Lesson 29: Teaching Families the Value of Work and Responsibility

The Latter-day Saint Woman: Basic Manual for Women, Part A, (2000), 214–22


The purpose of this lesson is to help us teach family members to respect work and feel responsible toward the family.

The Privilege of Work

“A … newspaper [printed] an interview with a retired shepherd whose age is listed at 165. His name is Shirali Mislimov. He was born and has lived all his life in the Caucasus Mountains … between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea. …

“Mislimov still chops wood. ‘I am convinced an idler cannot live long,’ he told his interviewer. …

“The article said that the old man still ‘digs around trees in an orchard, which he has replanted several times in his lifetime.’

“‘Constant work, mountain air, and moderate eating helped me reach such an advanced age,’ said Mislimov, who neither drinks nor smokes” (quoted by Wendell J. Ashton in “The Sweetness of Sweat,” Ensign, July 1971, 35).

Although most of us will not live to be 165, we should value work for the temporal and spiritual blessings it provides. President David O. McKay said, “Let us realize that the privilege to work is a gift, that the power to work is a blessing, that love of work is success” (quoted by Franklin D. Richards in “The Gospel of Work,” Improvement Era, Dec. 1969, 101).

The best way to overcome boredom and disappointment is purposeful work that produces a positive result. Painting a fence, hoeing a garden, and digging a ditch are physical forms of work. Studying for school is also work, as is caring for others.

  • What are other kinds of work?

Teaching Children to Work Hard

It is important for children to learn good work habits and attitudes while they are young. These habits will likely stay with them later. They can make the difference between a useful, productive life and one that is idle and wasteful.

  • Why should children learn good work habits and attitudes?

Bishop Vaughn J. Featherstone told a story of how a lady taught a boy to work:

An aristocratic lady once hired a 13-year-old boy to take care of her yard and garden. After the first week she explained to him: “There are as many ways of mowing a lawn as there are people, and they may be worth anywhere from a penny to five dollars. Let’s say that a three-dollar job would be just what you have done today. … A five-dollar lawn is—well, it’s impossible, so we’ll forget about that.”

She allowed the boy to evaluate his work and decide how much she should pay him. She paid him two dollars for his first week’s effort. The boy was determined to earn four dollars the next week, but he did not do a job worth even three dollars. He worked carefully and looked for ways to make the yard better, but over the next few weeks he still could not pass the three-and-a-half dollar job. Finally, he resolved that instead of just trying for a four-dollar job, he would try to earn five dollars. He thought of all the ways he could make the yard more beautiful. He worked very hard all day long, taking out small amounts of time occasionally to rest. It took him longer than ever before, but by the time he was finished he was satisfied that he had done a job that was worth five dollars.

After carefully inspecting the yard, the lady decided that this boy had done the impossible. She praised him for his work and was glad to pay him the five dollars he deserved.

Many years later, when the boy was a grown man, he recalled how important that experience was to him: “‘Since that time, some 25 years ago, when I have felt myself at an end with nothing before me, suddenly, with the appearance of that word, “impossible,” I have experienced the unexpected lift, the leap inside me, and known that the only possible way lay through the very middle of impossible.’” (See Conference Report, Oct. 1973, 98; or Ensign, Jan. 1974, 84–86; quoted from Richard Thurman, “The Countess and the Impossible,” Reader’s Digest, June 1958.)

Children often feel that doing their best is impossible. However, as this story shows, we can challenge them to do a little better than before. We must also praise them for work well done and for good progress made. Then they do not become discouraged.

  • How can we challenge and encourage our children to perform well in school? Ask a sister to tell how she encourages her children to achieve in other areas, such as music, art, or sports.

Work Contributes to Family Success

  • Display visual 29-a, “A mother teaching her child to work in the kitchen.”

President Spencer W. Kimball said: “We believe in work for ourselves and for our children. … We should train our children to work, and they should learn to share the responsibilities of the home and the yard. They should be given assignments to keep the house neat and clean, even though it be humble. Children may be given assignments … to take care of the garden” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1976, 5; or Ensign, May 1976, 5).

  • How does working for the benefit of the family help a child develop a sense of responsibility?

Some parents feel they had to work too hard when they were growing up. They do not want their children to feel the same way, so they do not require their children to help with work in the home. Others feel that children are too young or unskilled to help much. But many others feel it is important to have children help at home.

  • What are the results of these attitudes about work?

We may wonder how to help children learn the joy of work and feel responsible toward the family. Each family’s situation is different, but children can learn to enjoy work and take responsibility in many ways.

  • Display a poster of the following list or refer to the information on the chalkboard:

    1. 1.

      Teach children to care for some of their own physical needs.

    2. 2.

      Ask older children to teach and care for younger children.

    3. 3.

      Teach children to help care for a family business.

    4. 4.

      Organize family work projects.

Teach Children to Care for Some of Their Own Physical Needs

We should teach children to pick up after themselves and to care for their clothes. Someday they may need to teach these tasks to their own children or do the work themselves. Children need to learn to be self-reliant. They need to develop positive attitudes about work and learn the lessons that work teaches.

  • What are specific ways to teach children to care for their own physical needs?

Ask Older Children to Teach and Care for Younger Children

Older children should be taught to feel partly responsible for their younger brothers and sisters. They can tend them when parents are away for a while. They can read to, sing with, play with, and entertain them. Most important, older children should set a good example. Elder Adney Y. Komatsu told of the power of example: “Recently, in a fast and testimony meeting, a young man bore his testimony for the first time since joining the Church. He touched the hearts of everyone when he said, ‘My brother has been a wonderful example to me. I noticed a great change in my brother’s life as he magnified his calling in the priesthood. I know my brother was called of God to his position in the Church. He exercises compassion and service and serves the Lord with diligence, with humility, and with cheerfulness. I want to become like my brother’” (in Conference Report, Korea Area Conference 1977, 4).

  • What are other ways older children can help with younger children?

Teach Children to Help Care for a Family Business

As members of the family, children should share in family work. President Spencer W. Kimball described his own experiences as a young man: “I’ve been grateful for the experience I had under the [instruction] of my own father to wash with Castile soap the harnesses and grease them to preserve them. I learned to paint the picket fence, the water tank, the carriage shed, the granary, the buggy and the wagon, and finally the house. And since the days when I wore the occasional blister on my hands, I have not been sorry for those experiences” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1976, 172; or Ensign, May 1976, 126).

The Willy Herrey family of Göteborg, Sweden, involved their seven children in a successful family business. “Father, mother, and children—ages ten to eighteen—deliver newspapers before sunrise. They also train and sell horses. In the summer they operate a children’s dude ranch at Strömstad for four hundred to six hundred children from Sweden, Norway, and Finland. When the day starts for most people, the Herreys have been in action for several hours. After work and school the day ends with Church activities. Monday evenings—family night—they sing and play musical instruments. They are too busy and excited about life to be unhappy” (Edwin O. Haroldsen, “Changing Lives,” Ensign, June 1971, 20–21).

Working together in a family business can help children develop healthy pride in their family and its accomplishments. They can earn money to save for a mission and future schooling.

  • What other benefits come from including children in a family business?

Organize Family Work Projects

Family work projects can provide good experience and associations. By centering on the talents or interests of family members, these projects can be fun for everyone. Through working together, children and parents grow closer and learn more about each other.

In one family the parents were concerned that their children learn the value of work. They realized they were passing up an opportunity for their children’s growth by hiring a custodian to clean the father’s office.

The children, excited about earning a regular income, took over cleaning the office each morning. Teamwork became important. The girls in the family would clean the office one morning while the boys stayed home to assist with household duties. On the following morning they would rotate duties.

“The project did require extra effort and time on the part of the parents, for the mother was required to drive the children to the office each morning. But the values gained by the children were worth far more than the extra effort required.” (See Elwood R. Peterson, “Family Work Projects for Fun and Profit,” Ensign, June 1972, 8.)

  • What were the benefits of this family work project?

Children Can Learn to Enjoy Work

When children enjoy work, they try harder to do better. Those who do not enjoy work often make excuses for themselves. President N. Eldon Tanner told of the difference between two messenger boys who worked for the same company: “[One boy] was interested in all that was going on. … He wanted to serve and assist others and learn what he could about the business. … He was trying to be the best messenger boy it was possible to be. … He had only been there a few months when one of the supervisors who had observed him wanted him to come with him, so he was advanced to a more responsible position. Before the end of the year he had another advancement, and he will continue to advance because of his attitude. He was prepared to go the extra mile. He was interested in his company and wanted to be of service and was dependable in every way. The other messenger boy [remained] a messenger boy. … Of course, he felt that the company didn’t appreciate him and his ability” (Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God [1973], 236–37).

  • What made the difference in the success of these two boys?

Children will enjoy work when their reward is the happiness of others. President David O. McKay gave this example:

“I have seen young girls who have spent the entire day serving people on Old Folks’ Day: seeking the comfort and happiness of somebody else. I remember on one occasion when one of those young ladies came home in the evening she suddenly realized she was weary, threw herself on the cot and said, ‘My, I am tired, but do you know this has been one of the happiest days of my life.’ She had found joy in work that gave joy to others.

“Learn to like your work. Learn to say ‘This is my work, my glory, not my doom’” (Stepping Stones to an Abundant Life, comp. Llewelyn R. McKay [1971], 115–16).

Work will be fun if the child succeeds. The first few times a child does a task, an adult or older child may need to work with him or her until the child learns to do it alone. Then we should recognize the child’s success and honestly praise his or her efforts. It is too easy to focus only on the things a child does wrong, because we want him or her to do better next time. Children usually work better when we focus on the things they do right.

We can make work more pleasant by singing songs or even by turning work into a game. Parents can retell stories about their own childhood or about their ancestors. All of these activities make working together more fun. Do not forget that children need a vacation or day off now and then. If they are given a day off from chores each week, they will be more likely to enjoy work the following day. They also need time to themselves for play or other activities after their chores are done.

  • Ask the sisters how they have made work more fun for their family.

Conclusion

To teach our children to work successfully, we must be enthusiastic about our own work. As President Brigham Young stated, “Each one will find that happiness in this world mainly depends on the work he does, and the way in which he does it” (quoted by Elwood R. Peterson, Ensign, June 1972, 9).

Challenge

Talk with each of your children. Discuss your attitude and theirs about family responsibilities. Help each child take and finish assignments.

Teacher Preparation

Before presenting this lesson:

  1. 1.

    Study Gospel Principles chapter 27, “Work and Personal Responsibility.”

  2. 2.

    Prepare the poster suggested in the lesson or write the information on the chalkboard.

  3. 3.

    Assign class members to present any stories, scriptures, or quotations you wish.