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September 24, 2017

My 10-year-old thinks he deserves $43.75 an hour; I think I messed up

My kids think this grows in our backyard. Image from Office Clipart
My kids think this grows in our backyard.
Image from Office Clipart

My son was about to bankrupt the family.

Two weeks ago, his teacher gave each child a “Home Responsibility Job Application” that listed a variety of jobs that needed to be done in a household. Each child was to pick two jobs they would do and state how much they expected to receive each time they did the job.  Duties included tasks like taking care of pets, bringing in the mail, taking out trash, vacuuming, and clearing the table.

My son signed up to take care of our pets and clear the table. He said he expected to earn $1.25 for each task, and he added his wages were to be paid every time he performed the task. Clear the breakfast dishes? There’s $1.25. Lunch? He just doubled his money. Dinner? We’re up to $3.75. When you factor in feeding the dogs two times a day, that’s an additional $2.50. Thankfully, he had a moment of altruism and said, “But I’m only going to charge you for one dog.”

I have to admit I admired his entrepreneurship and his math skills. He calculated he would earn $43.75 a week for just 60 minutes of work.

“And where is this money going to come from?” I asked him.

“You and Dad,” he said proudly.

I had to sit him down for a little economics lesson. “We can’t afford to pay you that,” I said.

His eyes widened in surprise. “But if I do the work, you have to pay me.”

“We will pay you for work, but we can pay you only what fits into the family budget,” I said. “And you’re asking for more money than the tasks deserve.”

I explained he would be earning $43.75 an hour, a rate significantly higher than what most Americans earn. I told him that many people earn only $7.25 an hour, and the work they do is much harder than just cleaning a table or putting kibble in a dog dish.

I offered to pay him a few dollars a week if he did the tasks on his chart. He agreed.

We are now two weeks into the project, and my son has done nothing. He’s walked away from the table after meal times. He’s forgotten the dogs. When I asked him why he wasn’t working, he shrugged his shoulders and said, “I decided I didn’t want a job. I’ve got other stuff to do.”

After I got over my “Oh no you didn’t!” moment, I started thinking. My kid has no concept of the value of work and money, and it’s entirely my fault. My husband and I have given him everything he’s ever needed. He’s done a few chores like taking out the trash and cleaning his room, and every once in a while he helps out with a big task like mowing the yard or mopping the floor. Nonetheless, he’s never had regular responsibilities and consequences. It’s entirely my fault.

I tried a “pay per chore” program several months ago, but I let it lapse. I tried a “chores in exchange for privileges” program, and it worked for few months, but I let that lapse, too. The same thing happened with my “get off your rear end or there will be consequences” program.

I am consistently inconsistent on this issue. I was cleaning house, tending to a younger sibling and cooking dinner when I was an 11-year-old latch-key kid. I remember hating the responsibility, and part of me doesn’t want to put that on my kids. With thoughtful retrospect I now realize that experience made me a better person. I learned there are NO excuses for shirking responsibilities. I discovered satisfaction in a job well-done. I became trustworthy.

So what’s next for the guppies in the Goldfish house? Chores. Lots of chores like toilet bowl cleaning, scooping up dog poop and folding laundry. There will be no payment for regular chores; they’ll have to rely on their allowance. If a chore isn’t done, I will say nothing. The next time they ask me for something, I will say “no,” remind them they did not do what they were supposed to do, and calmly walk away when the whining starts.  I may even play games on their iPod as I sit in the bathroom for an hour.

I am not helping my kids by doing everything for them; I am hurting their development and driving myself crazy in the process.


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16 Comments on My 10-year-old thinks he deserves $43.75 an hour; I think I messed up

  1. We have ‘family jobs’ and both my kids have to do ’em. I’m a new reader, but have to tell you that you won’t regret teaching your kids how to handle responsibility. A book that made a huge impression on my husband & I is ‘Parenting with Love & Logic’. We also started giving them a modest allowance to teach them the value of a dollar. Valuable lessons that are better learned sooner rather than later! 🙂

  2. I think “the value of a dollar” in an elusive concept. How do you know what the value of a dollar is and how do you learn it? If you’re born to the Johnson and Johnson family and have generational wealth and work as a golf caddy for a summer, do you know the value of a dollar? If you work a minimum wage job and live below the poverty line, do you know it’s value? If you work in a sweat shop in China and make 64 cent and hour, do you know the value of a dollar? If you make millions as a movie director and give it all up to live in a trailer park, do you know the value of a dollar? There are many ways to make money and it means different things to different people. There are overpaid people and underpaid people. I think the only ones who REALLY know the value of a dollar are investors who invest in currencies for profit. They watch the value of each currency fluctuate then calculate and recalculate.

  3. Well first off you have had an awakening moment. While I do not know you – I know enough about your thinking from your writings to know you will do the right thing. You actually give a damn and that is what you need to succeed. Too many parents ‘Give a damn is broke” you will find the answer and your Son will be better off for it.

  4. I never got paid to do chores. It was just a part of the process of growing up. I hated that many of my friends didn’t do nearly as much chores as I did but years later as a young adult, I appreciate it and I see the value of hard work. When I have my own kids, I don’t want them to think they should get paid for everything they do but I will give them an allowance to help teach proper spending and when they get old enough, let them have a job outside of the house.

  5. Offer to pay him the $43.75 per hour and print him a bill for 10 years of Mommy services–factoring in inflation and experience. You can take 30% and tell him it’s money the government charges him for breathing and working and because other people have decided they also didn’t want to work for only $7.25 an hour, it’s his responsibility to support them, and then deduct the other 70% of his hourly rate out of his Mommy services tab.
    Don’t forget food and housing/utilities charges and extracurricular items reimbursement. The diaper bill alone should keep him off your back for a year or 2.
    In the end you’ll come out on top AND there’s a lot of valuable teaching opportunities in there somewhere.

    You could also mention to the teacher that you don’t appreciate her teaching your son to financially extort you for house chores in a house he contributes to creating the need for.

    I’m not serious, of course but I’m still looking for the ownership manual on my own kids.
    I think God was hoping I wouldn’t notice. 🙂
    Good Luck!

  6. I too use the “being a family means we all have responsiblities around the house” model!! My children never received an allowance-when they NEEDED something-we got it for them, when they WANTED something-they had to make an argument, wait 7 days, if they still WANTED it another discussion happened about whether our family could afford to get it for them. If they had their own money-the discussion & 7 day waiting period still applied.

  7. Chores are teaching kids life skills,….imagine him going off to college and not knowing how to do laundry or how to clean a room or bathroom….I always just thought of it as part of being a family and helping out around the house…

  8. I heard it said by a therapist who was helping me understand my daughter and my enabling relationship with her and how “tough love” is supposed to work. She said, “Everything you do for your daughter makes her feel that much more inadequate.” I had never looked at it that way. I needed to. When I changed, she changed.

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