As some of you already know, my kids have the ability to earn a set amount of allowance each week, but come “pay day”, it may not all get paid to them, depending on infractions during the week. For example, $1 off if you leave your plate on the table, $1 off if you leave shoes in the living room, $1 off if you don’t do your chore-of the-day—we keep a white board on the side of the refrigerator to keep track. My youngest child does pretty well with this and carefully saves her allowance each week in a plastic bank with a combination lock; my oldest child rarely earns much allowance and quickly spends anything she manages to get. There is also a list of “paid jobs” posted on the refrigerator, extra tasks like yard work, and she doesn’t usually do those, either. For a long time, I’ve been wondering, “Why do I do this allowance system at all?” for her, since I put more effort into keeping track of infractions than she puts into helping out. But Love and Logic thought keeps going through my head: the natural consequences will teach her a life lesson. In other words, when she really needs money, she’ll be sorry that she didn’t earn and save, and maybe she will do things differently in the future.
It hasn’t quite worked out that way. Because whenever she’s gotten to the point of really needing money, somehow she always manages to get by. A friend pays her admission to a show; a grandparent’s birthday card, with cash inside, arrives in the mail; a lucrative babysitting job comes along…She once sold her American Girl doll—to her sister—in order to finance a shopping spree. ‘Drats! Foiled Again!’ I think to myself, like some cartoon character.
Finally, a week ago, it didn’t look like things were going to go her way. She was flat broke, but really wanted to buy Christmas gifts for everyone. “So you really won’t buy gifts for me to give, like you did a couple years ago?” she asked. “No way,” I said, reminding her she’d had plenty of opportunities to earn allowance, and added that I didn’t know why she was concerned, that we’d celebrated all the family birthdays this year without presents from her and she hadn’t seemed to mind. “But this is Christmas, “she said. “Everyone else has put gifts under the tree, and there are gifts for me. That would be bad if there’s nothing there from me,” she said.
“Well, maybe you can plan better for next year,” I said.
Not to be stymied, she announced she was going to tackle The Paid Jobs List. With a week off school before Christmas and unseasonably warm weather in North Texas, working in the yard didn’t seem so far-fetched. She had it all planned out. “I’ll do a few things each day and by Thursday afternoon, I’ll have enough money to get something for everyone,” she said. While I don’t like her habit of waiting until the last minute to accomplish things, I did like the thought of having that yard work done before Christmas visitors came…and the fact that she wanted to earn money to buy gifts for others.
Unfortunately, her teenage habit of staying up late and sleeping late kicked into high gear once the holiday break began, making productive daylight hours slim to none. Raking leaves and scrubbing the bottom of her bathtub were deemed too difficult by her and were left half done; the only thing she’d finished by Thursday was to spread a bag of bark mulch on a small flower bed. “How about if I wake up early tomorrow morning and get everything else done?” she asked on Thursday evening. “Can someone take me shopping then?”
“It depends on if someone is available,” I replied, reminding her that stores closed early on Christmas Eve and that in order to go out anywhere, her bedroom also had to be clean. So, as it turned out, she decided to watch movies and TV with Cleo (our foreign exchange student) until the wee hours of the morning, then decided to clean her room. By the time daylight came on Christmas Eve day, her room was spotless, she was sleeping soundly, the weather had turned cold, and rain was imminent. “I think you’re going to have to scale back your Christmas list,” I told her several hours later when she woke up, “but it’s the thought that counts. Just get everyone something small.”
She would have nothing of that idea. Still determined to earn enough money to buy what she wanted, she headed out around lunchtime in the cold rain, shovel in hand, to dig weeds in our vacant vegetable garden and trim down Lantana bushes. She wore a hooded sweatsuit, but no raincoat and no gloves. (Was she trying to earn more by getting the sympathy vote?) I reminded her again, as I left to run my own last-minute shopping errands, that no one may be available to take her anywhere even if she got everything done.
When I returned, I was surprised to see her still working in her soaked sweatsuit. The bushes looked great, and the garden was almost all dug up. The leaf piles had been put into bags. By 2:45 p.m. as I headed to the grocery store, she was finished, and managed to talk her dad (amidst his protests) into taking her out to shop, just before the stores closed. (She also managed to badger him into kicking in an extra $15…)
Yes, she did do some needed work, she did earn money, and she was happy to have presents under the tree for everyone in the family…but were any “lessons” really learned, or values instilled?
I’m not sure…my head is spinning from the cartoon thought bubbles trying to crowd their way inside…