Teaching kids responsibility

While watching several of our grandkids recently, I recalled something we taught our kids early-on . . . BUT FIRST, I apologize for being away from my blog for a while, just in case anyone out there in the blogosphere wondered if this site is still active.

Okay, back to the grandkids: My wife, Sally, and I recently went to Hilo to participate in the baptism ceremony for Sam Makakehau Kim — one of Daisy’s four sons, for those of you who know our kids. As everyone was getting ready to go over to the stake center for the services, I was impressed to see that Sam, 8, and his two older brothers — Jonah, 10, and Hyrum, now 13 — took turns ironing their own white shirts. This ironing incident reminded me of several things:

As soon as they were old enough, Sally and I taught our five children how to wash and iron their own clothes…and I’m glad to see Daisy has instilled this same responsibility in her children; but this was quite different from my own experience as a child.

When I was growing up I had a wonderful mother who was an excellent homemaker, as well as a grandmother from Holland who lived with us. I mention her Dutch heritage because they had a well-deserved reputation for cleaning in those days. Between them my mom and Grandma Hand made sure our clothes were always clean and ironed. I never had to do any laundry or iron anything in our home. This was not particularly unusual among all of my friends in the 1950s-early-60s Salt Lake City, Utah, of my youth.

In fact, I didn’t learn how to iron until I was almost 20 years old: I spent the week before I left on my Mormon mission to Samoa in the old “mission home” or training center near the corner of North Temple and Main Streets, where “ironing 101” was one of the most practical lessons taught. I can still clearly remember one of the female leaders asked our group of about 130 how many of us knew how to iron, and only a small percentage of hands went up.

“Some of you are going to places where you don’t have to iron your own clothes, but this is something you should learn to do for yourselves,” she said, and then proceeded to teach me the technique I’ve used for the past 45 years to iron my shirts and pants. That is, when I’m not just going now days with drip-dry or the casual-wrinkled look that seems to work so well with aloha shirts — ya’ gotta’ love ‘em. And she was right, too:

In Samoa the Relief Society sisters usually took care of our laundry and ironing: Except at the mission home in Pesega, Western Samoa, or in American Samoa, the former was often done in a stream or under a water pipe by placing the clothes on a rock, rubbing them a little with a large bar of laundry soap, which we provided, and then pounding them either with a stick and/or against the rock. Ah, those were the days.

As I said, we taught our kids to do this for themselves as soon as they were old enough to handle the washing machine and iron. In fact, I recently read an article in Meridian Magazine by Carolyn Nicolaysen that suggested doing laundry among 10 things every child can learn and every adult should know. Emergency preparedness was the thrust of that article, but Nicolaysen’s points also bear repeating, as you think about teaching your own kids and grandkids, or polishing your urban survival techniques:

  • Make family meals: My mom was a wonderful cook, so I never had to worry about this, but I did learn to make a few things over the years, and when our kids were small enjoyed baking my yummy egg-white waffles, chicken stir-fry and old-fashioned oatmeal. I also know how to peel green bananas to make Samoan saka, as well as cook breadfruit and taro.
  • Baking: Let me just say thank heaven for microwave ovens. As empty-nesters, my wife and I can probably count on one hand the number of times a year we actually bake something in the oven now days.
  • Doing laundry: Washing machines are the best, but sometimes you have to make do. For example, during the month I lived in Shanghai in 2006 I hand-washed my laundry in the bathroom sink early every morning, and I also recall one of our Chinese advisors telling us when she was a girl in Taiwan they would toss their laundry into the tub with soapy water, and then walk up and down on them. Beats pounding with a stick.
  • Everyone should do chores: Nicolaysen says, “Know your job. Do your job without being asked and when it needs to be done. Report when the job is done.” ‘Nuff said.
  • Grow something for your menu: Okay, confession, I’m not much for growing stuff, but thank heavens for the mango and breadfruit tree in our yard, although I doubt that’s what Nicolaysen had in mind.
  • Basic sewing skills: Sorry, I fall down in this area, too; but I do have a little “needle gun” that allows me to reattach buttons to my aloha shirts with little plastic “tiger tails.”
  • Basic car maintenance: This is also definitely not my forte, but I can still do a few basic things.
  • Shut down the utilities: One of the most useful Mormon Family Home Evening lessons we ever did when our kids were small was to teach everyone how to shut off breakers in the electrical control panel, and where the water shut-off valves are. The latter is a lesson I also should have taught our BYU-Hawaii student renters:
    A few years ago I was serving in the Laie Hawaii Temple one night when I was told I had an emergency at home — water was flooding our rental unit. By the time I got there, this had been going on for almost a half-hour. There was a lot of water on the floor of the unit. At a single glance I determined that the feeder hose from the valve to the bottom of the toilet in one of the bathrooms had ruptured…and none of the young women knew that all they had to do was turn the handle a little bit to stop the water flow. What a mess, and most of it avoidable.
  • Know how to use some basic tools: My skill sets don’t run to being a DIY fix-it guy, but we’ve always had basic tools around the house.
  • Know basic budgeting: As a recent member of the Laie 4th Ward bishopric, we had the opportunity to teach some of our youth a little about budgeting, credit cards, and how to write  checks. No surprise, most of them didn’t know much about these things; and 15 years ago, when I was a Latter-day Saint bishop in a BYU-Hawaii married student ward, I also had to teach a number of the young couples how to create a budget. In short, Amen to basic financial skills.

— By Mike Foley (originally published April 27, 2010)


  1. Hi Bro. Foley! I’m glad I found your blog! Thanks for the words of wisdom!

  2. Ke’i: What a pleasant surprise to hear from you. Are you and your family still in the Philippines?

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