Dedicated to the hard workers of the world, the skilled craftsmen/craftswomen, the Dirty Jobbers.
Thank you for paving the way.
This post is a number of things, the least of which is humbling. It’s also cathartic, revealing, and a means for self-introspection. So please bear with me as I sort out this parenting pothole word by word and line by line.
I’m about to make a confession, but first I should begin by reinforcing something important. Beau and I have three exceptionally wonderful kids. We love them with the kind of love that transcends all explanation. We give them our best, and then some, when it comes to parenting. Like potters with clay, we work and shape the teachings we’ve accumulated over the course of our lives, attempting to mold these integral life lessons into what we believe is a best fit for our particular family.
Sounds like a decent plan, right? Yeah, I thought so too. Until I realized just how wrong I had it. You’re probably wondering what I’m talking about, so here’s my admission: I forgot to teach my kids that life requires a hell of a lot of work.
(Clearly there’s a more graceful, more tactful way of saying that, but I’m not in a graceful or tactful mood right now. I’m not quite finished kicking myself.)
Here is my personal truth. I worked incredibly hard at growing our kids into compassionate, creative, kind little souls. And my work was wonderfully rewarded, because we are blessed with far better children than we deserve. I mean seriously, we won the kiddo lottery. But my kind, creative little souls…well…they’re somewhat lazy. Not lazy with the tasks they want to accomplish, but lazy with discerning the difference between what they want to do versus what they need to do.
You’re probably thinking, “But Lisa, it’s their ages!” Or “They’re still kids!” To some extent these statements might be true. But to a greater degree, my kids are behind the curve when it comes to a gritty work ethic. And I just figured out why—it’s because I played a hand in making them that way. (Ouch!)
I was intent on protecting my babies from the big, bad world. Because life had kicked me around, even left a few scars, I knew I didn’t want that for my kids. So I absorbed some of the lessons intended for them—the hard labor, the unpleasant work, the heavy lifting, the yucky stuff. And although I did it with love, I cheated them, leaving an inadvertent gap in their life skills education. I forgot to require them to do the dirty work.
I wanted my kids to have every opportunity, so I did my best to lay smoothly paved roads neatly at their feet. And here’s where I slap myself…smooth roads don’t prepare kids for the real world. I shouldn’t have protected them from the potholes, the dirty work, the work that’s unpleasant and disgusting. I neglected to make them pull weeds and sweat like a dog doing yard work under the heat of a raging summer sun. I didn’t wake them that icy winter’s night to help us wrap the exposed water pipes which were beginning to freeze. I sheltered them from the unpleasant work in life. Though my intentions were pure, my execution was faulty, because I didn’t let them have their Dirty Jobs.
Dirty Jobs are best defined (in this post) as those jobs that are laborious, less than glamorous, and sometimes distasteful. You know the kind—insulating a hot attic in August, plunging a clogged toilet, chopping firewood, waxing a car, cleaning up the dog vomit (or worse), hauling loads of smelly garbage…the list goes on and on. Beau and I didn’t require our kids to do this kind of work often enough, and we thereby deprived them of valuable life lessons. Had we insisted they pitch in more, they would probably have the same appreciation for hard work that we do. And they’d have some laughable memories to share with my future grandchildren.
We made an Epic Parenting Fail, especially where it concerns our boys. I’m bearing my soul here. While we were busy fertilizing the intellect of their minds, the compassion and empathy of their hearts, and the creativity of their spirits, we overlooked a KEY component of growing boys into men. We neglected to grow the warriors in them. Because that’s what hard work and Dirty Jobs propagate within us, our warrior spirits. This is what our children need to survive in the real world, the one that exists outside the protective walls of our home.
Okay, here’s where I’m shifting gears. Yes, I stumbled. Heck, I’m pretty sure I fell flat on my parenting face. But from this point forward my plan is to make it right. As long as there is breath in my lungs, I will fight hard for my kids, relentlessly hard. (I’m mentally smearing battle paint on my face, preparing to wage war on my parenting guilt.) My kids are amazing, and if anyone can recover from my parenting fail, it’s my wonderfully adaptable kids.
Here’s the lesson I’ve learned from my misstep…because there’s always a lesson. Finding the value in life doesn’t come from sitting comfortably. It comes from EXPERIENCING SOMETHING HARD, something we never realized we could actually do. The virtues I value most—honesty, honor, kindness, integrity, and generosity—these are NOT acquired in a state of sedentary rest. Henceforth, my kids will learn not to be the people who watch others labor over dirty jobs. They will be the people taught to jump in, without a moment’s hesitation. They will help with the hard work, thereby lessening the heavy workload for others. My babies, you have dues to pay. We all do. I paid mine, your Dad paid his, and now your numbers are up!
Henry Ford termed it beautifully. “Chop your own wood. It’ll warm you twice.” Aristotle didn’t phrase it too badly either. “Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work.” Yes…yes, it does.
The truth of who we are and why we’re here is partly learned by the work we do. Not so much the work itself, but the heart with which we do it. Let’s keep it real—not everyone is fortunate enough to say they work at a job they’re truly passionate about. But we’re all capable of bringing our passion to work with us each day. We’re all fortunate enough to be able to shift the focus off ourselves and place it on service of the greater good. Think of Mother Teresa. Do you imagine she enjoyed the slums of India? I don’t. But I believe her passion for service allowed her to love every single ailing body and suffering soul who ever crossed her path. That’s a monumental legacy.
Hard work isn’t about being comfortable. We have to do the work, especially the hard work. We have to fail, sometimes big failures. And we have to get back up and do it all over again. And again. And again. Henceforth, I’m teaching all three of our kids about the balance between pleasure and pain. After all, there is no way to fully experience pleasure, if one has never truly experienced pain. My kids are strong, and they can endure the balance. I know they can.
Now I’m off to teach some lessons to three kids I love very, very much. I’m off to plant some warrior seeds and watch them grow. Wish me luck!
UPDATE: Progress is underway. One of our boys has gone out and gotten himself a job. The other is still handing out applications, and he’s diligently following up with letters and calls to the powers that be. Both boys are pitching in a bit more around the home front. There’s still work to do, but the troops are making steady movement forward. Our daughter is helping cook and clean on a daily basis. She’s learning to take pride in acting like a little lady of the house.
One day, they’ll remember all this dirty work I’m insisting they do, and I hope they’ll laugh about it. Even more so, I hope they’ll think of their mama…who loved them to the nitty gritty depths of her soul.