Passionate About Fort Worth
and the Moms Who Live Here

The “Work to Eat” Program — Or at Least That’s What We Call It at Our House!

You’re probably wondering what in the world is this program? Sure, another way to make my children feel guilty about not doing anything (or helping), around the house. But listen for a minute. I’m not here to make anyone feel guilty, because we all have our own style of parenting, or in some cases, not parenting, but friending our children.

I will ruffle some feathers with whatever I have to say, but to me and many others, this style of getting your child to work makes sense. We don’t withhold food from our children if they don’t do what they should. They just don’t get dessert or they get a very plain snack, nor other things as you will see later on.

It all started when we only had two children, ages five and one. The older child was off reading a book and the little one was toddling with me in the laundry room. I opened the dryer and turned around to get a laundry basket when Master Littleman (the one year old), decided to take the clothes out of the dryer for me. He carelessly dropped the clothes onto the floor as I swooshed the basket underneath the door to save the load from being washed again. I dramatically grabbed a handful of clothes and plopped them into the basket with all of the dramatic noise of a karate hand chop. I did it again. He tried it. And so again and again we went until the older child joined us and we reversed the action by putting the freshly washed load of clothes into the dryer. Somehow putting the cold clothes in wasn’t as much fun for Master Littleman, so off he toddled into his room. His sister followed him, and a few moments later, the laughter began. They were tossing clothes out of the drawers! Yes, it was all fun and games until they ran out of clothes. From the looks of it, they were going to head off to another room and help some other drawers undress. Now at this moment, I had a choice: Was I going to teach them how to fix this mess, or not teach them? We could have easily run off to some other activity, leaving me to fix this later, but I was not going to have that! The “Five Second Brainstorm” kicked in and I asked them if they wanted a snack. “Yes” was the resounding answer! So I say to them,”I’m sorry, but we can’t have a snack until these clothes are picked up and put away. Of course, Littleman didn’t understand, but Big Sis did and she went on a cleaning frenzy! I helped her neaten the clothes, and off to a snack we went.

That was a teachable moment that would be repeated before nearly every meal at home. In the mornings, before breakfast, “No breakfast until you make your bed, get dressed, and brush your teeth!” At lunchtime, “Oh, I can’t walk to the kitchen to make lunch because so many building blocks are on the floor. Could you put these away, and then we can make lunch together?” Snack time, “Oh, this table has crumbs on it, could you wipe it so we can eat?” (Hint — Keep a spray bottle with water and a few drops of dish soap ready for them to use. They will wipe ’till the cows come home.) Dinnertime, repeat the scenario.

boys mopping floor for choresAs they grew older, these situations were repeated in graduating skill levels. I would say, “Let’s have some ice cream. Oh no, there aren’t any spoons. Could one of you put the silverware away?” There was always a little stool and an adult helping hand within arms reach, just in case. They graduated to glassware, then larger dishes.  

They learned to fold clothes, mop floors, vacuum (with headphones on for ear protection), clean windows, cabinets, and even learn how to help out with food prep. This scenario went on until one day, there was a rebellion. “Why do we have to do all of the work around here?” one child said. I sat them all down, (there were three children by then), and we read the classic book titled The Little Red Hen. One by one, I questioned them and asked them what they thought about the hen doing all of the work even after her friends promised to help. Could her friends have helped her for five or 10 minutes? Did they help her make that bread? Were they living up to their promises? And who do you know that could be that hard working hen?”

I wrote down how many hours were in a day and showed them how much time they had to sleep, eat and play. Then I showed them how many hours I worked at home for the family. I then showed them how long it took for me to do all of the work that needed to be done if I was doing it alone. Finally, I showed them how little time I had to play with them if they didn’t help me do those jobs. Silence. You could see the gears working in their minds. “So whoever works should eat!” said one of them. “That’s right!,” I said! 

This little method has helped my family throughout the years. The children see the value of time; they see that helping others benefits us all. They know the many steps that it takes to keep a house clean, organized, meals planned, made, and keep everyone alive and sane. There is actual enjoyment when a job is well done and they see the results of their work. They aren’t perfect and slack off sometimes. We all poop out, but when it comes down to it, they roll up their sleeves and “work to eat” nearly every single day.

Most children can be taught to do what needs to be done if they know what they get out of it. Be slick about it when you talk them into these things. Remember this though, laundry is a gateway job!

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