Family Life


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Mommy Laugh Track: A How-to Guide for Allowances

To Pay or Not to Pay

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Mom, can I have my allowance?” is a question I hear once a week.

Yes, I am one of those parents who pay my children to do chores around the house. I know that in recent years, some parenting philosophies say it’s wrong to pay children to do what should be their family responsibilities around the house. These folks are not always against allowances, per se, they’re just against attaching it to work (as in, I don’t get paid for doing the dishes, so neither should you). I totally don’t get that logic. Out here in the Real World, I don’t know too many people who work for nothing, and by the same token, I don’t know too many folks who get paid for doing nothing (Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian excepted).

I think it’s important for kids to learn that if they work hard, one of the rewards is financial. That’s how the world works; has done since the first exchange of a sabre toothed tiger’s incisor for moving a big rock. Of course, there is the inherent satisfaction that comes from a job well done, but somehow this principle is lost on a seven-year-old as he grumpily makes his bed or sorts out his Transformers. The thing is – kids are just as happy to live in a pit of filth, so the altruistic satisfaction adults feel when a room is cleaned just doesn’t translate to them. Kids do it because we tell them to. I like telling kids what to do as much as the next guy but I also like rewarding the ones who work harder when there is some sort of incentive.

Here’s my system:

  • I pay my kids a weekly allowance on Saturdays, which they receive upon tidying their bedrooms.
  • During the week, they have to do other “freebie chores” such as bringing down their dirty laundry, and putting away their clean clothes. They also have to take their turn clearing the table (oh yes, we have a chart).
  • If, at the end of the week, they don’t feel like cleaning their rooms, their coffers stay empty. It’s as if the other chores are an entry fee to be able to earn the allowance on Saturday.
  • I will pay them extra money for bigger chores – like shovelling the walk, mowing the lawn, doing the laundry, mopping the kitchen floor, cleaning up the garden, bringing Mom a glass of wine. I pay when the job is done, as the paying-per-hour system was being horribly abused. (Plus, I needed my wine to be refilled at a quicker pace, let’s be honest.)
  • I also have a standard “five bucks per dead thing” policy which has come in handy for the removal of lifeless squirrels, chipmunks, mice and birds from swimming pool filters, front steps, garages, and a suspicious death involving a hassock and a leaking fridge. There was a time I was worried that type of work was self-generating income, if you know what I mean.
  • I did go through a phase of paying my children for good grades. While this was an actual motivator for one or two of them, it created issues between those who, without effort, achieved A’s, and those who worked hard to scrape together a C. Totally went against my pay-for-effort philosophy so I abandoned it since maybe, in fact, school success should be its own reward (there’s a bone for the democratic parenting crowd). Anyway, it didn’t result in my house being any cleaner or my walk being any more shovelled (or my wine glass being any fuller).

I will admit there is one flaw in the system that involves grandparents and birthday money. This “buys” my kids a few weeks of messy living, but I think it’s a small price to pay. Happy Birthday to YOU, PigPen.

So here it is: You want the Pokemon cards or latest gizmo from Apple? Clean up your room and sniff out something dead. 

Published in May, 2011.

Read more of Kathy’s tales of motherhood at, or follow her at Her book, Shut Up and Eat! Tales of Chicken, Children and Chardonnay, is in bookstores across Canada.

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