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If dispatches from the eighth grade trenches are to be believed, when it came time for everyone to go around the room and answer – en Espanol! – what chores they did around the house, my 13-year-old son was the most overworked in his peer group.
READ MORE: The Fatherly Guide to Chores
He loads the dishwasher. He takes out the garbage. He sweeps the kitchen floor. He sorts and folds the laundry after it’s been washed. He takes his younger brother to school in the mornings and he babysits both his siblings in the evenings when we go out. He also, on those rare weekend mornings when my husband and I try to sleep late (i.e. until 9!) has been pressed upon to produce a toaster waffle or a bowl of cereal for the younger 2.
But the fact is, my son doesn’t earn a red cent for doing any of those things.
No one who lives in our apartment is paid for contributing to the maintenance of our household. I don’t get paid for cooking or changing the sheets or putting away clothes or keeping track of the bills, my husband doesn’t get paid for doing the laundry or carrying groceries home or fixing light bulbs or snaking the bathtub drain, and my youngest 2 don’t get paid for dusting (though thank God for All of a Kind Family and their button game!). So why should my eldest be paid for hefting his share of the load?
READ MORE: The Fatherly Guide to Allowances
It gets worse. Not only are my children not paid for work they do inside our home, they don’t receive an allowance, either. So not only do my 3 kids not get money for something, they don’t even get money for nothing!
My stance on giving my children money is this: if they want something that I agree they need, I’m going to buy it for them anyway. And if they want something I don’t think they need, they can figure out how to get it themselves.
While I don’t pay them a salary, I have no problem with it being earned elsewhere. My oldest son has babysat for other people’s toddlers. He worked as a Junior camp counselor over the summer, and he is an absolute whiz at tracking down programs all over the US that pay kids for reading. My 9-year-old even got the thrill of singing (in this case, dancing) for his supper last spring, when he spent a week performing in the American Ballet Theater’s production of “Giselle.” He’s also scarily good at finding loose change, and sometimes even 20 dollar bills, on the street.
Both boys have opened savings accounts (their 5-year-old sister keeps her stash in an old peanut butter jar; I’m cheap, remember? Would I spend money on something to put more money in?), and they love watching the interest therein accumulate.
What they love less, is the suggestion that they might actually consider taking some of their hard-earned money out of the bank to purchase that item which they’ve just told me they really, really, really can’t live without.
It’s rather amazing, really, how quickly that particular prognosis changes when the cost in question needs to come out of their own pocket, rather than the nebulous “somewhere else” that leads to things like a 16 trillion–and counting–national debt.
Growing up, the concept of an allowance was a purely American thing that my parents never even considered. (Neither, interestingly enough, did my husband’s parents, even though they can trace their roots back to the Revolutionary War era slave trade.) I’ve read about the supposed benefits of both paying your child for doing chores, and also for giving them a fixed, set sum to spend as they please.
Parents have to be nice and supportive of their children, overlooking a missed corner here, a tardy arrival there. Employers don’t.
Those benefits include making the child feel like a valued, contributing member of the household, and of teaching them vital life-skills like keeping a budget, and saving up for a rainy day.
Personally, I hold that my son can feel equally as valued when his younger brother is rushing around the house 5 minutes before they have to leave for school, lamenting that he has no clean, matching socks, and the older one swoops in to save the day by producing a fresh pair he’s just folded out of the laundry — without me reinforcing the, “Good job! Thanks!” with a cash tip.
Furthermore, when he earns a “Good job! Thanks!” followed by payment from someone outside the family, he can be certain that he actually did a good job that warrants a reward. Parents have to be nice and supportive of their children, overlooking a missed corner here, a tardy arrival there. Employers don’t. That’s a valuable life-lesson everyone can stand to learn as early as possible. (And, as anybody who’s ever worked alongside others can tell you, it’s pretty damn noticeable when it’s not.)
As for teaching them to save up so they can buy anything they want … no. I don’t care if he has the money, my son most certainly cannot buy anything he wants without running it by me first. So, allowance or no allowance, ours was never going to be a Free Trade Zone, anyway. I want to know what his money is being spent on, and I hold ultimate veto power, to boot. Not giving my son access to unrestricted funds (his bank account requires my signature for withdrawal) is my way of making sure he doesn’t buy anything I disapprove of. In fact, my husband’s and my entire “How to Keep Your Child From Getting Hooked on Drugs” strategy comes down to “We Won’t Give Him Any Money.”
Are we being too hard on the boy? If dispatches from the eighth grade trenches (and, once in a while, my mother) are to be believed, the answer is an unequivocal yes. To hear my son tell it, he is the most overworked, unappreciated, under-coddled, low self-esteemed, poverty-stricken, not-a-single-video-game owning teen in all of New York City. Who, nevertheless, can scrub an entire bathroom from top to bottom, remembers to check all pockets prior to putting clothes in the wash (there was an incident with a white Tae Kwon Do uniform … and a melted red crayon in the dryer), and understands that nothing ever comes for free. Everything has to be paid for, whether it’s in cash, effort, trade, or time.
My work here is done.