Families, communities, and nations are strengthened when individuals understand the importance of family work. Family work is the labor that is necessary to care for a family and includes “feeding, clothing, and sheltering the family.” It is commonly known as housework, but it includes much more than simply keeping the house clean.
In an article published in the BYU Magazine (2000, Spring), Kathleen Slaugh Bahr and Cheri A. Loveless wrote the following about family work.
Today many social and political forces continue the devaluation of family work, encouraging the belief that family work is the province of the exploited and the powerless. Chief among these forces is the idea that because money is power, one’s salary is the true indication of one’s worth – in offices, factories, and government buildings. According to this ideology, if one wants to make a difference in the world, one must do it through participation in the world of paid work.
Some have tried to convince us of the importance of family work by calling attention to its economic value, declaring, as in one recent study, that stay-at-home mom’s work is worth more than half a million dollars. But I believe assigning economic value to household work does not translate into an increase in its status or power. In fact, devaluing family work to its mere market equivalent may even have the opposite effect. People who see the value of family work only in terms of the economic value of processes that yield measurable products – washed dishes, baked bread, swept floors, clothed children – miss what some call the “invisible household production” that occurs at the same time, but which is, in fact, more important to family-building and character development than the economic products. Here lies the real power of family work – its potential to transform lives, to forge strong families, to build strong communities. It is the power to quietly, effectively urge hearts and minds toward an oneness known only in Zion.
Family work is actually the most important work that we can do, but it has been devalued to the point that no one wishes to do it. No one wants to do the organizing, cleaning, cooking, shopping, and all the other chores that must be accomplished in order for family life to run smoothly. The authors describe the situation with family life today as “a natural invitation to become Christlike devalued by a world that has shattered family relationships in its quest for gain and ease.”
Where families used to work harmoniously together to provide the necessities of life, today’s fathers – and often mothers – work away from home for long hours. Children are so involved in school and other activities that they do not have time or desire to pick up the slack at home. We cannot – and do not – want to go back to pre-industrialization, but we can still find “opportunities to instill values, develop character, and work side by side” as family members.The authors suggest the following to help learn the “eternal principles that govern family work.”
Tilling the Soil. … Former LDS Church President Spencer W. Kimball was particularly insistent on the need to grow gardens – not just as a food supply, but because of the “lessons of life” inherent in the process as well as the family bonds that could be strengthened: “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 … (“Welfare Services, The Gospel in Action,” Ensign, November 1977, p. 78).
Exemplifying the Attitudes We Want Our Children to Have. Until we feel about family work the way we want our children to feel about it, we will teach them nothing…. If we wish to change our family habits on this matter, we must first change our own minds and hearts.
Refusing Technology that Interferes with Togetherness. As we labor together in our families, we will begin to cherish certain work experiences, even difficult ones, for reasons we can’t explain. When technology comes along that streamlines that work, we need not rush out and buy it just because it promises to make our labor more efficient. Saving time and effort is not always the goal. When we choose to heat convenience foods in the microwave or to process vegetables in a noisy machine, we choose not to talk, laugh, and play as we peel and chop. Deciding which modern conveniences to live with is a personal matter. Some families love washing dishes together by hand; others would never give up the dishwasher. Before we accept a scientific “improvement,” we should ask ourselves what we are giving up for what we will gain.
Insisting Gently that Children Help. A frequent temptation in our busy lives today is to do the necessary family work by ourselves…. A related temptation is to make each child responsible only for his own mess, to put away his own toys, to clean his own room, to do his own laundry, and then to consider this enough family work to require of a child. When we structure work this way, we may shortchange ourselves by minimizing the potential for growing together that comes from doing the work for and with each other….
Avoiding a Business Mentality at Home. Even with the best of intentions, most of us revert to “workplace” skills while doing family work. We overorganize and believe that children, like employees, won’t work unless they are “motivated,” supervised, and perhaps even paid. This line of thought will get us into trouble. Some managing, of course, is necessary and helpful – but not the kind that oversees from a distance. Rather, family work should be directed with the wisdom of a mentor who knows intimately both the task and the student, who appreciates both the limits and the possibilities of any given moment. A common error is to try to make the work “fun” with a game or contest…. Another error is to reward children monetarily for their efforts….
Working Side by Side with Our Children. Assigning family work to our children while we expect to be free to do other activities only reinforces the attitudes of the world. LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley said: “Children need to work with their parents, to wash dishes with them, to mop floors with them, to mow lawns, to prune trees and shrubbery, to paint and fix up, to clean up, and to do a hundred other things in which they will learn that labor is the price of cleanliness, progress, and prosperity” (“Four Simple Things to Help OurFamilies and Our Nations,” Ensign, September 1996, p. 7). Most of the important lessons that flow from family work are derived from the cooperative nature of the work….
To Bring Again Zion. Family work is a gift from the Lord to every mortal, a gift that transcends time, place, and circumstance. On a daily basis it calls us, sometimes forces us, to face our mortality, to ask for the grace of God, to admit that we need our neighbor and that our neighbor needs us. It provides us with a daily opportunity to recognize the needs of those around us and put them before our own. This invitation to serve one another in oneness of heart and mind can become a simple tool that, over time, will bring the peace that attends Zion.
I know that this post is longer than most of my other posts, but I do not apologize for its length. I feel that we must make family work important again if we want to strengthen our families and keep them safe from the evils of the world. I know from personal experience that family work strengthens and unites families with strong bonds. I also know that strong families help to strengthen their communities and nations.family