"Hmmm?" We were in the bathroom together, working through the end-of-the-day tasks: brushing teeth, getting in PJs. This final dance of the day -- me urging the tempo a bit faster, the finish line in sight -- her dragging it out, willing the time to extend just a bit longer.
"Mama, did you know that in some families, the children do things... and get money for it?!"
"Do you mean chores?"
"Do you want that to happen in our family?"
Wow, here it is, I thought. I honestly didn't realize this would be a child-initiated discussion. But like so many times before, my child is one step ahead of me, teaching me how to do this parenting thing. So, a few days later, as we all sat down to dinner together, Nia called her first family meeting to discuss the notion of chores in exchange for payment.
Growing up, I did not have an allowance. There were tasks in our home that was I simply required to do every day (unloading the dishwasher, feeding the horses & rabbits, shoveling manure) and weekly (cleaning my room, helping clean the 'kid's' bathroom -- 3 kids = 3 tasks: floor/shower, toilet, sink/counter/mirror). Occasionally I was given the opportunity to earn a little money by washing the family car, but I didn't have any real money of my own until I started baby-sitting & Page-ing at the library.
In Joe's family, he had certain chores he was expected to do, too, along with an allowance, which was separate and not tied to whether or not he did his tasks.
It turns out, parents, this is one of the big debates of our day (along with governing Internet access): allowance -- how much to pay and whether or not it is tied to chores. It is a very hot topic online from NPR's Marketplace Money to the Berkeley Parents Network. I learned The American Institute of CPAs says the average kids’ allowance is $65 a month. That’s $780 a year! Some say tying allowance to chores teaches responsibility, others say it undermines the notion that kids should help around the house simply because the family is their community.
The one thing everyone seems to agree on is teaching children about money and budgeting is the parents' job, and they should start early. And parents who are financially illiterate tend to pass that tradition on, too.
A couple months ago, Nia turned five and with that milestone arrived some birthday cards containing money -- dollar bills that fluttered to her feet when the envelopes were eagerly torn into. This birthday was the first time she'd received cash -- and the first time she was very aware of having money.
A week later a classmate arrived at school with dangle-y, rainbow-colored feather clip-on earrings. When Nia asked for a similar pair, I heard myself respond, "Maybe that's what you'd like to spend your birthday money on."
At first she wanted both the money and the earrings, but I explained that concept of exchanging goods and services for paper we as a society have infused with meaning: If she wanted the earrings, she'd have to trade.
And thus we made our virgin voyage to Clare's in the mall. If there had been sound effects when we walked into that fluorescent-lit, rainbow-colored, pink & purple bejeweled haven of all things plastic & precious to today's children, it would have sounded like a choir singing "Ah-ah-ah-ah-ahhhh."
Nia's eyes bulged at whole racks of Hello Kitty, Justin Bieber and peace-sign emblazoned rings, watches, bracelets, cell-phone covers, headphones, purses, backpacks. And the earrings -- racks upon racks of earrings designed specifically for kids. Glitter, glitz, feathers, pink. All of it clamoring to be chosen.
We found our way to the clip-on earrings and found the coveted feather pair. Proudly she opened her purse and traded green for rainbow.
As we sat around the dinner table that night, having our first real family meeting, Nia explained that she wanted to do a few chores in exchange for things she valued (ice cream, clothes/shoes, a trip to Happy Hallow). We decided that there are some things she must do without a reward (pick up & putting away, washing, brushing), but that she could do a few things to earn stickers that could be eventually traded for rewards. We settled on restocking the bathrooms with toilet paper, dusting, bringing in the newspaper, helping with the chicken chores, setting the table, & bringing the food to the table at meals. For now we settled on mutually agreed upon chores as well as mutually agreed upon rewards. Another discussion down the road will be whether or not she can spend her money on things Joe & I deem poor choices...
So, this weekend, I was suprised to find myself creating a chore chart. I really never thought we'd have one of those. But, I like the idea of this being Nia-initiated, and I do want her to do chores around the house. Eventually I do think we'll separate the chores from the reward (some things in life you just do because it is the right thing to do, not for any reward -- and I also like the idea of teaching her to budget her own money as a seperate issue), but for now, she is so excited to look at the chart and see how many more stickers she needs for a particular goal. If stickers and rewards get the ball rolling on chores, so be it.
And who wouldn't want to hear their child ask, "Mama, is there a chore I can do?"
Even if they have to shell out a Fresh Mint Chip ice cream cone in the end.