I’ve officially been a “Work-At-Home” mom for 3 months now. The achiever in me wishes I could say that I have figured it all out. The reality is that every day is as much an enigma as the day before.

I try to understand the unique qualities of my girls and grasp the challenges and quirks of their ages/phases. However, most days I just think it would be easier to not think so much and take things as they come. Add to that the balance of maintaining the household, being a supportive spouse and also spending time trying to fill my own needs, and it quickly becomes overwhelming.

I have, however, made some great discoveries over the past few months that are really helping us to make the best of this special time in our lives. This is the first in a series of posts about the things I’ve learned. Many of these realizations came from my study of the Waldorf approach to education and parenting, initially developed by Rudolph Steiner in the early 1900’s.

The more I read about the Waldorf approach to education and family life, the more I’m intrigued and convinced of the validity of many of it’s principals. Warning: It is extremely esoteric. I often have to chuckle and momentarily suspend my disbelief at some of the assertions, i.e. I didn’t put a hat on my child’s head (even in the summer) and that has forever hindered an aspect of his/her emotional or physical development. However, if one can disregard some of the more bizarre theories, it is extremely thought-provoking and I believe, relevant to raising a child today.

Here is the first of what have become important components of our parenting/education philosophies. I reiterate…these are not new ideas. Just my own interpretation and implementation of things I’ve learned.

The value of work
Never before have I realized how important it is for young children to have a consistent model of work for them to emulate. I’m not talking about work outside the home. Yes, that can be important and worthy of acclaim, but it’s likely not something a young child would understand the intricacies of, or be able to participate in. This post is about domestic work – cooking, baking, cleaning, sewing, gardening, woodworking. The things that once were the center of a family, that have become, at best, an afterthought or perceived hindrance in our lives.

In our society, where instant gratification, convenience and more “free-time” is the desire, it’s very easy for a child to never see an authority figure make something with their hands, plant/tend to a flower, or even make a meal from scratch. Ask a 4-year-old where milk comes from and the answer will likely be, “the store.”

We live in an age where our possessions can be acquired literally in seconds, while sitting in our living room, typing on our wireless laptop. Not that I’m saying the Internet or computers are unequivocally negative. I LOVE the Internet. Buying things online, in the store or even paying someone else to do a task can be both a great convenience and cost-saving method. However, when we do not balance these conveniences with showing our children how to do things for themselves, I think we are doing them a great disservice.

Children, especially young children ages 2-6, are driven by two primary impulses. The first being movement (just watch a toddler TRY to sit still – it’s hilarious) and the second being imitation. They WILL imitate the older people in their lives. The question is, what do we want them to imitate? I’ve taken the Waldorf approach that being part of “work” should be a consistent part of a young child’s day. Note that this is NOT assigning a child a chore. While that may become part of an older child’s daily responsibility, a young child is much better served by observing a parent or caretaker cheerfully going about their daily work and being invited to participate as desired.

I’ve discovered that “doing our work” first thing in the morning after breakfast is a great way for Audrey to start the day feeling productive and allows me to get all of the chores out of the way first thing. So…each day we have our work to do. One day it might be to clean the floors, another day to clean the bathrooms, etc. I try to keep it to a job that takes no more than 1 hour. I’ve started using natural cleaning products that safely allow me to let Audrey participate as she wants and we always do it with a song. I know it all sounds very Mary Poppinsish, but let me tell you, it works! I get a clean house and Audrey feels very involved in the running of the household. Not to mention, she’s learning the value of taking care of the things we have and gaining a good work ethic. Then, throughout the day I try to add at least one handmade craft, baking, or outdoor project. Anna, while too young to actively participate, gets to be entertained by our movements and will soon be able to help out in small ways, as well.

Not that it was easy for me to start doing things this way. You see, I’m a perfectionist. So, prior to me making a conscious effort to involve Audrey, I would turn on a TV show or set her up to play a game while I would try to get a household job done. And I wondered why that was a recipe for disaster? She wanted to help me, be by me, not be sequestered off in her own little area.

Sure, it takes longer to have a 3 year old help you sweep the floor, but I’ve learned that it can also be much more fun. Especially if we take the time to chase the dust bunnies or have a broom race in the middle of it. A spoonful of sugar really does help the medicine go down! Same thing goes for cooking, sewing, whatever it takes to keep things running around your home.

I’m learning to crochet and knit because I’ve realized the importance of my children seeing me create things with my hands. It is an accomplishment to spend hours knitting a scarf (not that I’ve done one yet) and such a source of pride and joy to present it to a loved one. It’s much more fun and meaningful to paint or glue pictures on a birthday card than buy one at the store. Eating a loaf of bread made from scratch is always so much more satisfying than one purchased at the store. Sure it all takes more time, but isn’t that how memories are made?

What are some things that you could start doing with your children to help them see the value of domestic/artistic work? I bet there are more ways than you can count. Give it a try and enjoy the fruits of your labor. I know they will.

Stay tuned for the next Lesson Learned!