While I recognize the fear-inducing realities of financial providers losing their paid work, in this post I want us to consider that many kids have lost their work. While our identity in the Lord is in our being not in our doing, we also are creatures wired to work, to use our gifts and talents, and to be productive.
In Genesis, people worked even when the world was perfect (Genesis 1:15, 20). Work (paid and unpaid) keeps our bodies and minds healthy. We feel a purpose when we work. In times of unemployment and underemployment, it is common for people to have low self-esteem and experience situational depression. Some of that can be financial stress, but in my own past, it has felt wounding to my spirit to not be able to use my gifts, talents, knowledge, experience, and education.
Across my years in ministry, when I talk to people who have a barrier to working, they often communicate a longing to contribute to something bigger than themselves and their own lives. Each winter my church takes a one-week turn becoming an overnight homeless shelter, and it strikes me how the guests long to do something, anything, to give back: move chairs, give instructions, etc. I have seen this same desire from people with special needs, the elderly, those in a health crisis, and KIDS. My kids SHINE after they have done volunteer work, be it packing care bags for people on the street or raking leaves for a neighbor. Work imparts dignity!
Plus, anything that keeps a kid occupied, makes my house looks better, and quells the near-constant sibling conflict happening with all of this together-time, that is a win!
Joyful Work for Unemployed Kids
What joyful work can you give your newly unemployed kids? While I absolutely believe that play is the work of childhood, I also see how healing contributing is to people of all ages. As this season gives us abundant chances to lifeschool (learning from whatever life throws at you in a given season), what responsibilities can you offer your kids to impart dignity and allow them to use their innate gifts? Here are some jobs that have worked for us:
- Weed (learn to identify a particular plant and remove a few together. Arm kid with a bucket and shovel and let them be responsible for it all over the yard. English ivy is my nemesis, so all of my kids know how to follow its trail and get up the root.)
- Vacuum the car
- Organize (sort Legos by color, create a bin system for art supplies or toys)
- Laundry (this can be broken into mini-jobs like wash and dry, sort, fold. They use different skill sets, so different kids may like different parts.)
- Plant seeds and tend daily (indoors or out)
- Touch-up paint on walls (OK, we haven’t tried this one yet. But, I’m working towards it.)
- Prepare snack or a meal for the family (eggs are a great beginner meal)
What about Chores?
What I am proposing here is filling some of your family’s day with the joy of work, not the drudgery of chores. Chores have to get done, too, but what does it look like to deliberately inspire a love of work?
- Consider the role of payment versus not. In our house, the first ten minutes of a job is typically “expected work” (family contribution) and extra time beyond that is “pay work”.
- Keep it fun by offering choices. Ask your kids what jobs they would like to do or learn around the house. Make a list and let them pick. Train them.
- Give the child as much independence and responsibility over that task as possible so it feels like freedom. Once trained, the task is their jurisdiction for that time period. Don’t nitpick during their work as long as there is no threat to health or property.
- Expecting age-appropriate quality of work makes it a “real job” but keep timeframe expectations short (e.g., 10-15 minute increments that the child can elect to extend).
- For independent workers, give feedback when the work period is OVER. Don’t fluster them in the middle of the job by getting involved. Name aloud what was done well before offering any critique.
If you go the pay route, I’ve seen amounts all over the place. I’m pretty cheap since my kids are young (4, 7, 9). Per ten minutes, I pay a dime for apprentice-level work (e.g., I am assisting or teaching) and a quarter for independent work. (This will have to go up soon, as I am starting to get some really high-quality work out my older ones.) It is a joy to see my older kids working hard and pushing themselves to get in just ten more minutes to hit different amounts. Pay amounts get written on a special paper and then paid out on payday each week.
Lifeschool lessons learned through work: There are some things I have control over. I have something to offer my corner of the world. I can grow in doing hard things. I am helpful and capable.