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Labor Day and the Value of Work

Observe this Labor Day with appreciation and intention. Celebrate this Labor Day like you and your kids earned it... because you have!

After a day’s work – in the office (or home office), at school (virtual or otherwise), around the house, or volunteering – how nice it is when we come together at the dinner table. Over dinner is where we can chat about the day’s highs, lows, and wonders. One such wonder: our kids know that mommy and/or daddy typically do something or go somewhere each day . . . but to where? Where – or what – does it mean “to work”?

To answer this burning kid question, let’s celebrate! Labor Day – observed on the first Monday of September – is our national holiday celebrating the effort and ethic of Americans’ hard work. The federal holiday was motivated by the labor movement of the late 1800’s, and is “dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers.” Prior to this time, unprotected American workers went to work in dangerous conditions. Elected officials heard the calls and saw the need for labor protections in what was then our developing country.

Over a century later, Labor Day continues to mark “a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.” The holiday also marks a great time to “festively” introduce the concept, complexities, and history of work to our kids. We make it a point to celebrate the dignity of all work and of all workers. As one of the founding labor movement members described the American worker: "who from rude nature have delved and carved all the grandeur we behold."

Work not only contributes to the external project (the thing you see happening) – work also contributes to the internal being (what happens inside of you – your mind and muscle). In other words, work builds character; work instills purpose; work develops intention. Through work we set our goal, engage our mission, and earn our achievement. Work also implies teamwork (it’s half the word!), collaboration, cooperation, community, and doing our part. We couldn’t accomplish if we didn’t work. We couldn’t overcome if we didn’t work. What’s not to celebrate?!

For the Labor Day holiday, we'll be talking to our kids about why and how our family members and our community members work together and work differently. And we'll ask some more questions, “Why do you think mommy and daddy work? How would you describe our work? What kind of work would you like to do when you grow up? What is interesting to you about that work? What do you think your work is right now? What is some work you can do to help mom and dad around the house?

Some people work for a paycheck, some do not, and no doubt many people's work has been disrupted by COVID; but all work has dignity if we are employing our talents for good. Parenting is a great example of that because many of us would say it’s the hardest job we’ve ever had and the one we don’t get paid for! Most kids don’t realize that work is what allows them to have a cozy bed, food in their bellies, and a roof over their heads. The goal is not to guilt them but to give them an appreciation for the working day even though they may still want every day to be Saturday!

Around our Dinner Table, we’ll chat about how different ways of working and types of jobs can contribute to a shared purpose. Among other prompts, we’ll reference The Berenstain Bears: When I Grow Up and Why Do People Need to Work from our Bookshelf. We’ll also make note of the work done by those whom we may not see, but are still vital to our lives. For instance, we’ll say “thanks” to the farmers and truckers who planted and delivered the produce on our plates. We’ll acknowledge the factory workers who created the plates off which we eat. We’ll think about everything we see as a sign that someone worked – that work is good!

So observe this Labor Day by intentionally appreciating the acts and fruits of work. Though the holiday is marked by a day off from work, ask your kids which “chore” they’d like to help with to be part of the festivities. Celebrate Labor Day like you and your family earned it . . . because you have!

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