debate club

Why I Don’t Pay My Children to Do Chores

By Kathryn Trudeau

The night my husband and I decided we were ready (ha…ready) to start our family, we went out to a diner to discuss how my career would change, how our finances would change, etc. Like most non-parents, we had a laughable list of things called “Things We’ll Never Do as Parents.”

Okay, it wasn’t a literal list, but the point remains. While many things on that list have, in fact, been committed by either myself or my husband, one thing has stuck: We do not pay our children to do chores.

Growing up, I had my own set of cleaning duties, and I was never paid to do any of them. I never felt shorted, gypped, or indentured. In fact, our home was the cleanest to ever house two young children. Scratch that. It was the cleanest home, period.

Now, as my husband and I introduce our son, who is five, to household duties, he has jumped in with both feet. He knows how to fold his socks and underwear. He helps empty the dishwasher. He can use a rag to help dry the floors after a good scrubbing. As the saying goes, “Many hands make light work.”

Beyond my own experience, there is good scientific reason behind ditching the payment, and no, your house won’t turn into a trash bucket.

Payment diminishes the lesson

Paying kids to do chores eliminates any educational opportunity. The lesson of how and why to keep a clean home are replaced with a motivation for money.  You cannot teach a child to clean for the sake of cleaning when all they see are green dollar signs.

New York Times financial columnist Ron Lieber weighs in on the subject:

“At some point they’re going to get wise to the whole system. [They’re] gonna say to [their mother], “We don’t want to do the chores this week, and we don’t want to do the chores next week, and we don’t want to do the chores next month.” And then she’s in a little bit of a pickle, because the deal she set was that they get paid if they do their chores, which will [teach] them that if they don’t want the money, then they don’t have to do the chores.”

As Lieber pointed out, this pay-for-chores systems teaches kids that to escape chores, they merely have to relinquish payment. In reality, however, chores are inescapable, unless, of course, you like filth.

When your kids grow up, they will have their own houses that require cleaning. Why not set them up for life by instilling the habit of cleaning for the sake of cleaning?

Payment dampens enjoyment

Dampens enjoyment? Who is this crazy lady, and how on earth can chores be enjoyed?

In the early years of our marriage, my husband and I let our chores slide one week. We planned on spending a Saturday to rectify that. As we divided the chores, I tried to get out of kitchen duty. I had made a rather messy dinner the night before, and I didn’t want to scrub those pans.

My husband, however, actually enjoys cleaning the messiest room/pan/whatever, because he feels a sense of pride watching the transformation. If my son only focused on the money, he would lose the opportunity to take pride in his work ethic.

Payment for chores breeds entitlement

While many parents opt to pay for chores as an attempt to thwart entitlement, it actually does the opposite. It sets the stage for entitlement, because it teaches kids that everything revolves around them. It puts the child above the needs of the family. It begs the questions, “What’s in it for me?” and “What do I get out of it?”

On the flip side, “free” chores teach that everyone has a role to play and that everyone must contribute. A family is a community, not an employer-employee situation.

So how do kids learn about money?

The biggest argument in support of paying for chores is so kids will learn to manage money. But the two lessons do not have to be linked. Use chores as an opportunity to teach about cleanliness and familial responsibility. Use allowance to teach about money.

Whether you use the jar system or simply hand out cash, allowance is a great way to teach children the basics of money management. Think of allowance as a stipend, not as pay for work done. A study published in the “Journal of Economic Study” revealed that young girls ages eight to 10 who earned an allowance managed their money better than girls who did not earn an allowance.

The topic of money is always touchy. Add in children, and it’s no wonder that this topic can divide the masses so quickly. If you’ve never tried a “free” chore approach, talk with your kids about how a family is like a community that supports each other. Answer their questions, and try it out.

You still might end up with dirty socks on the floor, but that’s par for the course, right?

I Made My Kids Earn Their Allowance

By Kimberly Yavorski

Like many parents, when my kids were small I felt overwhelmed by how much there was to do. In addition to taking care of my children, I also had a home to maintain – one that was continuously trashed by said children.

I eventually came up with a way to help them understand why Mommy couldn’t play with them ALL THE TIME, and that we could all have more fun if they helped out.

We talked about how certain things needed to get done to have a healthy, happy home. I pointed out that when Mommy did all the work, she had no time for fun things, but that if they helped, we’d all have more time for fun things. They listened and nodded and were even excited about the idea of being able to do some of these very grown-up things.

I made a list of chores and gave each a point value. I made sure to have chores that the youngest could handle, such as setting the table, as well as those that the older ones could take on, such as cleaning the bathroom or the litter box. The easier chores earned one or two points, the more involved ones earned more.

Then I made a list of things that they could cash in those points for. I called them “Privilege Points.” The list included things like having a friend sleep over, screen time, and a special outing.

The chart worked (for a while, anyway), and I think it was largely due to two things. The point system worked like a game, and my children, who are a bit competitive by nature, could keep track of their points and brag about who had the most at the end of the week.

The other positive part of it all, from their point of view, is that it gave them a choice. They had the freedom to choose which chores they did and, for the most part, when they did them. They could also choose to not do any chores with the understanding that they would earn no special privileges.

Like so much of parenting, the chart evolved over time. In fact, my kids probably don’t remember this version. (I myself had forgotten it until I came across it in old files.) As the kids got older, the items on the list changed. When the topic of an allowance came up, it made logical sense to transition from “privileges” to cash.

Over the years, I have read articles extolling or condemning the concept of doing chores for cash and understand the very valid points made. Those on the yes side say that adults earn money for work they do, and children should learn that as well. The other side protests that basic life skills should be learned by everyone, that taking care of oneself and one’s surroundings is a necessary part of life, separate from “work.”

I thought back to when I first started getting an allowance. My father approached me, telling me he would give me a set amount each week for making my bed (apparently that was an issue) and watching my younger sister when my parents were out. Since I had a problem with the whole idea of forking over cash to my kids simply because they existed, this approach made sense to me. I could give them money and help them learn how to manage it. Through this, they would learn that rewards are earned, not simply handed out.

So I adjusted the plan. The objective: to complete chores with a point total equal to their age. In return, they got their weekly allowance. I continued to stress the community aspect of doing chores, how it benefited the entire family, and that everyone needed to make a contribution. Some tasks, such as caring for their own things, putting away their clothes, and clearing their dishes from the table, were expected as being a part of the household and, thus, not on the list.

This system wasn’t perfect. There were times my children came into money from part time jobs or gifts and didn’t “need” that allowance and would choose to not do their chores. Of course, that also meant they would not receive their allowance.

I don’t agree that an allowance should be completely without strings attached. I don’t want my children to think they’re entitled to anything, simply for being. I do, however, believe the ground rules matter.

I gave my kids a choice: Be a part of the family, contribute to the common good, and get to share in the financial success of the family. Or don’t, and have less cash to spend on items their allowance was meant to cover (namely “wants” as their basic needs were always covered).

It has been years since the chart was posted on our refrigerator. Every so often, someone would casually ask about it, but I no longer saw the need for it. As my kids grew into their teen years, the homework load increased dramatically, and I found – at least in our family – that teenagers don’t trash the house the way younger children do. Some of the chores became obsolete. For the most part, my kids cleaned up after themselves (sometimes with prodding) and volunteered to help with other tasks.

Keeping track of points was no longer necessary.

As young adults, my kids no longer get allowances (their part time jobs finance their social lives), but they still help out around the house. They may not always notice when something needs to be done, so I simply ask whoever happens to be in the room at the time, and the job gets done with little argument or delay.  

They all know the value of a dollar and have no expectation of receiving money they haven’t earned. Unlike some parents I know, I don’t get requests for money. Their accounts may get low, but they find a way to manage it until the next payday.

I consider this a parenting win.