By Jenna McCarthy, author of newly released If It Was Easy They’d Call the Whole Damn Thing a Honeymoon
I don’t give my kids an allowance. I know that lots of parents believe that doling out weekly dough is the best way to teach children crucial money-management and responsibility and earn-your-keep sort of lessons, but I’m not buying any of it and you can’t make me. Not because I’m cheap—okay partially because I’m cheap, but also because Hello? Nobody’s paying me to do all the endless freaking grocery shopping and laundry washing and carpooling and cooking, are they? No they are not. I do it because I am part of this family, just like you, and even though you are right when you argue that you “didn’t ask to be born”, I didn’t either so I’m pretty sure we’re even there. What kind of message would I be sending if I said “You will clear the table and make your bed because you are a member of this family and oh by the way you’ll get ten bucks for doing it and twenty if you do it without complaining”?
Beyond their growing tooth fairy hauls, my kids have three grandmas, five aunts, four uncles and an army of great-step-second-cousins who send them cash for their birthdays and Christmas (and occasionally St. Paddy’s and Groundhog Days, perhaps because I’ve blogged about how I don’t hand out much jack so their relatives feel bad for them). We give them a dollar for every 100% they get on a test, which clearly can’t be considered bribing because it’s after-the-fact, people.
Of the many things that make me lose my mommy-cool, nothing does it so brilliantly as when I have to repeat the same request over and over and over. (This is related, I swear.) Please pick up your shoes. Did you pick up your shoes? Were you hoping your shoes would walk themselves into your closet while you were outside riding your scooter? Why are your shoes still in the middle of the room? [Thump, crash, swearing] I hope you’re happy that I just tripped on your stupid shoe and spilled my wine!
One night as I was waiting for my Tylenol PM to pick in, I passed the time by stewing over how I could get them to actually start listening to me. After some heavy tossing and turning I had a rare flash of brilliance. The next morning I explained my new incentive program to my daughters: I would ask them to do something one time. If it didn’t get done within a reasonable amount of time (which in most cases means within the next ninety seconds) they would owe me a dollar. Every single time, plain and simple.
It’s worth noting that my husband violently disapproved of this plan, but I don’t care because almost immediately it was clear that it was working. My seven year old daughter racked up a $22 bill the very first day. By the end of the first week, it was only a few bucks a day. These days, I might have to pinch a buck or two from her piggy bank every month.
For the record, I’m not out buying lipgloss and booze with my daughter’s money; I’m depositing it straight into her savings account. If she knew this, of course, the scheme wouldn’t work at all so for the love of all that is holy do not tell her. As far as she’s concerned I’m the meanest mom in the world—and I’d like to keep it that way.