Chores and Allowance: Moms Weigh in on Their Family Systems

Chores and Allowance: Moms Weigh in on Their Family Systems

Several families share how they handle chores and allowance in their households.

By: Leah Maxwell

A few weeks ago, I gave my 5-year-old a dollar for “babysitting” my 2-year-old while I took a shower and got ready for the day. The kids were happy, I was happy, and everything went on as usual, until the next time I asked my son to keep an eye on his brother and the little smarty-pants asked what kind of compensation he’d be receiving for the task. Smart kid, rookie mama.

Before this, I hadn’t given a lot of thought to chores and allowance and how we’d connect the two, if at all, in our family. On the one hand, it’s good for kids to have practice with money -- saving it, spending it, and perhaps most importantly, earning it -- but on the other hand, I expect my children to help around the house for free because that’s just what you do. I mean, no one pays me to scrub the toilet.

I asked around to see what my friends were doing and got some helpful and even surprising advice.

One mom starts giving her kids chores as young as two. The tasks are simple, age-appropriate, and not paid. The idea is that helping take care of the house is, and will always be, the price everyone pays for living there. Money skills are taught separately and often don’t enter the picture until the child is old enough to have an outside-the-home job.

Several other people said that while they believe chores are an intrinsic part of family life, they believe a little spending money is too. Their kids are given chores and allowance, but there is no connection between the two, following a philosophy that says personal/household responsibility can, and should, be taught separately from money skills. (I have to admit that the idea of a kid getting an allowance for just being there pretty much blows my mind.)

One friend says her first-grader helps around the house as a matter of course but earns his spending money by trading in cans at the recycling center. I love this because it teaches responsibility, money skills, and a little bonus lesson about sustainability. Wins all around.


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The best news is that not a single person said her kids aren’t expected to help around the house at all because they’re kids and kids shouldn’t have to work. Three cheers for not raising lazy, entitled children, folks.

In most cases, parents had drawn a line between tasks they expected their kids to do as part of becoming functioning citizens of the world (tidying their rooms, feeding the pets, taking out the trash) and tasks that were somehow special or extra, like mowing the lawn or mopping the floors. Where that line falls varies by household, and sometimes even by individual kids within a household. My friend Rebecca has her two daughters, ages 8 and 6, make their beds and put their clean laundry away, but she occasionally pays them for more difficult tasks, like vacuuming. As they get older and can earn money doing more complicated jobs, she says, vacuuming won't be a paid task.

So many good ideas, so much to think about, and yet another reminder that parenting is almost never about figuring out the One Right Way of doing anything, since as soon as you do, your kids grow and change and you have to figure it out all over again.

What’s your take? Do you believe in giving kids allowance for chores?

Leah is a book editor, freelance writer, cereal addict, wife, and mom to two small boys. She has been blogging at A Girl and Boy since 2003.

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