Preparing Children for Work

Note: I recently happened upon this My Turn article in our local daily, The Burlington (VT) Free Press. It strongly echoes the timeless values that Booker T. spent his life conveying to those who needed it most. When I called to request permission to publish here, I happily discovered that the author, Laury Tarver, attends my church!

By Laury Tarver
This past summer, my teenage son worked at a local farm stand. Dropping him off the first day, I saw him shake hands with his new boss. The gesture made me think of the valuable things work brings to life and the things we want our children to give to their work. I drove away smiling, thinking of all the years of parenting it takes to prepare a child for one handshake.

Work offers independence. When our children become part of the labor force, they move closer to independence and the ability to care for their future family. Unlike a loan or welfare which requires some relinquishment of power, wages promote self-reliance and control. My son was thrilled to receive his first paycheck and handled it with reverence. He read every word written on the front, back and paystub before carefully endorsing the check.

Work offers contentment and satisfaction. Providing a product or service that meets a need is gratifying. Physical labor makes our rest sweeter. We develop a sense of accomplishment when we master difficult tasks. My son was tired and dirty after working in the field, but eager to talk about washing hundreds of cucumbers or meeting interesting people who came to pick berries. Soon after showering, he was sound asleep on the couch or on the floor of his room.

Work presents opportunities for personal growth, new relationships and experiences. Because employment highlights our strengths and weaknesses, we can change the way we act and think. We become part of a community of people and experience new things. One of the most unforgettable summer jobs I had was working as the receptionist at the Jetsetter’s Salon in Clinton, Miss. The women welcomed me into their small-town beauty shop world, gave me advice on life and men, and surprised me with a going away party that included a gospel sing around the shampoo station.

Just as work adds value to life, our children should give value in return. To equip them, parents must consistently model and teach excellent character throughout the childhood years. A father reads Bible stories and fairy tales at bedtime to teach his son the qualities and consequences of good and bad character. Parents require a child to admit wrongdoing and make an apology to train him to be honest. A mother takes her daughter along to visit a sick friend or deliver food to a new neighbor to model kindness and compassion. To learn humility, we expect our sons and daughters to handle victory and defeat with equal grace. From teaching table manners to standing in honor of veterans, parents have an irreplaceable responsibility to cultivate excellent character — a quality found in exceptional employees.

Children must also learn the importance of hard work and persistence. We post chore charts on the refrigerator and teach children to make their beds and pick up toys to demonstrate responsibility. Parents monitor television, computers and cell phones to train children to put duty before personal agenda. We struggle when our children face challenges, but encourage them to stick with commitments and keep trying. Parents resist rescuing children from the consequences of their choices so that they take ownership of their lives. Through diligent parenting, we develop the hard work, persistence and decision-making ability seen in exceptional employees.

Parents get weary and discouraged. We wonder if the things we do and the words we say make a difference. Yet, when we witness a handshake moment, it makes the parenting years worthwhile. Those young hands offered contain the sum of all our efforts and the possibility of something exceptional.

Laury Tarver of Essex is a mother of two teenagers and leads parenting classes at a crisis pregnancy center in Burlington.

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