In my previous article, I suggested that the current situation—where many people have had to bring education and work back into the home—could actually help our families to live out their God-given calling. I suggested that parents should see this time as an opportunity to reclaim their role as their children’s primary teachers.
In this article, we move from the world of education to the world of work. In Bible times, these two things were inextricably linked: the relationship of teacher to student was more like that of a tradesman to his apprentice. The teachers we meet in the Bible are not in classrooms, but out in the world, students by their side, teaching not just with words, but by demonstration. Their lessons do not aim so much for full minds, but competent hands. A master tradesman trains his or her apprentice until they become a reliable co-worker, and eventually a worthy successor.
Jesus, the Teacher, described the process of an apprenticeship like this: “The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher.” (Luke 6:40)
If parents are their children’s primary teachers, then it is also true to say that children are their parents’ primary apprentices.
What Is Work Anyway?
In our modern economy, “work” usually only refers to a job that a person is qualified and paid to do. But the Bible has a much more expansive view: work is anything that expresses our human vocation as God’s image bearers. God created humanity to glorify him by working his creation; using its resources for food, shelter and clothing; by caring for our neighbours who bear God’s image too; and finally, by filling the creation with a new generation of image-bearers to carry on these essential human tasks.
In our modern economy, “work” usually only refers to a job that a person is qualified and paid to do. But the Bible has a much more expansive view: work is anything that expresses our human vocation as God’s image bearers.
The complicating factor is that sometimes we get paid for these things and sometimes we don’t. Usually, when we do these things for others, we get paid, but when we do them for our own family, we don’t. From our perspective, there is a substantial difference between paid and unpaid work—only one of them pays the bills!—but in God’s sight, they are equally valuable.
I this article, I will use a broader definition of work that includes things we do (whether for our own family or for others) like:
- house cleaning and maintenance
- making clothing and other products
- designing and creating things
- adding beauty to our surroundings
- serving others by caring for their bodies, minds or spirits
- caring for and teaching children
- studying and teaching others about God’s world
- communicating truth through words or images
When Work Left Home
This article is about the benefits to families of bringing work back into the home. I say “back” into the home because for most of human history, that is where the majority of productive labour took place. That only changed with the Industrial Revolution at the turn of the eighteenth century, when people began to leave their farms, home businesses and shops in order to work for others in factories and corporations. This has created an almost complete separation between work and home for most people.
Nancy Pearcy explains how this impacted families:
When work and home were wrenched apart, the effect on the family was the isolation of family members, both physically and psychologically. Whereas a father once worked at the head of a productive household, he now bears the responsibility for earning a living alone … Whereas a mother once shared the tasks of child-rearing with her husband and other kin, she now bears the major responsibility for bringing up children alone. Whereas children once experienced a gradual assimilation into adult responsibilities through training in a family business, they now grow up isolated from the adult world and have only the vaguest notion what their fathers [and mothers] do.
The departure of work—as well as education and childcare—from the modern home has interrupted the ancient process of a child’s apprenticeship into adult life and work. Many modern children are more likely to be discipled by their school teachers, peers or the media they consume than by their parents.
A New Opportunity
Working from home with children around certainly has its challenges. Of course, there will be many times when we need the kids to be occupied by someone or something else while we do some work uninterrupted.
(In another article I have argued that it’s not possible, nor is it desirable to give children our full attention all of the time.)
But perhaps we can see our current situation as an opportunity to treat our children as apprentices, at least some of the time. Some types of paid jobs cannot possibly be done from home; and work that is mostly done on a computer can be hard to teach. Nevertheless, we can still develop an “apprentice model” mindset: we can start looking for ways to include our children in the work we do—our paid and unpaid work in all its variety.
Firstly, we can let them watch what we do. We can explain what we are doing and how it expresses our God-given vocation—how it transforms God’s creation or serves our neighbours. We can let our children ask us questions about our work and even contribute ideas and suggestions. If we cannot do our paid work from home, we could show our children some photos or videos of the work we do; in “normal” time, we could bring them into our workplace.
Secondly, we can let our children join in our work. We can work together on a physical task or set up a similar task for them to do according to their age and ability. For example, if we’re designing or writing something on a computer, we could give them a piece of paper and set them a similar challenge. If our job involves helping others, we can let our children find their own ways of serving family, friends and neighbours. In order for our children to become our apprentices, we need to give them the chance to work alongside us, copying and practising with our help and guidance.
I sometimes find it stressful to have all three sons helping me at once, especially in the kitchen. So I recently started a basic roster system, where each son has an allocated night of the week when they help me prepare the dinner.
My sons also love helping my husband to wash the car. It gives them a great sense of achievement and collaboration, and provides them with a whole afternoon’s worth of amusement, all without spending a cent!
Thirdly, we can allow our children to do some work without our help. Once we think our children have the necessary basic skills, we can leave them to it. We might start them off on a chore or task, equipped with some instructions, then quietly slip away to let them have a go. Children love mastering a new skill and being useful around the home. In the words of one of our sons, “It always tastes better when you make it yourself!”
With education and work moving back into the home—at least for a little while longer—let’s persevere through the challenges knowing that our confinement could turn out to be a blessing in disguise.
In recent decades, we have grown accustomed to sending our children out to be taught and trained by others. Our families have handed over many of their traditional responsibilities to schools, governments and corporations. This has weakened family bonds, especially between parents and children.
In these extraordinary days, we have a unique opportunity to regain what has been lost. We have the chance to strengthen our families by taking up again the God-given responsibilities we have to one another.
But in these extraordinary days, we have a unique opportunity to regain what has been lost. We have the chance to strengthen our families by taking up again the God-given responsibilities we have to one another. Parents can reclaim their role as their children’s primary teachers, and children can learn once again to work alongside their parents as their primary apprentices.
Let’s take this opportunity to transform our homes from places of mere consumption and recreation into fruitful places of learning and productivity. May our homes be full of shared life, where childcare, education and work intertwine and overlap, and where the next generation can grow up to share in our great human vocation for the good of our world and our neighbours, to the glory of God.