Today’s Table Talk is by my good friend Barbara Johnson. For years I’ve heard story after story about the crazy jobs her husband has laid on her boys. He’s completely counter-cultural in his approach and has endured many an eye-roll from his family. 

I couldn’t help being struck especially by the sprinkler system endeavor. Think about the hundreds of dollars spent on coaches, tutors, conferences, you-name-it to build confidence in our kids. What this father gave his son by letting (okay making) him do a job outside his comfort zone was worth any penny they might have lost if the kid had done something disastrous like hitting the water main. They couldn’t have paid for the confidence that resulted in this major effort that would daunt many an adult.

When they told me about this story, I had to have it for our MOAT. I hope you enjoy and are inspired to build up your kids by expecting great things. (You just might want to get your husband to read this one.)

Thanks for sharing, Barbara

 … and thanks for walking the road with me. -Kay


Meaningful work.  OK, so that is the silver bullet.  Sounds simple enough.

In his talk to parents at an all-boys, private prep school in Dallas, Michael Gurian, author of The Wonder of Boys, told us that if we only take one piece of advice away that evening, it should be the importance of meaningful work for the spiritual and mental well being of our sons.

The more I pondered this, the more it became clear to me how powerful his advice was.  In our society children are generally not required to do meaningful work to help their families.  Going to school, pursuing their extracurricular activities and staying out of major trouble is considered their function.  In the “old days” boys (and girls) had chores and roles which were vitally important to the survival and functioning of their family unit. These roles gave children a sense of self worth, vitality and importance.  They knew that they were an integral part of the survival of their family, and that without their contribution, it would suffer.

A shocking percentage of children today suffer from depression and other psychological problems.  Perhaps this is a symptom of our culture of materialism, coddling and entitlement.   Perhaps our children are not given the important opportunity to develop a sense of self, a sense of worth, a sense of accomplishment and ability to contribute meaningfully.

My husband gets an A+ in this category.  From very young ages, he has required our sons to perform tasks which I have often considered beyond their abilities and a bit “out there.”  They were required to mow and keep up the yard by age 11.  They were significantly included in construction projects such as fences and sheds by age 9.  At age 14 my older son was given the job of sawing out a doorway in the dining room, covering it with sheetrock, caulking and painting, and moving the doorway to another spot.  Of course my husband helped, but my son was the main man on this job.  It was daunting and scary for me.  But the small imperfections still visible in my dining room are worth all of the pride and self-confidence this project filled my son with, and still does when we sit in that room.

Last summer my husband decided we needed a sprinkler system installed in our front yard.  No one in our family was familiar with how to carry out a project like this, but I bet you can get who was given the assignment.  Yes, my oldest son who did the dining room remodel!  He had to go to Lowes to research sprinkler system installation.  The materials were purchased, and he began digging the trenches in the 100 degree heat.  This projec
t took several weeks.  One day when he had a student council meeting up at school he lost track of time and was still digging his trenches minutes before the meeting.  Looking at his watch and realizing he was late, he jumped in his beat up 1991 Chevy suburban and hauled himself up to school for the meeting, still wearing digging clothes and full of dirt and sweat.  Upon arrival he saw that the other 8 or so student council members were freshly scrubbed, in their pastel polo shirts and khakis.  They stared at him aghast, and asked what in the world he had been doing.  “Installing a sprinkler system in my yard,” he told them.  None of them could believe it.  They simply couldn’t wrap their minds around the fact that a student from their prep school would be doing work like that.  Why not hire a yard crew to do it? Instead of feeling silly or diminished by the other students’ response to his appearance and activities, my son told me that he felt an immense sense of pride in his work and in the fact that his dad trusted him enough to give him a major project like this.  And I have to think that lurking under the clean, scrubbed scorn of the other boys, was a small sense of admiration and envy.

Meaningful work.  Yes it takes confidence and sometimes some struggle and controversy.  But it is worth every bit of that.  Try it on your kids.  You will love the results…..and so will they!

Barbara Johnson is a life coach living and working in Dallas.  She is mother of 3.  She specializes in parenting in a culture of affluence, mentoring and coaching teens and college-age kids. Her website is and her blog is


Our friend Kathleen Fischer is hosting a tele-forum “meeting” on the next four Thursdays beginning tonight to discuss “Bringing Our Boys Through the Second Decade”. She would like to  offer it free to the first 10 MOATS to sign up. You would need to be able to participate on the next 4 Thursdays from 7:30 – 8:45 by linking in from your computer.  If you’re interested, email Kathleen at  Thanks Kathleen!

The complex interplay between boys’ hardwiring and the social pressures they experience form an increasing challenge just to grow up safely and healthily. Four  classes will unpack how to help our sons through the second decade. These classes will serve as the first part of a 2-part series celebrating the vibrant contributions our sons can make, with our help, throughout their second decade.

Part One includes conversations about: 

  • how a boy’s biology hardwires him
  • the important roles of mom and dad, including meaningful discipline
  • siblings and family as a boy’s first and most significant social learning
  • boys’ style of making friends
  • the importance of a boy’s school and membership on a “team” 


(Part Two explores girls, sex, drinking, driving, risk factors, the scary stuff! To be offered later.)

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Where: via phone bridge, login info provided upon registration

When: Thursday September 30, from 7:30 PM to 8:45 PM CDT
Cost: $90


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