Do As I Do: How Parent Attitude Toward Work Shapes Children

**This blog, written by Mrs. Jennifer Canady, was originally published in the Fall of 2012.

Sometimes when people ask me how the year is going, I respond, “The days are long, but the years are short.”  I love teaching middle school science and directing the RISE Institute at Lakeland Christian School, where I work with kids with a particular affinity for research, innovation, STEM learning, and entrepreneurship. These are those scary kids who I suspect were born knowing more than the adults like me who are charged with challenging them.  I drink an awful lot of coffee in an attempt to keep up.

My husband Charles and I are also the parents of two middle school daughters.  Now that I have my own personal middle schoolers, I realize with humility the times I gave advice to parents over my seven years at LCS that was, how shall we say, less than helpful? For those of you who have younger children, hear me.  Parenting middle schoolers is a lot like making sausage.  Sometimes it’s just better not to know all the details.

It’s not bad, mind you.  It’s exhilarating, challenging, and oh, so much fun.  Middle schoolers talk to you about ideas, they are curious about politics and society, they want their lives to count.  I’m just not sure that when my kids were younger I realized they were actually paying attention to my attitude.   Not only paying attention, but inculcating my own attitude about work into their own.  (Make your middle schooler look up “inculcating”).

Families Matter

How can we make the long days count when it comes to helping our children reach their full potential?  The power of families to impact the development of talent and creativity is critical.  Research indicates that when parents demonstrate a love of work and learning, they have a significant impact on their children, helping them develop values that lead to achievement.  Who knew that my kids were watching when they were little and I was faithfully (or not so faithfully) completing the mundane tasks of life?  Kids are really paying attention.

Helicopter Moms to the Rescue?

Work by R.S. Albert found that “high achievers come from families that are cohesive…and where parent-child identification is strong, resulting in high levels of achievement motivation”.   Parents also help children to succeed by giving them the freedom to deal with their own challenges and difficulties of life.  Did you hear that, helicopter moms?   True confession:  I’ve done my share of rescuing, but research indicates that kids perform at higher levels when parents avoid shielding or trying to protect them from risks or hard work.  Dr. Paula Olszewski-Kubilius of Northwestern University’s Center for Talent Development suggests that “parents need to allow children to experience the tensions and stress that arise from challenging ideas and high expectations to live up to one’s potential.”

A tough word about work

The Bible has something to say about attitudes towards work, too.  Proverbs 6:6-11 tells the story of the ant:

Go to the ant, O sluggard;  consider her ways, and be wise.
Without having any chief, officer, or ruler,
she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest.
How long will you lie there, O sluggard?
When will you arise from your sleep?
A little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the hands to rest,
and poverty will come upon you like a robber,
and want like an armed man. (ESV)

It is clear that we are called as Christians to glorify God in our work, and so are our kids.  Our challenge as parents and teachers is to model a right attitude about work for our children so that they can, by God’s grace, become everything that He created them to be.  It’s worth every moment of struggle to see them growing in maturity, motivated rightly, and pursuing excellence.  Not for their own glory, or for ours, but for the Lord’s.