For decades now, parents have handed over money to their kids in exchange for doing chores.
If you clean your room, wash the dishes, feed the dog, mow the lawn, or whatever else the parent doesn’t want to do, you get money. If you don’t, you don’t get paid.
When we became parents, this seemed pretty logical to us. After all, no one hands out money for free in the real world, so why teach our kids that they can just get money without having to work for it?
But the reality is, it’s not about any of that. And after hearing it explained differently by Amy McCready of Positive Parenting Solutions*, something just clicked for me. Now we give our kids an allowance each week without any expectations tied to it, and I’m going to tell you why!
Allowance Is About Learning How To Use Money
That’s right, allowance is about learning how to use money, not about how to earn it. Growing up, money was basically an off limits topic for us kids. Our parents didn’t think their finances were our concern.
They didn’t want to worry us or stress us out about not having money. And I totally get that. But it’s not like we didn’t know. At a certain point, we recognized that we didn’t have as much as other kids.
We knew our parents struggled financially, and the fact that they didn’t talk to us about it didn’t stop us from knowing it.
I wish someone had taught me about money when I was young. I wish someone had given me a little bit of money that I could spend and make mistakes with when it was only a few dollars rather than having to learn the hard way with hundreds or thousands of dollars.
And I intend to give my kids that opportunity. But if they never earn money because they don’t do their chores, how will they get this experience?
My goal in providing my kids with their own money is to simply teach them and give them opportunity to make a few low risk mistakes now so they don’t make huge mistakes later.
They will have plenty of time to learn the value of hard work and to understand that a paycheck comes from doing your job. But here, at home, right now, that’s just not my goal.
We’re A Family, And We Share
The biggest reason I had a change of heart about allowance is the one I’m about to share. See, the concept behind paying kids for doing chores is that money must be earned. And it makes sense in some regards.
I do want my kids to learn that money isn’t free. However, this can become a slippery slope when you really start to think about it. In my household, I don’t earn any income.
I stay at home and take care of the kids while my husband goes to work. He brings home the only income our family receives.
So if you follow this line of thinking to its logical conclusion, technically my husband could remove my access to our family funds and require me to “earn” money by doing whatever chores he sees fit.
Because he’s the one who earns the money. And since I don’t earn any money, I need to work to earn money from him, right? But that’s not how our family works.
Whatever comes into our family, whether that be money or material possessions, is for the benefit of our whole family. We all (even our kids) have an equal share of ownership in our possessions.
So if our kids are entitled to a share of the family money, then they should not have to do extra work in order to “earn” it. They get it automatically just by way of being a member of our family.
In the same way that I can choose to take some of the money from our account and go buy a new pair of shoes or go see a movie, our kids should get to have access to a portion of our funds as well.
Not to mention, we’re probably going to spend that money on them anyway, so why not give it to them and take the opportunity to teach as we buy them things?
Money Isn’t A Good Enough Motivator
As adults, money can be a great motivator. That’s because we understand the value of money. Plus we have bills to pay. But kids don’t have the same relationship with money that we do.
They don’t fully understand how it works or why it’s valuable. Aside from that, all of their needs (and usually a lot of their wants) are met by mom and dad, so why do they need money?
Offering money in exchange for doing chores may work for a little while. But what happens when your child decides that getting the money isn’t worth doing the chore? Then you’ve lost all of your bargaining power.
And you’ll probably end up doing the chore yourself (or fighting with your kid, which isn’t going to help anyone either). So if paying for chores isn’t a good long term solution, then why ever start it in the first place?
It’s better to just never create that relationship between money and chores – because on the flip side, your kids might come back at some point and say, “I won’t do it unless I get paid.” And that’s not exactly what we’re hoping to teach either.
Rewards Are Just The Flip Side Of Punishments
I’ve discussed a lot about punishments and why they don’t work. They breed shame and guilt and fear, which may promote temporary obedience, but it doesn’t provide the lasting positive change we hope for.
The problem is that punishments are nothing more than external motivators. So what happens when you remove the external motivation? The behavior returns. The same thing happens with rewards.
Rewards are positive, yes, but they’re still just external motivators. So once you remove the rewards, you remove the motivation to complete the task.
In other words, you’re not really teaching your kids what you think you are by paying them for work. What you’re actually teaching them is that they should only do things if it gets them something in return.
No money, no work. No reward, no effort. If I’m not getting anything out of it, I’m not going to put any effort into it. That’s basically the opposite of what we hope to accomplish.
Aside from that, both punishments and rewards are really just nicer ways of saying that we’re manipulating our kids. If you do this, I’ll give you that. Sure, we don’t phrase it that way.
We make it sound a lot nicer and more appealing. But that’s what it really boils down to, isn’t it?
Both punishments and rewards create an environment of needing external motivation and validation in order to accomplish anything good. It leaves our children unable to be internally motivated to make good choices.
Instead, they become dependant on someone or something outside of themselves to tell them which choice to make – and they expect to receive something for it, too.
Helping Around The House Is An Expectation
Listen, I don’t get paid to wash the dishes or do the laundry. My husband and I just have to take care of our home and our belongings because they’re ours and that’s just the expectation. We don’t get anything for doing it.
We aren’t praised. We don’t get a pat on the back. No one comes around with a paycheck or tells us, “Congratulations! You cleaned your house! Here’s a reward!” And our kids shouldn’t expect that either.
We all live in this house. We all eat the food, benefit from the electricity and water, contribute to the messes. So we should all be held responsible for helping to take care of everything in our home.
When I was a kid, I always begged my parents to pay me for chores. I would argue that I did stuff around the house and I should get paid for it. You know what they told me?
Your payment is a roof over your head, clothes on your back, and food in your belly. Guess what? I never got paid for doing chores. And you know what else?
I did the chores anyway (reluctantly and with much grumbling, but I did them, nonetheless).
If I teach my kids now that they should expect to get paid every time they pick up after themselves or make their bed or mow the grass, what will happen when they move out on their own and have to do all those things without payment?
At best, it will be a reality shock for them. At worst, they just won’t do it. The expectation in our home is that we all help each other out and we all take care of this home and everything in it.
That includes doing the “work” – without needing to be paid for it.
Teaching our children healthy money management, recognizing them as part of the family, and expecting family contributions without the reward of money (because rewards don’t really work anyway) is our goal!
While I totally get the desire to teach children that money comes with work, I’m just not convinced that paying them for chores is the best way to instill that lesson.
There will be plenty of opportunities for them to work for a paycheck later on.
For now, it’s all about teaching them how to use money (not how to earn it) and making them a part of all the family responsibilities, including managing the money. How do you teach your kiddos about money?
Do you pay them for chores or give them an expectation-free allowance? I’d love to hear your thoughts and your reasons!