess I don’t want to cheat my kids out of the fulfillment that centuries of children have enjoyed: The respect, character, and honor of working alongside their parents, contributing to the needs of a family.

I saw this vividly in a friend of mine, a mother of six boys ranging from ages 12 years to three months. When she asks her boys to do things — quick favors around the house, possibly in the middle of one of their activities — they hop up and complete them without complaining. I’m hoping this is more common than I’ve experienced. But these boys’ simple, willing obedience reminded me that my children’s willingness to serve, their ability to see needs, their ability to competently and selflessly serve their wives and husbands and children of the future, starts now.

If mentally I’m frustrated by my kids’ self-centeredness (or their attitudes toward work), then aside from developmental factors, I need to begin taking responsibility for my own contributions to that: for not teaching them to help, or to envision being in someone else’s shoes, or to not complain or argue with a request. 

Work combats laziness, selfishness, and entitlement. It equips my kids with the perseverance for much greater tasks. Can we expect the next generation to labor for years translating the New Testament from a tribal language, or carefully seek out a cure for cancer, or pour out their lives for their own children’s needs, if they’re not aware of needs other than theirs, or not used to consistently pursuing things that are hard?

Our bathroom escapade yesterday was a teensy step closer to developing a value of excellence, too — not in the “drop down and give me twenty!” drill-sergeant sort of way, but in more of a “gross, poop germs are still on there!” manner that got us all laughing.

Even with that kind of boy humor — work also communicates respect to my kids, giving them a contribution. Just like any great occupation (think of the best job you’ve had), work gives us a sense of purpose. After my own layoff, I experienced a new appreciation for God’s association of our identity with the purposes He has given us.

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.

Ephesians 2:10

Work was the basis of one of His first communications with Adam, and I wonder if that purpose is linked to the new identity He’ll give each of us in eternity, calling us out into His great adventures and work He created us to fulfill.

Don’t get me wrong — there is no shortage of free play hours at our house, and a lot of our chores center around them cleaning up the crazy amount of toys God has given them. My preschoolers are learning part of their roles in life simply through play! But I hope to be reshaping the philosophy we’re all born with — “It’s all about me!” — with work lessons to equip them for life.

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  1. Barbara Rainey says:

    great post, Janele. i just read a piece by John Piper about John Calvin's influence on our country. On the subject of work he wrote, "Calvin's doctrine of vocation follows from the fact that every person great and small lives "in the Divine Presence." God's purposes govern the simplest occupation. He attends to everyone's work." The work of even small children matters and it is our responsibility as parents to teach them to work, to value their work, and to do it as unto the Lord. it was one of my top values in raising our kids. work it, baby, is right!

  2. Janel Breitenstein says:

    What a great quote, Barbara. I'm amazed at the way work prepares our kids for adulthood and for the Kingdom. Certainly prepares them for parenthood…!