Then she wanted to know what an allowance was.
A quick Google search confirmed that there are a hundred different approaches to handling allowance. I read a dozen or so articles, and the readers' comments confirmed that whichever way you choose, it's wrong and you're teaching your kids to become spoiled brats.
So I can't tell you The Right Way to do allowance, but I can tell you what works for us:
|photo used with permission from Senior Living|
Our kids do lots of chores, both paid and unpaid. But mostly unpaid. In our house, you'll never earn a dime for:
- Basic self-maintenance like getting dressed, brushing your teeth, packing your school lunch, practicing the instrument you chose to play, or (when you reach the age of 8 or so) doing your laundry. That's just something you need to do because you're a person that's alive, not a job for which you deserve compensation.
- Cleaning up after yourself. Messes in, around, or outside your room that you participated in making will be cleaned up for free. Because that's just part of not being a slob.
- Family work. The kitchen and dining room are disasters because of the dinner that was made for you, so it goes without saying that you're going to help clean it up. You'll also take your turn unloading the dishwasher, dusting, cleaning bathrooms, taking out the recycling, emptying the trash, and everyday tidying up of common areas in the house. During the summer we also have a mandatory daily 30 minutes of "outside work" in the yard, just for fun. Or because we have a lot of weeds. One of the two.
That said, I want the kids to learn about earning money, so we have paid allowance chores, too.
But I think the kind of chores they get paid for are really crucial, and here's why:
Years ago, an acquaintance who did a lot of hiring for his tree removal business told me that a lot of his younger interviewees arrived feeling entitled to a job with him just because they wanted it. One day, he shocked a particular 18-year-old by leaning across the table and interrupting him. "I really don't care about how much you need this job," he said. "What can you do for me?" It was clear that the kid had never really considered it from that angle before. I don't think he got the job.
Fast forward several years later, and I was surprised to find that my own kids apparently had the same idea.
Around the time we first started batting around the idea of giving an allowance, I asked my daughter to pick up the avalanche of stuff that had exploded out of her backpack all over the hallway. Hopefully and immediately, she asked "Can that be my allowance chore for the day?"
It was clear that she thought I would (or should?) throw cash at her for any little task she found unpleasant. The idea of providing a valuable service in exchange for other people's money wasn't yet part of her thought process. It hadn't been learned yet.
That's why at our house, allowance chores are strictly personal "favors" for me, like folding my laundry, making my bed, or doing other household chores that I'd normally do myself without expecting the kids to lift a finger.
Some may call it cruel and unusual to farm my personal work off to the kids in the form of allowance chores, but I really think it's teaching them that earning money is different than being given money. The kids are learning that if you want someone to pay you, you need to provide them with a service worth paying for. That's what I like about our allowance chore system.
That, and I also get out of folding my laundry and making my bed on a regular basis.