We can strengthen our family, community, and nation when we perform daily family work with our children. Working together is a means for parents to teach necessary skills to their children as well as an opportunity to show them that working together can be an enjoyable experience. I believe that “daily family work” is the power that binds me to my siblings.
I am one of twelve children reared on a farm. My parents understood the importance of teaching their children to work and assigned each of us age-appropriate chores. Older siblings acted as teacher assistants as well as helpers for the younger siblings. The first chore that I remember doing is feeding the “bum lambs” or the lambs that were rejected by their mothers. When I was a very young child I went with a parent or older sibling to feed the lambs but gradually got big enough to go by myself. Each lamb was fed from a soda bottle with a special nipple for lambs. I remember struggling to hold the large bottle as the lamb sucked on the nipple, but I could hold two bottles at a time when I was bigger. We probably fed newborn lambs more than twice a day, but I know that we fed bigger lambs only after the morning and evening milking had been completed. I also remember drying dishes and weeding the garden as a child.
My chores became gradually more difficult as I grew bigger. I was in elementary school when I began to tromp hay. My father or older brother would rake the newly mown and dried alfalfa into rows that were then divided into piles. Then Dad and/or the older boys would use pitch forks to place the hay on the wagon as we moved between the rows of piles. The job for the children was to tromp the piles of hay tightly together. When the load of hay was so high that the guys could not throw any more hay up to be tromped, we headed to where the hay was stored. We would ride the load of hay to what we called the stack yard. Tromping the hay together was important to keep the load on the wagon while traveling down the lane to the stack yard, and it was also valuable when rolling the load of hay onto the hay stack. I remember a few times when the load shifted off the wagon when we made a sharp turn. Then we would have to load the hay again, do a better job of tromping, and continue to the stack yard. A well-tromped load of hay rolled up on the hay stack much better also. I started tromping hay when I started elementary school and was still tromping hay into my high school years.
I started milking cows when I was about twelve years old. My brother, two older sisters, and I each had three or four – maybe five - cows to milk each night and morning. I remember one Saturday morning when I was left to do the milking by myself. My brother had been away overnight for some reason, and my two sisters had early-morning softball practice with the church group. I remember milking, and milking, and milking. I still had a few cows left to milk when my brother came home and helped me finish the job. I was so grateful to see him! In addition to the morning chores, I helped weekly with the family laundry. When I was tall enough, my job was to hang the clothes and linens on the line to dry and then to take them down to take into the house. I also was tasked with ironing many of the clothes.
I am grateful for the opportunity that I had to learn to work together with my parents and siblings. We had a fun time no matter what chore we were doing. I remember talking and singing songs with my sisters as we rode on the back of the hay wagon. I remember times when my brother squirted milk at me while doing the milking. We laughed and sang and had a fun time together. We worked together, and we played together. We all learned to work and to work hard. We also learned the importance of family and the power that binds families together.
“Daily family work” is something that families did from the time of Adam and Eve. Fathers and mothers worked with their children to produce enough food to sustain the family. Our modern societies have moved away from the need for each family to grow their own food, and families are worse off for it in some ways. The simple practice of tilling the soil is important in the lives of children. They need to know where their food comes from and how to grow it. They also need to know the joy and satisfaction that comes from working with the soil. Although most of us do not live on farms today, we can insure that our children have this opportunity by growing family gardens.
Prophets and other leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have often encouraged members to grow gardens. In October 1977 President Spencer W. Kimball urged families to have gardens in order for them to have the bonding experience of working together.
I hope that we understand that, while having a garden, for instance, is often useful in reducing food costs and making available delicious fresh fruits and vegetables, it does much more than this. Who can gauge the value of that special chat between daughter and Dad as they weed or water the garden? How do we evaluate the good that comes from the obvious lessons of planting, cultivating, and the eternal law of the harvest? And how do we measure the family togetherness and cooperating that must accompany successful canning? Yes, we are laying up resources in store, but perhaps the greater good is contained in the lessons of life we learn as we live providently and extend to our children their pioneer heritage.
Prophets and other leaders are not the only ones who recognize the importance of daily family work. I found an interesting article titled “Family Work” written by Kathleen Slaugh Bahr, an Associate Professor of Family Life at Brigham Young University, with Cheri A. Loveless. Slaugh begins the article with her own experience of a child growing up on a farm and working with her parents and siblings. She continues with a history of families working together from the time of Adam and Eve. The article is long but interesting about the importance of “daily family work.”
The story of Adam and Eve raises an important question. How does ordinary, family-centered work like feeding, clothing, and nurturing a family – work that often seems endless and mundane – actually bless our lives? The answer is so obvious in common experience that it has become obscure: Family work links people. On a daily basis, the tasks we do to stay alive provide us with endless opportunities to recognize and fill the needs of others. Family work is a call to enact love, and it is a call that is universal. Throughout history, in every culture, whether in poverty or prosperity, there has been the ever-present need to shelter, clothe, feed, and care for each other.
Ironically, it is the very things commonly disliked about family work that offers the greatest possibilities for nurturing close relationships and forging family ties. Some people dislike family work because, they say, it is mindless. Yet chores that can be done with a minimum of concentration leave our minds free to focus on one another as we work together. We can talk, sing, or tell stories as we work. Working side by side tends to dissolve feelings of hierarchy, making it easier for children to discuss topics of concern with their parents. Unlike play, which usually requires mental concentration as well as physical involvement, family work invites intimate conversation between parent and child.
We also tend to think of household work as menial, and much of it is. Yet, because it is menial, even the smallest child can make a meaningful contribution. Children can learn to fold laundry, wash windows, or sort silverware with sufficient skill to feel valued as part of the family….
As we can readily see from the above referenced article, there is much value in familywork. Loving and helping each other strengthens bonds between individuals. Children can learn valuable skills while working with parents and siblings as well as learning the importance of bonding as a family. I know from personal experience that working together strengthens families and strong families strengthen communities and nations.