M. Winston (Winn) Egan
How hard can this be?
Updated: Sep 6, 2022
Most of our attempts at encouraging resilience and work ethic are targeted at our preteen and teenage grandchildren. We focus these attempts on work activities at or around our home—yard work, weeding, planting, painting, shoveling, pruning, scrubbing, window washing, rock removal, bathroom cleaning, vacuuming, and so on. Many of these activities are outdoor tasks that require lots of effort and endurance.
Very young children love working with grandparents on tasks tailored to their needs and ages. They love to cook, wash dishes, dig, harvest fruit, and even pull weeds. We have had many successful experiences planting flowers and vegetables with young grandchildren. They love digging, watering, cutting, and building.
When we camp out, go on a cabin retreat, or have a birthday dinner, each grandchild is assigned to a clean-up team. Through these teams, they learn the importance of leaving a place cleaner than they found it. They develop responsibility for cleaning up after themselves. They also profit from learning how to work together.
Over time, we try to increase the demands and length of our work efforts together, gradually expanding the energy and time required to complete the tasks successfully. One of the most important things we do is to model hard work and doing jobs well. We work with our grandchildren.
We don’t merely provide challenging work opportunities. We actively join our grandchildren in shoveling, weeding, painting, scrubbing, shining, vacuuming, cleaning, raking, lifting, pruning, hammering, building, planting, and harvesting.
As we engage in these often demanding and sometimes fun activities, we are informally talking and chatting about how each task is connected to life. It is easy to connect with fundamental aspects of life as they relate to simple things such as preparing the soil for seeds, planting various crops, watering them, caring for them, and harvesting them.
Our grandchildren come to understand that without planting, there can be no harvest. They also begin to understand the importance of pruning and its connections to producing healthy plants and fruits. Once they understand these concepts, they can start thinking about the thinning and pruning that needs to take place in their lives. They begin to consider who the pruners in their lives are and what essential functions they play.
Some years ago, we had a beautiful pumpkin on the brink of becoming one of our most prized Halloween decorations. The pumpkin became disconnected from its vine late in its growth cycle. As would be expected, it stopped growing. It was overcome with mold and disease, gradually it sloughed away, becoming an oozy, sticky heap of slime. The grandchildren who observed our pumpkin’s demise were quickly able to make connections with it and their own lives. Staying connected to the nurturing vines and sources of support in our lives is vital to our long-term happiness and success.
We often devote our efforts to service activities that require a lot of endurance, commitment, and hard work. We regularly involve our grandchildren and their parents in The WALK of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDFR). We have a granddaughter with diabetes. We are committed to finding a cure for the disease.
This daylong event requires a great deal of planning and organization. As a family, we join with other neighbors and community members to provide breakfast for two thousand-plus WALK participants. Several companies contribute to the breakfast items. We set up the breakfast buffet, cook the pancakes, and ensure all The WALK participants enjoy a great breakfast.
As the day of service closes, we take down the event, pick up and remove the garbage, share the excess food with the local food pantries, and leave the space orderly and clean. This is a work-intensive experience. Our grandchildren learn a lot from this kind of service, including what it means to start and finish a project well, being generous to others, and how it feels to give of oneself.
“Zillions” of service opportunities abound in our neighborhoods and communities for our grandchildren. These opportunities include visiting the elderly, working with a child or youth with disabilities, serving in food pantries, volunteering in “share houses,” regularly taking out a neighbor’s garbage, mowing lawns, shoveling snow, and tutoring refugees. In essence, the range of service opportunities is practically endless.
You want to engender this attitude in your grandchildren: “How hard can this be?” “I’ve done things harder than this.” Being able to respond in this fashion comes from experiences that stretch and test your grandchildren’s endurance and work ethic. Be creative. Think about how you can expose your grandchildren to tasks, activities, and services that promote resilience, deepen relationships, and teach important concepts about life. Grandchildren who know how to work hard and contribute to others are happier and more resilient.