- Chapter 18 -
t has been said that for a parent to be a model is not the most important thing, it is the only thing. Perhaps that is an exaggeration, but we do realize the value of example in terms of raising children. One area in which this is paramount is that of developing attitudes toward the activities in life which are frequently just considered to be chores, that is cooking, kitchen work, grocery shopping, and household repairs.
If a mother communicates to her children, girls and boys included, the belief that cooking is drudgery which has to be endured, rather than an enjoyable activity, the chances are they will end up with the same attitude. Or if a father transmits a similar message about household repairs, there is the likelihood that none of his kids will play the very valuable role of being a handyperson in a future home, replacing washers and fixing screens.
A way around these problems is for the parents to make a purposeful effort to transform such work into enjoyable activities. But this first requires the realization of the importance of example in these areas, and a determination to try to play the role. Generating enthusiasm means figuring out imaginative ways to make a game out of ordinary events.
Bettina says her friends are surprised by the fact that she likes to grocery shop. This is a result of the fun she had as a child shopping with the family. We would get a long list of needed items, and split up into teams, with a big person and one or more little people on each team. Then we divided the required items into equal amounts. It became a race as to which team could finish first and go to a designated check-out counter. We would hit the store, grab baskets, and start charging all around. It was great sport, and had the additional advantage of accomplishing the task in a short period of time. It was helpful on such occasions that we have a Bell family tune, inherited for generations, which is of such obscure origin that we do not believe there is anyone else alive today who has ever heard it. By whistling the tune we could assemble Bells who were running all around the supermarket.
Son Bryan came to me once when he was little and said, "Good news, Daddy, the back gate is broken again, and we can have fun fixing it again." Today, Bryan can fix anything and enjoys doing so. The only reason it was fun for me was that I was engaged in a project with my son, and we made a kind of game out of it, which may have helped shape his future attitude. For me, it certainly was not related to the activity itself, because I do not like doing home repairs. Since no one ever got me to participate in such a way that I found that it could be an enjoyable activity and therefore learn how such things were done, the reason that the back gate was broken a second time is probably because it wasn't fixed properly at first.
Another suggestion is to have a contest to see which child can get into night clothes, brush teeth, and get into bed first. There can be teams with parents rotating positions to help one team, or child, but it was more fun for me, individually, to race the bunch. Beverly came running in, all ready for bed, gleeful and triumphant "while Daddy was still taking his left shoe off." She never seemed to realize who was the real victor in that nighttime game. Most parents will agree that getting kids into bed is not usually an enjoyable experience.
I used to put a stick of gum at an unreachable spot above the door to be awarded the child who 1) did not ask for an additional glass of water, or 2) did not come wake us up in the night. Bribery? No. Reward? Yes. There is nothing like an incentive program.
Beginning at a time when my five children were quite young, they took business trips with me, individually, and sat in on conferences as my "associate." I had a courtly friend in Mississippi, Tom Murphy, who particularly treated them like grown-ups. They remember these as being happy occasions, but they also learned a great deal.
What Bee learned turned out to be very much to my benefit. At a much later date, she spent time talking to some women in the laundry room at a large apartment complex in an upstate city in Mississippi and picked up some very valuable information. As a result, she advised me not to put together a group of investors to buy the property. She was right; it would have been a horrible mistake.
On one memorable occasion, Bettina, age 14, and I were caught in one of those speed traps which rural communities set up to finance themselves with fines from out-of-state drivers. We were brought before the Justice of the Peace who challenged her to defend me.
The J.P. asked, "What if he had killed somebody?"
Bettina, with flashing brown eyes, responded: "BUT HE DIDN'T."
Then she gave such an impassioned and effective plea that the J.P. claimed he reduced the fine in half. Even the policeman was impressed.
In addition to the enjoyment and being exposed to business principles, the children also learned some lessons in Lifemanship, presented on their level of comprehension. They observed that I seemed to get a kick out of my "work", that there could even be a tinge of adventure to it and not necessarily drudgery at all. An important value of these trips was plenty of time for children to bring up matters that were important to them and for me to practice active listening. My memories of business trips with my father are among my happiest, and I hope it will be the same for my children.
Rubie took similar trips with her father when she was young and had the same reaction. When she worked for him for a year after college, he was surprised at how much she had absorbed.
Many working parents do not think of the value of taking their children on a tour of their office or plant, on a Saturday perhaps. They would probably be more interested than one would suppose, and they can visualize the scene when an event at work is described. I had the luxury of taking my kids on a tour of my candy factory with a distribution of samples.
Turning mundane events into enjoyable ones is not just an activity for children. Witness the fun and conversation of a group of people sitting around a table and stuffing envelopes for some worthwhile welfare agency. There is a great deal of light-hearted conversation and laughter.
A little imagination can inject fun into ordinary events. And communicating a sense of enjoyment, with parents as models, can give children a favorable attitude toward work.