I once heard on NPR that every child needs a purpose -- a cause greater than themselves and something that moves them to tears. Many children live in wealthy countries with infinite resources and luxuries, yet they still need something they can give their time, talent, and treasure to. Despite having every advantage, they still need meaningful work.
I think this is so true. I am a big proponent of giving my children reaL and sometimes challenging jobs to do. Not only does it teach them autonomy, but it teaches them they are capable of many things. It teaches them they can set a goal, work hard, hit some obstacles, problem solve, and see the finished result.
Greg McKeown, author of Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, points out that there are three important questions to ask ourselves in terms of our meaningful work in the world.
What am I deeply passionate about?
What taps my talent?
What meets a significant need in the world?
He says that where those three answers intersect, you'll find your highest point of contribution. And might I add a fourth question?… What sets your heart on fire for God and His kingdom? So, with all these questions in mind, how do we set the groundwork for our children to explore their potential contributions to the world? Simple. We let them do meaningful work alongside us.
Last winter, during one of the endless snow storms, my husband decided to let our five-year-old son take a turn using the snow-blower to clear off one little section of our huge driveway. My son had watched his father do this task many times. But I don't think it ever occurred to him that he was capable of doing it too. I wish you could have seen the proud look on his little wind-chilled face as he pushed the snow blower along. Not only did this help him realize his potential, but it also paved the way to set expectations for future responsibilities around the house. If he can plow one little patch of the driveway when he is five, certainly he can do the whole thing when he is fifteen! It's meaningful work that helps the family in a very tangible way. And that day he learned he was capable of something he didn't realize he could do.
I let my seven-year-old daughter assist me in setting up the preschool classroom for Sunday School when I teach. Not only does it truly help me, but it shows her that her presence and talents are useful in a real life setting. She lays out the craft supplies, she takes roll, and she pitches ideas to help the kids understand the lesson better. She works alongside me to help others in a meaningful way.
I want my kids to build confidence in their abilities, and I want them to have a positive association with trying new things. But I want them to chase after the passions that God has very purposely fashioned inside them. There’s no more meaningful work. Even as I wrote this very post, my daughter asked what I was doing. I explained to her that I was writing an essay about being a mommy. I also explained that it takes time and effort to compose my thoughts in a way that was helpful and encouraging to others. She asked if she could write an essay too and I thought it was a great idea! I challenged her to write several paragraphs about her favorite hobby. And I could tell she enjoyed being given an assignment similar to mommy.
What are their passions? What are they talented at? Where do they see a need in their community? Talk about these things out loud with your children. Chase down opportunities. Notice what makes their hearts skip a beat. Let them observe and participate and ask questions right alongside you whenever possible.
Other ideas for meaningful, age-appropriate work? How about organizing a bake sale or lemonade stand to raise money for a ministry, cooking dinner one night for the family, pet sitting for a neighbor, putting together a family photo album, weeding the garden, starting a special interest club at school, going on a missions trip, or choosing household items and clothing to donate.
Have more ideas? Please share in the comments! I would love to hear more of what you're doing with your kids to facilitate meaningful work in your home.