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Family

Why I Teach My Sons About Hard Work

January 25, 2017 by

a young boy outside a barn in the early morning

Before breakfast on Wednesdays I always do barn chores with my two oldest sons; different families here at the Darvell community take turns to look after the horses. It’s always an early start. I have to remind myself that I can’t just slap the alarm clock and turn over. Once dressed, I try to wake the older boys (ages eleven and eight) without disturbing the younger two. It has worked once or twice, and we live in continual hope: yes, we can.

The more usual situation is that I have forgotten to remind them about barn chores the night before and everybody wakes up: the older boys protesting about the early start, the four-year-old insisting that he is coming with us, followed by a hissy fit when he is told no, he is not. This in turn wakes the toddler, whose shouts wake his mother. Pandemonium. A line outside the loo. Missing jackets. Discussion with dad about whether it is appropriate to go barefoot outside in January (the boys keep their wellington boots at the barn). I think about Dunkirk.

At this time of day in January it is still completely dark outside. Also usually overcast and damp. We walk in silence in the dawning realization that the world can be a dreadful place. The chores don’t actually take that long; we let out the four horses, muck out their stalls, put down fresh straw, and get out hay for the evening feed. It is a great educational opportunity to learn how to do a simple task well and we have discussed things like the importance of cleaning out the entire stall, not just the visibly dirty straw (“But dad, this straw is clean! It’s a waste to throw it out!”). The boys clean one stall each and I clean two; sometimes they finish first, sometimes I finish first; it depends what mood we’re in. By now they know the routine, and squabble quite a bit less over shovels and wheelbarrows.

Of course a lot depends on how well the evening chores were done the day before. Last Wednesday, for example, it was well below freezing, and we arrived to find the muck trailer full and both wheelbarrows sitting next to it piled high with manure. I took a pitchfork and climbed into the trailer, shoveling steaming masses of straw and muck higher into the back to make room to dump the wheelbarrows. When I tried to dump them, I found that the manure had frozen to the inside. I stood in the trailer pounding on the side of a wheelbarrow with the handle of the pitchfork. “This,” I said to the boys watching me, “is what happens when somebody leaves their job for somebody else to do.” Sometimes community sucks.

Incidents like these are a chance to have contact with other people; one of our membership vows is the explicit promise to hash out our problems with people face to face. It is also true, though, that we sometimes just need to joyfully clean up a mess we did not make, or take on a task in addition to our normal work load. Last week one of the other families couldn’t manage their barn chore day and asked us to cover.

“Are they going to do it for us on Wednesday?” my oldest son wanted to know.

“I don’t think so.” I said.

“Why not?”

“They are friends of ours.” I said, “If your friend asks you for help, you just help him. You don’t ask him what he is going to do for you in return.”

Walking home feels better; I would stop short of describing the feeling as a glow, but it is definitely nice to know the job is over. We wash up and get changed. My wife Olivia has sometimes tactfully remarked that she loves the smell of horses at the barn, not in her house. She has also been known to make less tactful remarks. As I tell my boys, and keep reminding myself, barn chores are just something that needs doing. The community has horses; we enjoy riding them; we have a duty to look after them. It is unlikely that cleaning out their stalls is ever going to be either wildly enjoyable or a deep spiritual experience; a lot of things in life are like that. Sometimes you just need to put your head down and get on with it. That’s a life skill I hope my sons will learn.

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About the author

IanBarthHorizontal

Ian Barth

Ian lives at the Darvell community in East Sussex, UK with his wife Olivia and their four boys.

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  • Encouraging! We miss you, Ian and Olivia with four boys.

    Priscilla Cho
  • all too familiar:) thanks ian

    benwright