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Frumpy Middle-Aged Mom: Children, keep up the good work

Marla Jo Fisher • Aug 16, 2013 at 2:37 PM

Frumpy Middle-Aged Mom: Children, keep up the good work

By Marla Jo Fisher

The Orange County Register


My children are learning the value of work.

Let me repeat that: My children are learning the value of work.

You won’t find them singing, like Mick Jagger, “I’ll never be your beast of burden,” because actually nowadays they are my beasts of burden.

Teaching kids to work seems to be something of a dying art, especially among educated people who can afford to read newspapers.

After all, isn’t it one of the privileges of making money to buy your kids the right to just be kids? To have leisure time to pursue other interests, like dance or baseball or going to the mall?

No, I don’t think so.

Just as I refuse to give in to my teenage son’s demand to have a TV in his bedroom, I insist that they work for what they get. They do a wide variety of chores around my house to earn $20 a week allowance.

And, now that Cheetah Boy is 16, he puts on a devastatingly attractive hat, shirt and apron every week and heads off to his part-time job at Wendy’s.

We should start calling him “Burger Boy,” though his favorite meal there is the chicken wrap.

Perhaps I have this attitude because I’m unusually old for a mother of teens — I’m 57 and I adopted my kids out of the foster-care system when I was 46.

I was recently reminded of this when my 14-year-old daughter, Curly Girl, invited a friend over and her mom dropped her off — on skateboard. Both of them. On skateboards, which had not yet been invented when I was her age. Sigh.

Compared to that, I might as well be a dinosaur, in which case I hope I’d be a T. rex, and not a stegosaurus. But, I digress.

I grew up in a family where we ate tuna patties and potato pancakes those last few days before payday, and it made me appreciate the value of hard work and what it takes to earn a dollar.

I see so many kids flounce off to college without a clue on this point. And when are they going to learn it? When they graduate and suddenly find themselves on their own, with apartments to rent and checkbooks to balance?

They might end up with doctorates in Latin and be able to decode linguistic mysteries of the pyramids, but if they can’t figure out how to stay within a budget, their lives are going to be unhappy.

If they can’t operate a washing machine or scrub out a sink, how can they live a normal adult life?

Unless you’re a Kennedy, these are things that you need to do.

Random gossip about the Kennedys: I had a friend who worked at a famous ski resort in Utah, and she told me that when the Kennedys arrived in town, they always hired a private ski instructor at one zillion dollars an hour — not because they weren’t expert skiers, but because they didn’t want to stand in lift lines like ordinary mortals, and ski students got to cut to the front of the line.

Do you want your kid to grow up like that?

All right, that’s an extreme example, but your child will never be harmed by learning how to work. I have lots of friends who see all the chores I give my kids and mutter, “Gee, maybe my child could do more than set the table every night. ...”

Yes. Your child can do more than set the table. And why shouldn’t he? You work hard all day long to provide for him. Why shouldn’t he start sharing the load? In what way would that be bad?

I don’t bring my kids to the grocery store because that’s a disaster. I always end up giving in to their wheedling and buying twice as much as I intend.

But, when I get home, they know their job is to unload the car and then put everything away in its place.

I earned the money to buy the stuff. I went to the store. Now, it’s their turn to help out.

Right now, we’re getting ready for a vacation and cleaning the house for a home exchange family who’re coming to stay here while we’re gone. The kids are out back, scrubbing the patio furniture, cleaning the grill and getting the yard looking nice.

Then, they’ll be starting on the inside of the house, before mowing the lawn and watering the tomatoes.

Occasionally, there are missteps. Like when I instructed my son to plant a dahlia and he did plant it — in the plastic tub it came in. I could never quite decide whether he did it on purpose so I’d think he was stupid or because I really never taught him how to plant anything.

If it was the latter, then clearly I have my next project. I’m sorry my parents never taught me to till their ample garden when I was a girl — because they wanted to spare me the manual labor.

They wanted me to have things better than they did, including not having to learn how to grow vegetables.

Now, as an adult, I wish I knew how to grow vegetables. And that regret is one of the things that’s fueling my desire to make sure my kids know how to live, and not just become educated idiots.

Plus, it’s nice when we go camping. I love tent camping, but I hate the work. Nowadays, the kids pack the car, unpack the car, put up the tents and set up my big sleeping cot.

Pretty darn sweet, I must say. They even build the campfire without grumbling.

Sitting next to it with a glass of wine, I occasionally think, “At least I’m doing something right.”


Marla Jo Fisher was a workaholic before she adopted two foster kids several years ago. Now she juggles work and single parenting, while being exhorted from everywhere to be thinner, smarter, sexier, healthier, more frugal, a better mom, better dressed and a tidier housekeeper. Contact her at mfisher@ocregister.com. Follow her on Facebook athttps://www.facebook.com/FrumpyMiddleagedMom and on Twitter @FrumpyMom.

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