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.