Catholic Activity: Working for Others
Newland encourages parents to take every opportunity of teaching their children to serve others without expecting anything in return.
I heard a mother say once, "I never allow other people to take advantage of my child. Send him on their errands!" This is the beginning of "let George do it." Children should be encouraged to do work for others, and not just for pay. We are our brothers' keepers. How else are they to discover what it is to serve Christ in their neighbor? When they are little, they do not even want to be paid. They like to do things for people because it gives them a feeling of usefulness. Pay for such tasks should be primarily satisfaction, perhaps a piece of cake and a glass of milk. Maybe, on rare occasions, at most a nickel. Too many youngsters overpaid for work in the years of elementary school emerge from high school and face the world with one idea only about work, "How much am I going to get?" There is time enough to earn money, and there are jobs for the high school years which involve real work and a just wage for it. But spoiling a child's opportunity to experience the real satisfaction of working for love of neighbor is doing him a grave injustice, and it is rarely undone.
Overpaid, he will not work well, and he will work only until he has what he set out to get — not until a job is finished. He is a clock watcher in the making, and he will so overrate his worth as a workman that he will never be satisfied to do anything for a just wage. It will not be entirely his fault. Parents of children who work for their neighbors should make it clear they do not want them overpaid. Character training, learning to respect a job for its challenge, is far more valuable than an extra fifty cents.
Paid baby-sitting is another custom which has made great inroads on the doctrine of neighborly charity. Responsible baby-sitters deserve just wages and there are many who have no other way of earning money that is badly needed. But in the rush to grow up and join the ranks of the wage earners, many young girls are being deprived of their opportunity to serve with love, of even the idea that there are deep rewards in service for love. Mothers are now so frantic for baby-sitters, at whatever wages, that they are on the defensive. It is no longer a privilege to sit with a neighbor's baby, it is an act of condescension, and if — as has happened from time to time in our town — local industries slow down and family wages are reduced, mothers and fathers who are vitally needed members of a PTA or a church society cannot afford to pay baby-sitters and so drop out of organizations in which their talents are needed for the common good.
A better way of breaking in potential baby-sitters (when mothers are timid about accepting service for no pay) is baby-sitting for barter. I have paid baby-sitters with coffee cake, with homemade bread, with drawings, and with baby-sitting myself. (Learn how to make homemade bread: all baby-sitters are dead ducks within sniffing distance of homemade bread.) We have two baby-sitters extraordinaire whom we love with all our hearts, worth every nickel of their pay (and when you baby-sit with seven children, you deserve your pay). They endeared themselves to us for all time this past Christmas. One said, "I'm not going to take any money from my friends for sitting any more. I get a wage and I don't need their money, and they have families and more expenses than I." Another gave us a Christmas box with a fat bow and inside a year's baby-sittings "for free." There is joy in serving, but only those who try it find out.
Activity Source: We and Our Children by Mary Reed Newland, Image Books, 1961