Work is Not a Punishment (and other rationalizations)

A while back my Sister-In-Law told me about a great talk she heard on teaching our children to work. The speaker had said something like, “It is a lazy mother who picks up after her children.” I decided many months later that I wanted to use the quote for my own, sinister purposes, so I emailed her for it. She replied:

I don’t have the exact wording for the quote. In my notes I wrote, “It is a lazy mother who picks up after her children.” … Consequently, in looking at my notes, he also said not to use work as a punishment. Dang it! Now what am I going to do? He was saying that we should work along with our children so that we are building relationships with them. So, I guess the boys can’t be my slaves anymore.

The moment I received this, I was anxious to pull her from her misguided sorrow. My swift reply follows:

Dearest Sister-In-Law,

Thanks for the info. I don’t need a solid quote, although I’m SO impressed you have notes from a talk in 2003 that you can go back to! I just changed the thought you gave me into a quote that would suit my purposes and then didn’t attribute it to anyone. Because that is what responsible writers do.

I will now commence splitting hairs on the work as a punishment issue. I will do this by parsing the word “punishment.” I don’t punish my kids with work. When I want to punish my kids, I take away privileges in a pathetic, grasping way, like most parents do.

It is true, if my kids are complaining about work, I simply offer them more opportunities to do work while practicing their not-complaining skills. However, I strongly believe that work is a natural thing to provide to someone who is under-occupied or poorly occupied. It is simply an effort to provide the child an opportunity to do something more constructive than whatever fighting, bullying, annoying or destroying they are currently doing, meanwhile serving a positive purpose for the household.

So, if they are fighting or misbehaving, I don’t use work to punish them for it, but I use work to redirect them to something else, as in, “You clearly need something to do.”

For instance, take the child who is gleefully wadding his sisters artwork into a little ball while she chases him, screaming bloody murder. This child is in my house almost every day in the form of one of two brothers. “Work as Punishment” would be: “That’s IT! You go and clean behind the toilet in the Stinky Bathroom right now.”

Teaching through Redirection would be, “Hey, son, I need you for a sec, could you come on up to the Stinky Bathroom for a minute? Thanks.” In other words, it just happened to be the time I was just going commence bathroom cleaning, and I need his help. Totally different than punishment, right?

And yes, I’m all about doing work as a family and not bossing from the couch.

So, do you think the speaker would have objected to that? Do you have another rationalization project I can work on?

Sincerely,

Your Sis-In-Law

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