"No obstacles are insurmountable when God commands and we obey"
- - Heber J. Grant
March 12, 2014
Free Time Appreciation Week
by Emily S. Jorgensen

In missions that have cars for the missionaries to drive, the mission leaders sometimes require what they call “car appreciation days,” where the missionaries who usually have use of a car must go without it for a period of time. Sometimes this is because the missionaries have already used up their monthly allotment of miles, sometimes because the car needs maintenance.

Regardless of the reason, elders or sisters that are used to driving everywhere must now find alternate forms of locomotion for a while.

In our family, we have two requirements of our children in the afterschool hours while a babysitter is caring for them because my husband and I are both working. They must do a small chore (we call them 10-minute Tidies), and they must get at least one other responsibility done. This can be practicing the piano, doing their math, or getting their reading or spelling finished.

The reason for this is there is simply not enough time after dinner and before bedtime, when our children have both parents at their disposal, to get all these things accomplished. (Frankly, this is the first year we have three children doing homework, and it is killing us.)

However, we have noticed a decreasing trend of fulfilling these before-dinner responsibilities. And an increasing trend of complaining when we ask them to do unpleasant tasks.

In pondering what to do about this, I remembered an experience I had as a young teen when I went over to my best friend’s house one day. Her brothers were all griping about not being able to watch TV. When I asked about it, my friend said the TV wasn’t working. I asked if it was broken. No, she replied, her parents had removed the power cord and hidden it.

I remember feeling distinctly horrified about that and was so happy my parents had never done that. I mean, how could people survive without TV?

Finally fed up two weeks ago when I asked my children to do a job, and it did not get done, I declared the next week we would have Free Time Appreciation Week, Monday through Thursday. There would be no screen time, no board games, no playing outside. There would be homework, normal chores, and any leftover time would be spent on additional chores. (I made a list. A looong list.)

I knew this would punish me as well in some ways since I do depend on The Electronic Babysitter for occupying my younger children occasionally while I take a break or get some work done. But, I felt we had something more to gain than a short afternoon nap.

Besides, I’ve noticed that most better ways to discipline children are also difficult on the parents. It seems what is best for our children is rarely what is the easy way out for parents.

Upon my announcement, my children went eerily quiet and their eyes got rather large. Then the barrage of questions came. “Can I still read my fairy book?” “Can I still go to my friend’s house?” “Is this going to last forever?”

Somehow they survived it.

At the end of the week, we sat down as a family and asked what everyone had learned. My children said they learned they really did have a lot of free time. They realized that spending 10 minutes of it cleaning their assigned room was not really that much. They also acknowledged that it was not the babysitter’s job to make sure they do their work. They apologized for complaining about the work we asked them to do.

(Honest, they volunteered that apology!)

My husband and I learned that we were underestimating our children. We were not expecting as much of them as we should be, and that was hindering their chance to take responsibility for themselves. We were being their constant reminder to get their jobs done, so they didn’t have to remind themselves.

The babysitter noticed that she only had to ask once the next week for everyone to do their jobs. That made us parents smile.

I have heard some people call this kind of tactic “tough love.” I have always hated that term. I guess it sounds like “punishment love” to me, and that seems either oxymoronic or misguided.

I much prefer to think of our Free Time Appreciation Week as an act of loving discipline. If the main goal of parenting is to work ourselves out of a job, then central to that goal is helping a child achieve self-discipline.

I think it was a more positive approach to talk about our no-fun week as a chance to appreciate how much freedom we usually have, rather than to keep reminding them that this is their punishment for not doing their chores.

A punishment may get them to obey you next time, but if they learn to appreciate their blessings and freedoms, they will decide themselves to live in such a way to preserve them.

We want to give our children the best; we want to see them happy; we want to make their lives better. There is nothing wrong with raising our children with access to entertainment, enriching activities and the privileges of the modern world. However, I think the key to raising children who are not entitled is to enforce limits and give them experiences where they realize how blessed they really are.

Maybe they need Cell Phone Appreciation Week, or Being Driven to School Appreciation Week, or Dishwasher Appreciation Week, or Mom’s Cooking Appreciation Week.

Hmm… Where’s a good place to hide that Wii power cord, anyway?

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About Emily S. Jorgensen

Emily Jorgensen received her bachelor's degree in piano performance from Brigham Young University. She earned her master's degree in elementary music education, also at BYU. She holds a Kodaly certificate in choral education, as well as permanent certification in piano from Music Teacher’s National Association.

She has taught piano, solfege, and children’s music classes for 17 years in her own studio. She has also taught group piano classes at BYU.

She is an active adjudicator throughout the Wasatch Front and has served in local, regional, and state positions Utah Music Teachers' Association, as well as the Inspirations arts contest chair at Freedom Academy.

She gets a lot of her inspiration for her column by parenting her own rambunctious four children, aged from “in diapers” to “into Harry Potter.” She is still married to her high school sweetheart and serves in her ward’s Primary.

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