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Teaching Work and Personal Responsibility to My Kids

A couple of weeks ago, I observed that the dishes had been piling up more than usual for the past while (Dad isn't always the most observant, so who really knows how long this had been happening? Mom probably knows, but doesn't blog, and so the point remains shrouded in mystery). What typically happens in our home is that, using our divided sink, we rinse off dirty dishes in the right-hand sink, and then place them either in the dishwasher if there is room or into the left-hand sink if not. Needless to say, this day the right-hand sink was full to overflowing with dirty dishes all over the counter for lack of space. This, of course, is my children's thought process with regard to where they play in the house as well. "Why are you guys playing with toys in the family room?" "Cuz the play room is too dirty." "Ah, thank you, that clears things up."

I digress, though. In our family, we have a weekly family meeting--every Sunday at 2pm, at least for 2016. The first part is to coordinate everyone's calendars, which we are learning is crucial with six children, the second part is to discuss needs of the family or make big plans (like if we are going on a trip or if we want to solve world hunger), and the third part is to issue allowance.

It seemed like a good time to teach the simple principles of personal responsibility and work to the kids. I observed to the kids that we needed to get back into the habit of washing our dishes regularly. You can imagine the riveted looks of anticipation on each of their faces. (Actually, when we bring up topics like these in family meeting, Remi's ears do perk up a bit, which further confirms that he is likely an alien.) "Doing a job right means doing it the right way and at the right time..." etc.

So, what should we do to get back into the habit? Seren typically chimes in at this point with something like "we should hire elephants to spray all the dishes." Remi and Lici say something like "if people don't wash their dishes, then they die." Zac typically proposes some elaborate scheme that requires a protractor, grid paper, and a "small" amount of software engineering. He also changes his proposal three or four times before he remembers to breathe. Grayden starts wandering around the house. Kristi rolls her eyes, wondering why I suffer the children to have a voice in the family. I just smile.

At some point, I believe it was Zac, amidst the absolute deluge of proposed dish-washing apparti, who proposed points. Games always work, right? So we decided to turn it into a game.

Games need levels and levels typically afford rights, privileges, or some kind of super-power. This game would only have two. "This game will be like golf." I had to explain golf to the younger kids. "Par for the course is 10. At the end of each day, Dad will check the sink for un-rinsed dishes. For every dish, you will get one stroke, which is bad." Again, re-explaining the golf principle. "The stroke applies to the entire family. If, by the end of the week, the family has a total of 10 strokes or fewer, Dad will bring home a candy bar of each child's choice from work on next Monday. That's level 1. Level 2 is 0 strokes. No un-rinsed dishes left in the sink the entire week. If you get to level 2, you can come to Dad's work and pick out the candy bar yourself." Much rejoicing ensued.

Until Lici saw a problem. "Hey, Dad, what if you leave a dish in the sink?" Of course, I was indignant. "I have never once in my life left a dish in the sink un-rinsed." "Yes, you have!" "I saw you leave a dish in the sink once!" etc., etc. Being a dad is awesome. Anyway, Lici was right, and we amended the plan to exclude Mom and Dad from the golf score. If I had that moment back, I probably would have said that if Mom or Dad leaves a dish, then that will improve the kid's score, and my kids love competing with Dad on things like this. (Any guess why???)

Anyway, some will disagree with me on the "teamwork" approach here. "Shouldn't each kid have their own score so they can each their candy bars separately?" "Doesn't this approach just teach the lazy kid that he doesn't have to worry about it because another kid (Remi) will just wash his dish for him." Perhaps. This, of course, is where Mom and Dad need to be observant enough. For example, just before the kids went to bed during that week, I'd make it a point to ask a different kid to check the sink and see if there were any dishes that anyone had forgotten. I would also loudly announce throughout the house whenever I was done with one of my own dishes, "I JUST FINISHED WITH MY DISH; I LOVE WASHING MY DISH AFTER MY MEAL BECAUSE THEN THE CEREAL DOESN'T GET CRUSTY (or whatever)." If I had thought about it a minute more, I would have said: "I JUST FINISHED WITH MY DISH, NOW I WILL LEAVE IT HERE IN THE SINK FOR SOMEONE ELSE TO DEAL WITH," and watch the reverse psych do it's work, which is my typical modus operandi. Either way, my 5-year-old (Grayden) reacted beautifully to this, and he did a great job washing his dishes throughout the week. In fact, everyone did great.

Even still, my son Remi ended up washing more than his own dishes, but that is just his personality. To him, it's not really a sacrifice to put in a little extra effort to make up for when another kid in the family forgets. Kind of like his mom.

So, it was Saturday night, and the kids ended up leaving a single bowl and spoon in the sink. It had turned out to be a late night and I'm pretty sure we all forgot.

On Sunday, it was time for family meeting again. What should we do?, I thought to myself. Just two dishes is really amazing and way better than I expected we would do. The answer was clear, though: Candy bars aren't essential, the kids made an honest mistake, but that is why we did levels. I explained to the kids that there was a bowl and dish left in the sink last night.

The kids were crestfallen. I *almost* said, "that's close enough, let's plan a day to come to Dad's work." Instead, I said, "you guys made it to level 1, great job! That's awesome, we did so much better as a family than we have ever done! So, let's decide as a family: Do you want me to bring home candy bars tomorrow from work or do you want to play the game for one more week and try for level 2?" Discussion, etc. And then voting with heads down on the table. Grady unfortunately voted for both so we had to try again. In the second round, everything worked out. 3 kids voted to try again, and 2 voted to end the game and just get the candy bars. So, we were going to make another attempt! Sweet.

I am writing this on the following Sunday morning. I'm very happy to report that the sink has been clean every night, and that we are going to plan a trip to Dad's work for the kids to pick out their own candy bar.

Of course, it doesn't always work out this way; on other occasions, we've ended up having to adjust, etc., not to appease the children, but to make sure the principle is taught. The point is not as much dishes, though, as it is teaching the value of work and personal responsibility. Today at family meeting, that's exactly what we are going to discuss.

Therefore, what?

I hope to show my kids that there are a few principles that this teaches, and that they are principles that the Lord has taught us in the scriptures.

The Lord is a God of Second Chances. Part of mercy is God not requiring absolute perfection from us because He can draw on the terms of the Atonement to make up the difference. Of course, the other part of mercy is God allowing us to try, try again until we get it right, like He did with the woman caught in adultery in John 8:6-11. God believes in our divine nature, which affords us the ability to eventually "get it right".

We can all choose to help each other out as an act of love. Even as Christ healed the boy despite the father's imperfect belief in the Savior's healing power, even as Christ appeared to Thomas despite his imperfect belief in the Savior's resurrection, we can choose to apply mercy as an act of love. Everyone in the family, other than our 18-month-old, ended up washing someone else's dishes in order to accomplish our goal.

We can learn to enjoy work by finding something we like about it. Even if we have to turn it into a game, there is always some redeeming value to work, being productive, making a positive difference, etc. Sometimes, the best way to enjoy our work is to invoke Matthew 25:40 or Mosiah 2:17. Both of these help me maintain perspective and motivation. Other times it's about seeing who we are helping, like in Alma 26:9.

We must work; our quality of life is inexorably tied to it. While I probably won't use the word "inexorably" with the kids, Galatians 6:7 is a wise principle. We don't get tomatoes when we plant watermelons and we won't get clean dishes (sustainably) by anything other than washing them. Where much is given much is required, and we in the United States have been given a lot. Further, in D&C 75:49 and D&C 42:42, the Lord commands us to productively use the bounty the Lord has given us and to not be idle.

Each of these principles, of course, points to Christ. He understood that our ultimate quality of life was inexorably tied to His work, to bring to pass our salvation. I believe that there is something in each of us that he loves and that makes His work a delight. He most certainly chooses to apply mercy because of His love for us, and he most certainly is desirous to give us a second chance. When we work and take personal responsibility, we are simply following what He first did.


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