Raising a Worker

It’s a tough job but we’ve all got to do it

I used to work in the IT department at Island Health. We were fortunate to have a collaboration with my alma mater, the School of Health Information Science at the University of Victoria, and one of the best aspects of that collaboration was having a semi-regular, budget permitting, rotation of co-operative education students. I have fond memories of being a co-op student myself and have learned as much, or more, from interacting with co-op students as an employer, as I did as a student.

My big take away? Make sure your kids have at least one or two service-oriented jobs under their belts before they leave high school.

Think perfect grades, excelling at the top level in sport, or singing the perfect aria is more important than flipping burgers for spending money? Think again.

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The students I met from the co-op program invariably came in two varieties. Those that got what it means to be a worker and those that didn’t. The ones that got it arrived on time, didn’t abuse the break policies, were eager to learn, and most of all grateful for the opportunity. They were, essentially, workplace ready.

The ones that didn’t get it wore entitlement like an ivy league sweatshirt. They expected to be spoon fed every step in every task, they thought their bosses had infinite time to go over partially done or badly done work, and they expected constant praise and accolades. They seemed burdened by office life.

Looking back, the difference between the students that got it and the ones that didn’t seemed to be in their work experience. I’m not talking about a first-year co-op student versus a fourth year, but whether or not they had on their resume work places where they might have uttered the phrase: “I can help you over here please,” or, “would you like fries with that?”

I started working in the “real world” when I was 12. My first job was berry picking. My dad would drop my friend and me off at the farm at 8 a.m. and he’d pick us up at 5 p.m. We were the slowest pickers in the patch and there was at least one occasion when we wasted the product in an epic berry fight. But, for the most part, we plodded along, slowly picking our baskets full and bringing them in to be weighed – and to see how much money we’d made.

I earned $500 that month, which I spent on a gleeful shopping spree at the West Edmonton Mall on our summer vacation. The funds are long gone but the things I learned from that job are with me for a lifetime. I was humbled to watch the immigrant women we worked alongside. They picked about 10 times as many berries as we did, performing back breaking work in the direct sun, all day long. They didn’t complain, they just got on with the task at hand.

Hard work pays off. That was the main lesson I got from being paid by the pound. That, and some people have to work much harder in this life than others.

Working in environments where one works up an actual sweat is one of the best natural motivators for kids to do well in school. It is one thing to hear your parents say that life will be easier with some education or skills under your belt and another thing altogether to experience the daily rigour of real work in a job at the lower end of the pay scale.

Kids who work in service jobs are less likely to become horrible customers as adults. They will understand firsthand that store policies are not something the clerk in front of them has control over and temper their behaviour towards service workers with empathy.

Some key learnings kids gain from summer/after school jobs:

• Responsibility. If I don’t show up others are impacted.

• Punctuality. If I’m not on time, it matters.

• Money sense. I had to work how long to make how much? And those sneakers cost what??

• Communication skills. When I fail to communicate effectively I face the consequences.

• Attitude. If I greet my customer with a smile they tend to respond well, if I provide poor service they complain about me.

If your child can’t get a job this summer because of fears of Covid 19, no job opportunities, or simply because they are too young, I encourage you to give them a job yourself—otherwise known as chores. With so much more time being spent at home these days and many of the usual kids’ activities curtailed, it is an ideal time to increase kids’ participation in domestic work. Chores can be paid or unpaid but should be work of real value. The goals are to encourage an understanding of what it takes to run a household and to teach important life skills.

Growing up, I used to envy my friends whose parents didn’t give them chores. Some parents were perfectionists and believed (correctly) that they could do a better job of the domestic duties. Others didn’t want to burden their children with tedious household tasks. These kids wound up having to learn really basic things like chopping vegetables, washing clothes and doing dishes as adults. I now believe I had an easier transition into household management having learned to cook and clean when my age was still in the single digits.

So, what chores should kids do? Plenty!

Age 3-6:

• Stand at sink with dad or mom and “help” with the dishes—this is mostly about playing with bubbles but it’s fun for them and they get to see how it’s done—and the pleasure of their company makes the job fun for mom or dad.

• Unload the dishwasher.

• Make their bed.

• Clean up toys.

• Put dishes in the dishwasher.

• Set/clear the table.

• Help with making school lunches.

Age 6-12:

• Wash laundry, fold it and put it away (or any portion thereof). When my daughter’s Grade 5 teacher asked the class who did their own laundry, my daughter was the only one to raise her hand—this is not a hard job, kids can, and I believe should, be participating in it.

• Wash cars.

• Vacuum, dust, clean bathrooms. My rule is if you use a toilet you should know how to clean it, my kids have both done this chore (only one time each, but, hey, it’s a start).

• Make school lunches independently. Kids are more likely to eat what they pack and most parents hate this chore—I’m not sure why, but then, I haven’t done it in a while.

• Kids cook dinner night. We like to have a night once a week where one parent and one kid are responsible for the dinner and don’t have to help clean up; the kid picks the meal and is responsible for making it—or learning and helping alongside the parent.

• Care for younger siblings.

• Help in the garden, mow the lawn.

• Paint a fence or participate other in other small household maintenance jobs.

• Help out at the grandparents’ place. A great way for a kid to show they care and usually well rewarded with accolades, cookies and cash.

• Volunteer to do something for a neighbor.

Will your kids thank you for giving them chores to do? No Way! Probably never. I have not sat my parents down and said “hey, thanks for making me do all those dishes,” that would just be weird. But your job as a parent—and by the way, parenting is a job—is not to make your children happy at every given moment. It is to teach them morals and how to make their way in the world. Raising your children to be a worker by encouraging them to get a summer job and by giving them chores to do at home will enhance their self-confidence and ultimately lead to their happiness and satisfaction in knowing if there is a job to do they have the ability to do it well.

Gina Safranyik
Gina Safranyik
Gina Safranyik is an IT Consultant and the mother of two children. When she isn’t busy working or wrangling kids, she enjoys reading, cooking, yoga, writing and going on walks with her husband and the family Border Terrier.