Show Your Child the Dignity of Work


Painting by Alfredo Rodriguez

From How to Raise Good Catholic Children by Mary Reed Newland

Show your child the dignity of work

A great many people seem to think that work is a curse. If they know enough to offer it up, this makes it a prayer, but it makes a better prayer if they know it isn’t a curse in the first place.

When God the Father made Adam, He put him in the Garden of Paradise “to dress it and to keep it.” It wasn’t until after Original Sin that He said, “Cursed is the earth in thy work.”

Even then He didn’t curse work. He was referring to the earth, whose harmony had been spoiled. Where formerly Adam could plant seeds and expect them to grow and bear fruit without ever poking a hoe at them, now he was going to have trouble.

Stones that were meant (I suppose) to lie about and give glory to God, were going to sneak down into the soil and break his plow. Plants that had kept to their own, raising their young from seed and lifting their heads in praise, were going to scatter their seed in his wheat and corn and potatoes, and Adam would have to pull them out.

His work could once have been pure joy. It was now going to involve a struggle. There’s nothing very new about this.

Many a work-weary parent has announced plaintively to his children, “Just wait till you grow up and have to work for a living. Then you’ll find out money doesn’t grow on trees!”

Money doesn’t grow on trees, and people have to work for it, but it’s a mistake to think money is the only end of work. Even men who get past the point of needing money continue to need work. They retire at sixty-five, and at sixty-five and a half, they discover that they can’t bear to be retired.

There’s a very good reason. We are the children of God. Our Father is a creator and worker, and we “take after our Father.”

He made us the finest of all His visible creation, but a little less than the angels; He gave us the universe and made us lords over it. His work continues in the continuing miracle of life in all things, and we are the custodians on earth of all its life and the abundance of its treasures.

With our own work in imitation of our Father, we make things, do things, grow things, create things, always with the things He has given. This is the dignity of work. This is why work is holy. This is why, when we do it as well as we can and with the right intention, work gives great glory to God.

For me to presume to say anything new about work would be wild. But for mothers and fathers raising young, who fluctuate so rapidly between periods of liking and disliking work, it’s helpful to return and consider some of the fundamentals with an eye to adapting them for children.

The home is the training ground for life

The home is a world in miniature, a mystical body with the father as the head, the mother as the heart, and the children as the members. As every member in the physical body, each muscle and nerve and cell, contributes to the perfect functioning of the body, so every member of a family is needed for the perfect functioning of the family.

The father is its support and protector, the mother is its center of order and fruitfulness, the children share in their own way in the work and the joy of both, and the whole has as its primary end the training of souls whose destiny is Heaven.

Out of the family will come responsible — or irresponsible — men and women who will form — or malform — society, and society belongs to Christ. He bought it with His Blood on the Cross.

Our ultimate work in the world is merely an extension of this training in work in the home, and no matter what specific work we do, its end is first of all Heaven.

Whether we’re mothers or nuns or nurses or workers in the fields; whether we’re fathers or priests or truck drivers or policemen directing traffic, when we do our work with the right purpose for its end, we’re working with Christ for the salvation of men. And always we begin it at home.

For very little children, work is play. It’s an imitation of something grown-ups do, and it’s the beginning of learning.

Stephen is three and a half and is quite a hand at wiping the dishes — also at dragging dish towels all over the floor. This is very trying, and the pile of dish towels to be thrown in the wash mounts rapidly when Stephen is “helping.”

But to rebuff him constantly (once in a while, when speed is of the essence, he must be sweetly but firmly removed) is to discourage an instinctive desire to serve, and he must not only be allowed to serve, but encouraged to serve.

Christ gave us the example when He washed the feet of His Apostles, doing as a servant would do, then bidding them to follow His example.

When a child is discouraged too often in his attempts to serve, the desire can easily wither away until his whole impression of the world is that it’s a place where other people serve him, and his role is that of the served.

Mothers are quite right when they state that little ones can be more hindrance than help; yet if home is to be a training ground for life, we’re going to have to sacrifice a certain amount of efficiency and begin the training. There are too many victims of over-efficient mothers, roaming around knowing how to do nothing, to argue much with this.

“The one who knows how to profit by his own errors is the one who makes a success of life. To be discouraged over your mistakes is foolish. To disregard them is equally unwise. To face them fearlessly and try to learn from them how to avoid a mistake next time is part of wisdom.” – Fr. Edward F. Garesche, Catholic Book of Character and Success, 1912, Painting by John George Brown

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