The latest bone of contention (“bone” of contention? Why does that make me think of the seminal opening scene in the brilliant 2001: A Space Odyssey when I hear that phrase?) in our little universe is around chores. We’ve tried chore charts, we’ve tried “gold stars”, we’ve tried family meetings where we all talk about the chores we like to do (and yes, kids like some chores in my experience), but they all end up producing another meeting of the slacker club and nothing gets done.
For years Linda and I have disagreed on whether chores should have a financial value and/or whether perhaps doing your chores produces an allowance, but now that we have separate households I can reexamine this issue and consider how to ensure that my children help keep my house clean, neat and humming along smoothly.
The question, then, is should chores have an assigned value, and should it be financial in nature?
As an adult I recognize that while some of what I do is reasonably altruistic in nature (volunteering at school, helping out the local non-profits, speaking to local community groups to help spark an entrepreneur or two, helping others be successful through answering email queries, etc) much of it is not: as a member of a capitalistic society, much of my effort goes to attaining desired rewards.
This is true in so many realms of life that I really can’t imagine the mythic Mother Teresa or similar, where they seek no rewards for any of their behaviors and simply act out of love and a desire to see others better, happier, more at peace with nary a consideration of their own welfare. (Of course, the cynical part of me says that if you’re trying to achieve positive karma in your life you too have a tangible goal, it’s just more ethereal)
So on a day to day basis, my life is made up of actions taken to achieve specific goals, be they financial (having a client pay me for a job well done), physical (going to the gym thrice-weekly to improve my tone and physical health), mental (playing with friends and laughing to keep my emotions balanced) or spiritual (hmmm… this is a more amorphous area to try and pin down). For all of us who work, there’s a simple equation:
Given that, why not start teaching my children the same thing? I am just highly skeptical that a philosophical argument (“do it for the greater good”) or coercive argument (“do it because you’re part of the family”) with the commensurate explanation of chores being “for the good of the family” or “because everyone has to pitch in” really works. It’s a nice intellectual approach, but in my experience, kids aren’t quite ready for the adult realm of rationalizations. The result? The kids aren’t motivated to do things “for the common good” and they end up complaining and not doing their chores.
Eventually it devolves into a “stick” rather than a “carrot” and it’s all over. There’s no reason for anyone to ever do a chore if you are focused on yourself and your own world. Yeah, kids should be concerned with the welfare of the planet, yadda yadda, but I think so much of that is parental guilt being handed down like the 21st century version of original sin or something, and I just don’t find that it works. Besides, isn’t it like our parents telling us we needed to eat all the food on our plate because of “the starving children in China”?
And so, I am thinking that I want to assign a specific financial value to specific chores in my house, like $0.50 for vacuuming the carpet, $0.25 for feeding the cat, $0.50 for cleaning the litter box, etc etc. Have a chart on the fridge and every weekend sum up the “earnings” and pay them out to the children.
Is this wrong? Am I going to mess ’em up by doing this? Or is this how you motivate your children to pitch in and help around the house too?