Working on Work Ethic

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work ethic on the farm

“Your parents aren’t lazy, and you’re not going to be either,” summarized our thoughts.

My husband and I kept at the chore in progress, even as our son expressed dissatisfaction with the task. We believe that “do as I do” will develop the commendable work ethic we expect from our kids. Even experts indicate that much of what kids learn sticks with them when caught, not taught. And as farm kids past and present know, the farm offers a natural setting to catch more than a whiff of what work ethic means.

In fact, a quote from a local farming family has stuck with me since I read it in Prairie Farmer magazine five years ago: “My kids see their dad working constantly. They are witnessing work ethic so much that they’re almost desensitized.”

Work hard and work well. My grandparents did. My parents do, and now my generation and the prior must exhibit this standard of work ethic to the next generation. It doesn’t even matter whether the youngest generation chooses to farm. Work ethic works wherever life takes you, whether working on a school science project, a church dinner, a career objective, or parenting a child or a few.

Parents and grandparents showed my generation how to treat everything as your own. To feel satisfaction in a job well done, with or without financial gain. To avoid wasted time. To give 100 percent and stick with it. To make lists and cross things off. To associate guilt with TV time on a warm, sunny day. And to earn recognition as a doer, a responsible citizen, spouse, parent or employee who contributes for the betterment of all without prompt.

Relatives could spend more than a holiday dinner talking about how my grandparents hunted and sold raccoons to earn spending money for Christmas. Or decades ago when the guy up the road performed early morning chores as a teenager, then delivered farm-fresh milk on the way to school. Or how my parents during childhood would shell corn, pump water for livestock by hand and walk soybean fields to cut weeds in the summer.

Generally, the longer back in years that you reflect, the more strenuous and tedious the farm work. Automation, modern equipment for farm and home, and new concepts make some manual labor more convenient or unnecessary. Parenting styles evolve. We know more now than we did then, and society tolerates less. My semi-retired farmer neighbor cultivated fields at age 5 on a cabless tractor. That makes my kids’ daily egg chores and fall-time sessions digging potatoes together as a family seem like, well, small potatoes.

Still, my kids watch me take more than a bag of chips to a potluck. They see that we “do-it-yourself” when we can. And they learn early that working hard equally means focusing on quality work. Do the job right from the start, or you’ll be pulling the same – yet angrier – weeds from the garden again later.

As much as we work together, we also play together, as did the generations before us. A task accomplished as a family may end with an impromptu family game of baseball in the yard, lemonade together on the front porch swing or a surprise movie rental to stream as the sun sets. As a young lad, my dad would bale hay on the farm during the day, and then Grandma would take him and his siblings for a swim at a local lake in the evening. From the beach, she snapped green beans and shelled peas.

Those were their laziest hours of summer.

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