“I must go back to work,” lamented my friend Connie. “The money isn’t stretching far enough. I don’t want to leave my babies, but I have no choice!”
I understood. I had not only made a similar statement twenty years ago, I had even applied for a full-time job in town.
Neil, my husband, who was in the bishopric at the time, was away from home on Church business several evenings a week. This prevented him from taking a second job.
Even though we had worked everything out in our minds and prayed about the decision, I secretly hoped that I would fail the test required for my employment. I dreaded entering the work force away from home. Unfortunately, I passed the test, and as the time grew closer for employment to begin, I prayed even more fervently that the Lord would guide us to make the right decisions for our family.
Our prayers were answered when the Lord blessed us with a new idea for a family business. One day, shortly before my new job was to begin, Neil was prompted to go to an auction of government surplus equipment. There he bid on and purchased a floor scrubber and buffer. Thus began our family cleaning business. Neil would continue in his full-time employment, and we would schedule our cleaning jobs at night and on the weekends when he could help. This meant that I could remain a full-time mother.
For our first job, Neil arranged for us to clean the floor of a large variety store in our town once a week. We purchased other supplies—brooms, mops, detergent, wax—and went to work.
That first night of cleaning was a disaster. What should have taken Neil and me a few hours lasted all night! The floor was very dirty, and we had to get acquainted with our equipment and figure out the most efficient cleaning techniques. By the time we finished, I was so exhausted I was crying. Was all this hard work really worth it?
The hourly wage on our first check wasn’t much, but it wasn’t long before we streamlined our work procedures, learned “tricks of the trade,” and began to realize substantial profits. Later, as the children grew older and the local bank asked for our services, we involved them in the business.
Each child was assigned jobs according to his or her age. For instance, Brad might operate the buffer, Jolene polish woodwork, Brent sweep, and Blake empty wastebaskets. If they worked, they earned money. If they didn’t work, they received nothing. Fortunately, they all chose to work. Out of their earnings, they paid tithing and deposited something into their savings accounts before spending any money.
One summer, Neil announced that he had contracted with a construction company to clean all the windows in a new school—for $450. That sounded like a fortune! We voted on the proposal and accepted the challenge. The Fourth of July holiday seemed a good time to do the job, and we planned to stay overnight, whether we finished in one day or not.
How we all worked! Even our littlest, Blake, got involved. Although he was just a toddler, he brought snacks and clean rags to us. Brent, seven, needed more rest breaks than the older children, so we mixed fun and treats with the work. On breaks we played hide-and-seek and other games in that huge building. It was a big job, but we look back on that experience with fond memories.
It wasn’t long before we added another bank to our schedule for daily cleaning, a medical clinic for weekly care, and a pharmacy for monthly maintenance. At the peak of our business venture, it was necessary to hire three people besides our immediate family to help.
I’ll never forget one particular night when Jolene was a freshman in high school. She and Brad were to “clean the bank” while the rest of us attended another activity. On the way home, we decided to stop by and see if our two oldest needed any help. It was dark when we drove up to the back door, unnoticed.
Through the glass we could see Brad talking to Jolene as he shined the water fountain. She was listening as she swept the floor. He shined, she swept—both of them over and over in the same places. From the expressions on their faces, we knew they were absorbed in their conversation. We did not want to disturb them, so we drove quietly away. Later, we found out that Brad was counseling Jolene about high school, teachers, classes, and boys. We were glad that they had chances such as this to become closer.
As our children grew older and began to drive, they assumed more and more responsibilities in the business. This gave me a chance to “retire” and Neil to work only part-time as needed. When each child reached the stage of full-time employment elsewhere, he or she left the family business, and the next oldest assumed the role of foreman. During the time when Brent and his wife were struggling with college expenses, they took over the business for a time as a way to add to their income.
Gradually, as the work force dwindled, we began cutting back on our cleaning contracts.
The income from it now helps pay Blake’s expenses while he serves a mission. As long as the business is valuable to us, we will keep it going. After that, we will close it down with much gratitude in our hearts for its part in building our family financially, emotionally, and spiritually. We all learned important lessons about honesty, dependability, setting priorities, responsibility, efficiency, doing a job well, and spending money wisely.
Throughout our married life, Neil has worked hard at his career, and his salary has provided the basis for a financially secure life. But our cleaning-business income helped pay for some necessities and for emergencies. Perhaps another family would have received a different answer from the Lord than we did. The important thing is that we sought the Lord’s counsel, and he helped us meet our family expenses.
From personal experience I know that the Lord is willing to direct us if we ask him for help and faithfully honor his answers.