We entered a new era last weekend.
On Saturday, Kate and I introduced a work and reward system to our kids. Now, after completing weekly chores, they receive allowances.
I’ve wanted to take the step for several years and was sure our plan would be a hit.
We assigned the kids daily, semi-weekly and weekly chores.
A weekly chore chart taped to the refrigerator clearly displayed the jobs.
After completing chores, the kids marked them off by writing their initials in the chart’s boxes.
At week’s end, after completing their chores, they received allowances: $5 a week for the older two kids and $2.50 a week for the younger one.
Then, as Kate and I were taught when we were young, the kids allocated their money to the following categories: The first 10 percent goes to church and other worthy causes; the next 10 percent is saved; and the remaining 80 percent is spent wisely.
It seemed like a simple recipe for teaching financial responsibility and nurturing philanthropy. What it yielded instead was a skit straight from Saturday Night Live.
“Sounds great,” Joe, our 12-year-old. “But I bet I have to do a bunch of stuff for you to get it,” he added suspiciously.
As I patiently explained the steps outlined above, 11-year-old Maggie laid down her opinion.
“I don’t want an allowance,” she said conclusively, looking up from the poem she was composing at our kitchen table. “I don’t need one. I have everything I need.”
I continued explaining that the weekly chores and allowance were about more than doing work, getting money and buying things. They’re about learning to give and save and discovering how to balance the things we want with the things we need.
“I just said I don’t need anything,” Maggie repeated impatiently. “I already said I have everything I need.”
That’s when Tom, our 6-year-old, chimed in.
“Dad,” he petitioned without missing a beat. “Can I have four allowances at once?”
“I want to buy Madden 2009, and it’s going to cost at least $8. So I need four allowances to get it.”
That’s Tom: bright and clever. What he lacks in pricing knowledge he makes up in quick-headed math skills and a drive to strike a deal.
“I won’t ask for an allowance for four weeks,” he promised. “Please, Dad. Please.”
It’s at this point, I suspect, that many parents throw the chore-and-allowance idea out the window and revert to the give-a-buck-when-it’s-bummed system. Don’t think it didn’t cross my mind.
Yet somehow, amidst Joe’s quest for a cell phone, Maggie’s drive for new Justice threads and Tom’s pursuit of the latest PlayStation game, I want my kids to learn that – while such things seem important – they’re actually among life’s long list of extras. What matters most, I want them to discover, is accommodating life’s necessities and, beyond those, supporting worthy causes and saving for rainy days.
Another week is upon us. And with it comes another round of chores and the promise of another allowance. Who knows what the week will bring?
Here’s to hoping that, over time, the chores and allowance teach our kids the same valuable lessons they taught Kate and me.