You You You Oughtta Know

edited 9/4/12:  Hey!  Thanks for all the love here!  I’ve re-drafted the photo at the bottom with an updated list of Mulder Family Merit Badges.  A few of you emailed and asked HOW IN THE WORLD do you start?  And here’s my answer: one at a time.  Teach them to make their bed and be clear about what you want and WHY.  Once they’ve got it down to the best they are able at their age, then lay out the expectation: we all make our beds before we eat breakfast. Decide if there are rewards or consequences and be clear.  Some things will be added to your Family Routine (like washing dishes and making beds) and others will be added to Life Experience (like, hosting parties and jumping car batteries).  Once this is go to go, move on to the next thing.  The key here is to talk.  Be clear.  Explain why you’re doing this.  Explain why your kids and their effort is important to your family.  Trust me, they want to be needed and they want to feel like their work is valued.  Remember what Kay says:  My role as the parent is to love these kids, nurture them, and teach them how to embrace what they were created to do.  I want my kids to feel like they can try- maybe not succeed, but try- anything.  It’s a process.  I’m just starting myself, so walk boldly and humbly.  And be sure to let me know how it’s going 🙂

Do you mind if we continue our conversation about work and effort and expectations and intentions from last week?  It keeps coming up over and over again, and I need to write down some thoughts before I lose them.  Let’s face it, my brain is giving up on me.

When Kelly told me this book had pretty much blown her hair back, I knew I needed to buy it.  Cleaning House: a mom’s 12-month experiment to rid her home of youth entitlement, by Kay Wyma.  Heard of it?  I absolutely love its heart.  She looked around one day and realized her kids expected instead of acted.  She wanted to teach them to do a job, and to do it well. [red indented text = quotes from Wyma]

The Lord is clear in Scripture on the topic of work.  In Proverbs 21:5 we are taught, “Good planning and hard work lead to prosperity, but hasty shortcuts lead to poverty.”

Over 12 months in her home, Wyma covers 12 areas: Clutter, Kitchen, Yard work, Employment, Cleaning the bathroom, Laundry, DIY repair and maintenance, Hospitality, Working together, Running errands, Serving others, and Manners.

The family develops an allowance system on Day 1 and begins with personal bedrooms and clutter.  Each month, a new task or opportunity is added to the list for the family to tackle. Her family wades through some awesome extremes of mutiny and apathy… but they make it.  They do make it.  The idea here is that parents must be intentional in teaching some basic life skills and, perhaps more importantly, attitudes.  Not every person is motivated to deep-clean a bathroom or learn how to use a power drill, but there are benefits to doing so.

I couldn’t let it bother me that the kids didn’t want to work; the fact was, they needed to work.

In our society, children are generally not required to do meaningful work to help their families.  Going to school, pursuing their extracurricular activities, and staying out of major trouble is considered their function.  In the old days, boys (and girls) had chores and roles that were vitally important to the survival and functioning of their family unit.  These roles gave children a sense of self-worth, vitality, and importance.  They knew that they were an integral part of the survival of their family and that without their contribution, it would suffer.

Children are not necessary these days.  We are blessed to live in a culture and country that, in general, does not REQUIRE a child’s help or presence.  And while we cheer for progress and ease and automation, we’ve lost something in the process.  I do believe that a child- that every person– will search for validation, and, if they do not find it at home, they will look beyond my influence.  Here is my reminder to myself: make them useful HERE.  Show them they are worthy and able and vital HERE.  Equip them to leave my house knowing the Lord designed them for a purpose and that they are desperately important to our family.

Work is the vehicle through which God cares for creation (see Genesis 2:15) … My role as the parent is to love these kids, nurture them, and teach them how to embrace what they were created to do.

My best friend was 19 before she learned to mop a floor, not because she was pampered but because her childhood home had no tile.  I was familiar with a mop but not with parking.  I never learned to park in a normal, everyday Wal-Mart parking lot with cars surrounding me, which explains why I had my first accident approximately 32 minutes after I took my first solo drive.  We missed a few skills and lived to tell the tale.  The world is very forgiving that way.  But, perhaps, if I think on these things now they could be a bit of an adventure for the family… another growth chart of sorts.   A way to teach and explore all at the same time.

What would be on my list?  What physical and practical skills do I want Curt and I to have taught them hand-in-hand beyond the inevitable tying of shoelaces and taking out the trash?  Here’s what I came up with… no doubt, you’ll help me think of a few more.

Mulders shall be taught:

  1. basic chores (bedroom, feeding the dog, etc.)
  2. how to clean a bathroom
  3. service outside of the home
  4. hospitality in the home
  5. employment under non-parents
  6. laundry (washer, dryer, iron, reading tags)
  7. car maintenance (change a tire, change the oil, check the tires, get gas)
  8. meal planning (oven, stove, grocery store)
  9. how to set up a tent
  10. basic fix-its (changing light bulbs, drills, screwdrivers, sewing a button)
  11. where money comes from (ATMs, credit cards, banks, save/ spend/give)
  12. setting a basic table
  13. how to read a map- road and topographical
  14. how to hand-write a letter and envelope
  15. how to build a fire (without dousing with gasoline)

EDIT: Curt says to add ‘drive a stick-shift’ & ‘mow the lawn,’ and I forgot to put ‘how seeds grow’ on there. Yes.  

Is it possible to make family merit badges?  Oh my word, that would be so awesome.

Now, some of these concepts we’ve already started and will continue to build on.  Ry’s just getting to the stage where money is interesting, so we’ll take that and go as far as we can now and save checkbooks for a few years down the road.  It is worth noting, however, that at 5 years old Rylie scored ridiculously high on the ‘task’ portion of her special needs testing- like, in the 9 year-old range- because she helps clear the dinner table, washes eggs, and pushes buttons on the dryer.  We celebrated that, of course, but inwardly I wondered what on earth that meant for society if we were expecting so little from our children that taking your plate to the counter was worthy of a NINE YEAR OLD’s responsibilities.  Times have indeed changed.

Things are easier now.  We’ve made some incredible leaps as a society in the last couple generations.  Phones that are cameras that have gps that spell-check for you that record recitals.  Just take a look around and decide if you’re all-in.  A lot of times, I am.  Thank GOODNESS I do not have to butcher my own meat every week to feed my family.  But that luxury does require me to teach a little more about the process food goes through before landing on the table if I expect my children to respect the food and money it requires to make it happen.  I LOVE having a GPS in my car (again, my brain… it fails).  But, physical maps are so incredibly fun not to mention amazing art.  I want my kids to learn to read a map- even if it’s an obsolete skill these days.

It’s a personal and flexible list; you will certainly not care about some of the things I care about, and that’s the beauty.  But, tell me:

What would be on your family’s list?



Here’s the updated list, thanks to your inspiration:


About texasnorth

TexasNorth is a little farm in Western Michigan. It's home to 5 chickens, 25 longhorn cattle, a coonhound (Banjo), 1 barn cat, a husband, and 3 ridiculously funny children. The mom of this zoo has been known to mow the lawn in a skirt and roast marshmallows after dark. View all posts by texasnorth

21 responses to “You You You Oughtta Know

  • Kathy in Chicago

    I love the “read a map”…. we do not have a gps, and both of my children know how to read a map, my husband, raised in NYC, does not. Often he will call me saying “I think I missed the turn because I’m in Iowa, how do I get back?”

  • Carolyn

    This is awesome! I wholeheartedly agree! Thank you for the reminder & insights. Don’t forget add “jump a car battery”. I’ve used this skill many times. In fact, just yesterday for my mom.

  • Kim Aguilar

    I know a mom here in AZ that fired her landscaper because her husband and 4 boys sat around the house on Saturdays watching tv. Now they work in the yard together and have bonded because of it; maybe pulling weeds isn’t a skill they need nowadays, but teamwork and sense of self— at the same time!—are invaluable.

    As for me, I love your list. I’d add “using a pocket-knife,” only because we had a conversation yesterday about how Clark has to wait a couple of years until he gets one. His cousins got them this summer, and I will say this: my brother did an excellent job teaching his boys knife safety…so good that Clark learned all the rules and could probably be responsible with a pocket-knife at age 5! Alas, his mother still will not cave.

    • Kim Aguilar

      Okay, I just got back from dropping Clark at school and I’d like to add “Standing with your hand on your heart for the National Anthem.” Just because you are not in a classroom, people, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t stop and face the flag if you’re in the parking lot. Growing up in the military means that no matter where you are, if you hear the Nation Anthem, you stop and pay your respects to your country until the last note plays.

    • texasnorth

      Knife and gun etiquette/ethics are on our list… for certain!

  • Kelly

    Great post Kate. Love the list. One of the things on my list would ‘how to handle something someone has let you borrow’. Ie: does it need to be cleaned, laundered a certain way, returned at a certain time.. Etc.
    I wasn’t taught the adage of ‘return something in better condition than you found it’ until (IMO) too late in life. As an adult I truly appreciate when others practice this.

  • hopefulleigh

    1. I love the title of this post. Henceforth, I will have that song stuck in my head for the rest of the day.

    2. This is good thinking right here! Love that you’re being intentional about passing these skills on.

    3. What about basic manners? I’m talking beyond “please” and “thank you.” Like how to politely interrupt, when to send “thank you” cards, and other etiquette-y things. Maybe this falls under hospitality in in the home?

    • texasnorth

      I would consider manners a part of hospitality for sure. But you hit on something there… in fact, it was going to make it in there but was turning the post into a novel. In a local school here there is actually a new class about ‘respectfully disagreeing.’ The community felt that there had been so much work done on the “listen and do not question” end of things that kids felt they could not disagree. Period. Or, when they did, they did so inappropriately- like, physically. Hmmm. I see this playing out a lot lately in the news. Disagreeing equating with hate. We’ve lost the art of respectful debate and discussion and require all people to think the way we do or you are labelled.

      All that to say, I think the class is awesome.
      And, it’s going on the list.

  • stephanie

    roger all of this! keith and i have been talking so much lately about being intentional in everything…marriage, home, ministry…and especially when it comes to teaching Isaac and our soon to be baby girl life skills. there is no way we can expect them to figure all this out on their own. i love your list. i would copy many of those things. cooking and a love and appreciation for a variety of food…that is one thing i’m really trying to work on. that would be on my list. which brings me to tell you about a book that i recently discovered titled “French Kids Eat Everything”. i have found it extremely fascinating, interesting, convicting, etc. since we both have a secret love affair with France, i know you will love it. 🙂 hugs!

  • chad

    I agree that one of the greatest things you can give a kid is a sense that they are needed. We try to teach our kids that our family is like a machine, and every piece is important. All the other pieces are counting on you. Our littles (4 and under) get excited about work if they know they are doing something useful. However, they have keen BS detectors. They will know if I’m trying to trick them into doing chores. If I tell them I need them to hold some nails, they’ll hold the nails. I only have so many hands and they will see the logic in holding the nails. If I “need” them to pick up their toys, they call my bluff.

    Looks like a good book. Thanks for recommending it. I have a couple for you. “Bud and Me”, about the Abernathy boys. ( And “Last Child In The Woods”, about Nature Deficit Disorder.

  • Colene

    I’m struggling with this very issue right now. What a timely post – tho I wish I would have read it before Saturday when I went all psycho mama on my kids for not helping me unpack the car after our vacation. Ooops! I just ordered the book.

  • Sunday Grant

    Good grief woman!!! Every time I read your blog I basically just want to be you! You are so wise and well spoken. Thank you for sharing this. I am often amazed at the entitlement my kids feel and am paralyzed in what to do. How would you suggest introducing this to the family. Knowing me I would make a list and ask that all members do it that day and right. Not going to happen. Of course I love writing a handwritten letter and setting a proper table. I am pretty sure I am a 90 year old southern woman from Charleston deep down in my bones!

    • texasnorth

      Hmmm. I’d say slowly and steadily. The biggest thing for Curt and I is that we agree… so make sure Worth is in 🙂 And then, add as you go. Once you’ve had a little class on, say, bed making and they can do it to THEIR abilities, then it’s time to lay down that expectation. Beds made before breakfast, or whatever. Then add a new one.

      That’s my theory 🙂

  • becky

    Good Good words Katie!! you may have just inspired me to make a list, and to blog again, wait I will just put that on my list

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