How often as parents do we hear ourselves saying, “Just work together. Can’t you cooperate?” Sometimes we want to pull our hair out wondering if our kids will ever cooperate. And in those calm, introspective moments as a parent (we have those, right?), we have to ask ourselves, “Do I cooperate? Is this something I model for my kids?”

See, as much as I’m an extrovert and love being around people, I’ve never really enjoyed team projects.
You know, the ones in school where inevitably ONE PERSON does the project and EVERYONE ELSE takes the credit?

The worst.

So when it comes to projects at work or the home—no matter how monstrous—I often would rather just dig in and finish the task myself.

Take painting our home for example.

My wife and I had it all planned out:
Kids binge-watch Netflix.
We paint the living room.

But then we heard the question:
“Can we help?”

I wanted to quick yell, “NO! Go watch TV!”

I knew what kids helping us paint meant:
Stopping and starting
Cleaning up spills
Wiping paint drips off the floor and trim
Maybe even repainting what they painted.
In short: MORE WORK.

But my wife is wiser than me, more patient than me, and generally more rational and full of common sense. She knows the kids should help us.  

She gets the kids all set up to help us paint.
I assign them walls that will be covered by furniture.

They’re painting.
And loving it.
And talking about how great it is to paint OUR new home…

In that moment, I learned something about cooperation. See we talk about cooperation as “working together to do more than you can do alone.”

For our kids, painting the living room was not simply about painting the room. Painting the living room was about participating with us in something so much larger than just slapping some paint on the walls. Our kids were helping us build our home. Together we were building our home — not brick and mortar, but memories and ownership and life and love and laughter.

In life, we soon realize that we can’t do life alone. We’re going to need to work with people on school projects, sports teams, dance troops, and, yes, even building a home. Why shouldn’t we invite kids to cooperate with us? Why shouldn’t our family be the place where kids get their first taste of what it means to work together?

Cooperation creates mutual ownership.

When kids cooperate in basic upkeep around the house, it’s not just the place they live, it’s the place they help build. This could be as simple as letting them decorate their own rooms, choose the paint colors and the bed sheets. Sure, their style may not be your style, but allowing them the freedom to choose how their room looks will influence how well they take care of their stuff.

Cooperation opens natural learning opportunities.

As hard as it was for me to let my kids paint, they soon got the hang of it. My oldest is now a great painter and has even mentioned how he could make a side job out of it someday. As we invite our kids to cook meals with us, they’re learning knife skills, cooking temperatures, and how to pair flavors together. When we work together in our homes, kids learn basic life skills that will prepare them to build their own life when it’s time for them to leave the nest.

Cooperation teaches dependence on others.

Let’s face it. We can’t get through life on our own. We need people who we can trust to help us complete the tasks bigger than ourselves. We need people around us who excel in the areas we struggle. And the job is often easier if simply have people encouraging us on the sidelines to continue. We need people. Our kids can learn about who they can trust and how to depend on others as they cooperate with us in our homes.

As we help our kids participate through cooperation in our homes, they will begin to discover that building something with other people can be more fun and exciting than what they can build alone.

What can your family do to work together and demonstrate the power of cooperation in your lives? Let us know in the comments below!