|Son, this is called a shovel. No, you don't plug it in.|
President's Day weekend. Rest and relaxation! Not hardly - chores and more chores - especially for the 14 year-old FOML. A wise and kind neighbor asked him if he would be willing to dig a ditch for him so he could extend a gas line in his yard. He promised to "make it worth his while". (Whatever that might mean.) My son was willing, and spent a good chunk of his Saturday, and most of his Monday holiday with a pick axe and shovel. It was a hard job, made especially hard because the only ditches my boys ever seem to dig are to protect sand castles from the encroaching surf.
My son came home exhausted, with blisters. He thought I was weird because I was excited to see them, and I was proud of him. Here's why:
A good friend of mine is currently serving as a Mission President. We were visiting on the phone the other day and I asked him a question:
"Well President, now that you have been out for a year, what words of wisdom do you have for a friend who still has three more sons to send out on missions." I asked this expecting some spiritual gem that I could share with my boys.
"Make sure they know how to work hard. Tough physical labor. Make sure they can get up early in the morning and work hard all day."
I was surprised how quickly he came back with that answer, so I dug a little deeper and asked him what he was seeing that made him feel that way.
"This generation of youth does not know how to work hard. They plan on serving a mission their whole life, they get here, and realize that it is hard work, and they can't do it - so they want to go home. It happens all the time. Make sure they know how to work hard before they get out in the field, and it will be a great blessing to them."
I've thought a lot about what he said. Is it true? Are we raising a generation of wimps? (Rhetorical question.)
So, the next morning I got the all the boys up at 4:00am, told them go milk the cows, feed the horses and plow the back 40. They weren't pleased because we don't have cows, horses, or a back 40.
I am aware that my generation had it much easier than my father's. He spent his childhood working the farm, milking cows, bailing hay, and then washing up and going to school. It was a tough life. Of course my generation had it much easier, and we had to listen to him talk about carrying 100lb bales of hay around the ranch when he was six.
The latest generation has it even easier. Part of the reason is that technology replaced some of the labor of my youth (gas mowers, weedeaters, blowers, snow blowers, have replaced push-mowers, hand trimmers, and snow shovels) Part is because my kids and I are Suburbanites: Garden yes, farm, no. Part is because society now prohibits young people from holding difficult jobs for terrible wages. When I was a young man, several jobs I held were brutal - construction, landscaping, etc. They were good for me, and made me stronger, and put some money in my mission fund. They also gave me something to lord over my children with: "When I was your age, I spent the day swinging a pickaxe with blisters the size of quarters..." (Yeah, they hate it)
Another difficulty is that our kids just don't have much time to work anymore because societal priorities have shifted. School, hobbies, church and sports* tend to take up so much time that holding down a job would be virtually impossible. Most everyone I knew had a job in high school. Now few of the youth I know are employed. To make it worse, there aren't a lot of jobs out there for young people. Sometimes I feel that we don't expect much from our youth in the area of work anymore . We figure that since they have all the other "stuff" going on they need time to relax - to "chill". So we let things slide. Chores become a Saturday-only thing - unless there is a game on Saturday, and we let them off the hook becasue they are tired, and they've had a rough week. (Can you hear me quoting myself?) I would be afraid to tally hours the FOMLs spend laboring vs. hours spent looking at a screen.
As a church we do make an effort because we are aware that our youth are lacking in physical challenges - that's why we create challenges for them - handcart treks, Scouting, hikes, service projects etc. It says something about how soft society has gotten when the hardest thing a young man or young woman has ever done in their entire lives can be accomplished over the course of a few days in the mountains on a church activity.
The FOMLs seem to be able to work hard when they absolutely must, and are especially capable of very hard work when it is for people other than me. Overall, I think I am batting about .500 in this endeavor. I am not sure if the concept of the value of work for work's sake is making any inroads. It's more of a "get it over with" attitude, rather than doing a really good job because you are proud of your work. Perhaps our family needs a better "Happy Working Song"*.
What do you do? Do your kids know how to work hard? Are they expected to do more than a list of Saturday chores? Do they ever have to sacrifice fun for work? How does work fit in with school, sports, church and hobbies in their lives? I am curious as to how you all handle it - assuming you do. Please share your thoughts on this topic. (Note: If you do have cows, horses, and a back 40, you win. No bragging, please.)
So, my son spent his holiday getting blisters. Atta boy! Maybe next Saturday we can do some more manual labor - either for our family or to serve someone else, so he can adjust to it, and learn that there is great satisfaction in working hard.
Idea: Maybe part of the Mission Prep class should be held on Saturday mornings at 5:00am. Bring your shovel.
* Some people rationalize that sports=hard work. Right. I'll delve into that another time, so let's save that.
Note; After I wrote this, I found a fabulous talk on this same subject form Elder F. David Stanley of the Seventy, from April Conference, 1993. In it, he says almost the exact same thing that my friend told me. From the mouth of two witnesses... Link to the full talk here.
* If you don't want to watch Elder Stanley, here is Amy Adams: