Why I Won't Pay My Sons To Do Chores

by Leigh Anderson
Originally Published: 

We’re starting to introduce the concept of chores to my 5-year-old son. Right now he’s responsible for putting away his toys at the end of the day and “helping” me do laundry and vacuum. (Granted, his vacuuming is an exercise in seeing what progressively bigger and bigger things the hose will suck up, but hey, it’s an engineering lesson, too. The ace of hearts was particularly entertaining.)

We’ve also started giving him an allowance: $1 for spending, $1 for saving and $1 for giving, using the jar system that Ron Lieber, the author of The Opposite of Spoiled: Raising Kids Who Are Grounded, Generous, and Smart About Money recommends. Lieber advises not linking chores to allowance, arguing that the allowance is not a reward but a learning tool. Part of a parent’s job is to teach children to manage money—to budget, to distinguish between wants and needs, and to save for far-off purchases. No, kids haven’t done anything to “earn” the allowance, but, you know, they haven’t done anything to earn food and shelter, either—we provide it because it’s part of taking care of our kids.

But that brings up the question of extra money, over and above the allowance. Should kids be able to earn additional cash by doing additional chores?

This picture, posted by Sandra Stock, crossed my Facebook feed:

Many readers weighed in on the pros and cons of paying kids for chores (at all) or for paying them for “extra” chores. Because as everybody knows, there are lots of tasks beyond the daily ones that are nonetheless important for a functioning household: jobs such as cleaning the gutters, vacuuming the car, decluttering the garage, or straightening and organizing the linen closet.

For a while I thought I’d do what Stock does—offer a few extra bucks for raking leaves or washing the dog. But then I considered the fact that I have boys. And I also considered a lot of the men I’ve known or even lived with over the years. Often, they did chores around the house, chores that we’d divvied up and agreed on. But for the most part it was me—and I think it is generally the woman—who makes the to-do list of household tasks. We hope that our partners will chip in uncomplainingly, and they do, but it’s still frequently the woman who’s in charge of “what needs to be done.” And that is, in and of itself, a chore.

So it’s not just that I want to teach my boys to wash their dishes without complaining about it. I mean, of course I want that, but what I really want is for them to enter adulthood with a set of core competencies in domestic stuff: how to meal plan for the week, how to dust blinds (and how often), how to pull leaves out of gutters (and when). I don’t want them to say to their wives and girlfriends “just tell me what to do and I’ll do it.” I want them to already know.

There are a million little things that make a household function: how to calculate how much Thanksgiving dinner to cook, where to buy the solvent that gets goo off walls, when to clean out the fridge and soak the shower curtain. This kind of mental, rolling to-do list/calendar is the primary function of a “household manager.” My boys will (hopefully) enter adulthood with household-management skills as well as money-management skills.

If I pay them to do chores, there’s always the risk they’ll decline the chore and the money, or cherry-pick the “fun” tasks. And that’s just not how adulthood goes. Sometimes you’re the one wrestling a wet dog, and no one’s cutting you a check after. So excuse me while I go show my son how to clean out a vacuum hose. Someone stuck an ace of hearts in there.

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