Family Life: Lessons in Work
When my girls were younger, I established rules for when they would be paid for successfully finishing a particular chore. I never favored a “no obligations” allowance, so they understood that money they acquired from me in their youth would have to be earned. I classified some chores as their “individual contribution to the family.” This included upkeep of their personal space, like making their bed and putting their toys away. Plus, there were the everyday responsibilities vital to every household to ensure it ran smoothly, like taking out the trash and doing the dishes. These duties earned the girls no money. They were efforts that served us collectively as a family unit.
I decided that the extras they would do, chores I thought of as my responsibility, warranted monetary compensation. Examples included dusting, vacuuming, and folding my laundry—a task they knew how to do because each was taught how to do their own laundry at age seven or eight. Inevitably when a chore was offered for pay, the first question was, “How much will I get?” I nipped this in the bud with what became my standard reply: “It depends on the quality of your work.” I knew then that I was preparing my children for work in the world. I believed then and believe today that it is not right to reward a half-baked effort in the same way as a task performed meticulously.
I’ve carried on this practice with my younger bonus children. The older ones squawk at the disparity between what they earned fifteen to twenty years ago and today’s going rate. They may have earned fifty cents for a job that now yields $1 to $2. That’s inflation, kids.
This discussion of the value of work in the family has a spiritual point. February is dedicated to the Holy Family. This devotion, begun in the 1600s, celebrates the truth that the family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph serves as a model of virtue for Christian households. The Holy Family has come to be seen as a guide for how to restore the true nature of God’s intent for family life. During a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in January 1964, Pope St. Paul VI referred to family life as “a lesson of work.” Agreed!
In our temporal and spiritual family, we need not question what we’ll be paid. The quality of our gifts of time, talent, and treasure directly affects the substance of what we receive in return. We control the yield. As we navigate a world in which the traditional family unit has often been upended, let us adhere to the wisdom of St. Paul VI: “May Nazareth teach us what family life is, its communion of love, its austere and simple beauty, and its sacred and inviolable character….A lesson of work. Nazareth, home of the Carpenter’s Son, in you I would choose to understand and proclaim the severe and redeeming law of human work.”
May each of us walk in the spirit of Nazareth. Amen.