Well, at least she warned us first.
My younger daughter, who is six, said this Sunday morning in the van about 2 minutes after we left for the 1.5hour-long drive to the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller, Alberta. Her beef? She wanted more money. Well, hell…who doesn’t?
But here’s the thing: the little one’s anger stems from her older sister’s $1.00 edge over her, allowance-wise. Yes, that’s right: my nearly nine year-old daughter gets $1.00 more in allowance than her six year-old sister. For some reason, I just think that’s fair: when I grew up, I always got more money than my younger sister, who in turn got more money than our baby sister. And each year, everyone’s allowance was ratcheted up a notch, so that by the time little sis’ was nine, she got the same allowance I had received at nine. Fair, right?
Well, it seems the whole issue of allowance has gotten a lot more confusing than it was in the 70s, when I was getting mine. First of all, it seems like everyone pretty much agrees that giving kids an allowance is a good idea, because it helps them learn how to manage money. But that’s where the agreement ends. It would seem there are two separate camps when it comes to giving allowance: what I’ll call the chore camp and the no-chore camp.
Now, I’m not saying that the no-chore people advocate that your children should have no responsibility for helping out around the house. In fact, quite the opposite. They see it as so much of a duty, that it’s not worth paying for. It goes basically like this: we are a family and we all live together. For many reasons (the universe’s natural tendency towards entropy not the least of them) things will need to be done on a regular basis in order to keep this household running. Groceries need to be purchased, lawns need to be mowed, clothes washed, tables set and cleared…the list goes on and on. But — and this is the important point, folks — Mom and Dad don’t get compensated to do this work. It is their duty, as members of the family, to do this work. Therefore it is the children’s equal duty to do their share of the work, and as such (it being a duty) the work is not compensable. Which is not to say that the no-chore people don’t give their children an allowance. They do. It’s just not tied directly to the children’s completion of chores. Chores must be done. Allowance is paid. There’s just no direct relationship between the two.
Okay. So what about the chore people? Well, these are more like the ones I grew up with. On a regular basis, jobs need to be done, and everyone in the family pitches in. If the kids do their share, they get their allowance. If they don’t do their chores, they’re liable to have their allowance reduced or cut altogether. Hence allowance becomes a bit like a carrot: “make your bed little Joey, or you won’t get your allowance…”
So there’s this debate over whether allowance should be tied to chores or not. And it happens that my husband and I come down on opposite sides of that debate. So what to do in our house? Well, for the longest time, we were just very inconsistent with allowance. Until our older daughter learned multiplication, at which point she indignantly announced: “you owe me one hundred and forty-five dollars because you haven’t paid me my allowance in so long!”. Ouch!
Of course we never did give them their allowance back-pay. But it did make me open my eyes to a few things. First of all, my kids did basically nothing to help out around the house. If (and I stress the if, here) IF I badgered them, they would clear their plates to the kitchen counter after meals. But they never put their dishes in the dishwasher. They never set or wiped the table before or after meals. They never made their own beds, or helped put away their own laundry. They never kept their own rooms tidy. They never even emptied their school backpacks and checked their agendas. Nope. I did all that. And I was getting exhausted!
So a few weeks ago when I read Julie’s post about managing her brood of six (yes, SIX!) children, I decided I was gonna get organized. I got a big piece of bristol board and made a chore chart. I listed the jobs out in three categories:
- Things they have to do on school days, no matter what (homework, library books).
- Personal care things they have to do, but fight about (which explains why “shower” and “brush teeth” are on the list).
- New jobs they will be responsible for (school agenda, laying out clothes for school, setting the table, putting their dishes in the dishwasher, clearing the table, putting away clean laundry, tidy room).
Each day, they get a star for each successfully completed job. They can also get bonus stars for helping out with non-charted jobs that come up. And here’s where the solution to the chore/no-chore allowance debate comes in. Having formerly worked as a Compensation Advisor in HR in a large corporation, I decided to approach this job as if I were revising the comp plan for a class of employees. So here’s how it works. My older daughter, being a more qualified employee (more experienced, able to do more complex tasks) gets $3 base pay each week. The younger one comes in at a lower compa-ratio, and gets $2 base pay weekly. If, at the end of the week, they have earned 90% of their stars, they become eligible for bonus pay. And as a family that believes in equal pay for equal work (their chore charts are, at this point, identical), they each get a $2 bonus for doing chores.
This way, if they slack off on their chores, they get less allowance, but they always still get allowance. And after 2 weeks of school, I can report that the chart is working like a charm. My older, less motivated daughter, is wont to complain in the mornings. All I have to do is pick up the chart and the little stars, and she’s up and moving with amazing alacrity. And when they whine at bedtime, I just ask them if they want their full allowance on Sunday and — amazingly — the teeth are brushed and the clothes are laid out for the morning and they’re ready to be tucked in.
The little one still wants that extra dollar, and I’m sure the shine is going to wear off this chore chart eventually, but for now I’m milking it for all it’s worth. Maybe by the time they don’t care about the little stars anymore they’ll be so used to loading the dishwasher and putting away their own laundry that it’ll be second nature.
Well, a mom can always hope.