My Dad was born into a different age. He had his first paying job when he was five years old. By the time he was ten, he had worked in a number of jobs, including work as a pin setter in a three lane bowling alley. At the age of twelve, he was the sole support of his family (two sisters, mother and sickly father) for a brief time, working almost full time in a bakery before and after school. America was in the midst of the Great Depression in those years and he felt fortunate to be able to work.
I was born forty years after my Dad. I enjoyed relative comfort as a child. My Dad earned a steady living as a dentist and he could have provided my brother and I with most comforts that we might want. My Dad understood, however, that my brother and I needed to learn how to work and to contribute to a household because we were part of it. I held paper routes when I was in elementary school, went door to door with a friend and offered to rake leaves and shovel driveways, and generally found ways to earn money. By the time I was 15, I had a “real” job, setting up function halls on weekend mornings, walking two miles at 5am in order to get to work. At 16, I was working twenty-plus hours per week in a pharmacy.
Despite working hard, both at school and at my job, I also found time to contribute at home. I did the laundry, washed dishes and mowed the lawn. I did a lot of household chores, and I did them because they needed to be done – not because I felt I should be paid. Like my Dad, I was not afraid of hard work or making a contribution to my home.
I now have a son in high school. Despite years of giving him chores to do, he has consistently found ways to get out of doing them, or he does them so poorly that it takes more time to fix his mistakes than it would have if I had done the job myself. I have asked him to do the work, required him to do the work and taken away privileges for not doing the work. Nothing I have done has given him an incentive to contribute. Now my wife wants me to pay him to do the work.
I just can’t do it.
My wife and I give our son a lot of money, when it makes sense to do so. He wants to go on a cruise this summer with the family of one of his friends. My wife and I are allowing it and paying $500 of the $650 cost. My son admittedly needs to contribute $150 of the cost, but I don’t think that is unreasonable for a young man of nearly 16, who does have plenty of local job opportunities.
Last summer, we spent almost $3,000 so that he could go away to study for the summer, as part of a program that he wanted to attend. My wife and I do not go on vacations because money is tight, but we find a way to pay for things that will benefit our children.
So that gets me back to paying my son for chores. I just can’t do it. If he wants to benefit from living in our home, he needs to learn to contribute to it as well. Doing work because it needs to be done has to be a reward in and of itself. I try to explain that to my son but he just does not get it. In his view, avoiding work is its own reward and, unless he is paid well to do something, he does not have any incentive to contribute.
Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I have offered my son money to do chores that go above and beyond the call of duty. Over his Christmas break from school (17 days), I offered him $100 to pressure wash my driveway – a chore that would have taken him about a day. He declined because the money was insufficient and because he did not want to give up a day. Shortly thereafter, a professional pressure washer offered to pressure wash my driveway and my deck for $100. My son did not see the irony when I told him.
What do you think? Should parents pay their children to do household chores? Is it necessary to compensate a child for making his bed, for taking out the trash or for doing the dishes? Do kids benefit from learning how to do the simple chores of life that we all take for granted? Should some chores be expected and others require compensation?