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Balancing act: Teaching children to work is important job for fathers

Published: Monday, June 18 2012 1:00 p.m. MDT

Fathers can set an example of the importance of being dependable and hard-working. They can also teach children to do tasks around the house.

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As I contemplated the fathers in my life on Sunday, it occurred to me that one thing they've all taught me — in one way or another — is how to work.

My own dad set an example of the importance of being dependable and hard-working during his long career. He almost never took a sick day, and everyone knew that whatever job he was given, he would do it promptly and correctly.

My grandfathers also demonstrated hard work, whether on a farm or in a workshop. And my wife's father and grandfathers have the same diligence and willingness to roll up their sleeves and get a job done, even if it means traveling halfway around the world to do so.

Thinking about these amazing men made me wonder whether I'm measuring up to their examples. I'm trying, but I don't think I'm succeeding yet.

I do try to show dedication to my job, work hard in the office and accomplish the tasks I'm asked to do. I also try to exceed the expectations of those with whom and for whom I work. And especially lately, I've tried to do a better job of modeling good work/life balance.

However, there is one important area in which I need to improve: teaching my children to do tasks around our house.

It's strange that I'm not good at this, because my mom and dad were great at it. From a young age, my sister and I had chores every Saturday, as well as during the week. We helped dust the house and vacuum the carpets. We took turns collecting the rugs and shaking the dust off them outside, then sweeping the floors.

Before we bought our first dishwasher, we had responsibility for washing and drying the dishes after every evening meal. After we got the dishwasher, we still had to help empty it.

As for my dad, he taught me the basics of maintaining and repairing a home. Unfortunately, I didn't pay as much attention to those lessons as I should have, so I'm not handy at fixing things now.

My wife had a similar upbringing, chores-wise, and she has been working hard to pass those lessons along to our children. However, I fear that I sometimes unintentionally torpedo her efforts due to a lack of patience.

For example, I'm one of those freakish people who wants everything arranged just right in the dishwasher so I can cram in the maximum number of items. I feel I'm the only person who can do this correctly, so I tend to take over that job myself, even when the kids are trying to help.

Same thing with folding the laundry. I like things folded the way I think they should be folded, and it's hard for me to be patient with my children's efforts in this regard.

Logically, I know that it's not a big deal if they do things differently, and that they'll never learn how to do such chores if I don't back off. I've made a conscious effort to do so, but it's still challenging for me at times.

Yeah, I know. It's a sickness.

One thing that has helped me overcome my natural tendencies in this area is my children's response when I do take the time to teach them.

For example, when I was alone with our three daughters and one son on a recent evening, I decided to give them some rudimentary lessons in laundry folding. I had all four of them working on it, and they had a great time. They also did a pretty good job.

The other day, I was alone with my 6-year-old son and had some yardwork to do. Instead of setting him up in the house with an iPad or a movie so I could get my tasks done quickly, I decided to slow down a bit and invited him to join me.

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