When I was in my mid-twenties I spent some time babysitting for a wonderful family with two boys under six years old. I remember vividly pausing to marvel at a bookshelf full of parenting guides in their study. I confess (with a great deal of cringing) that I wondered if the Mama ever actually read these books and applied them, based on the behavior of her wild ones.
Oh, how time brings humility! My triple dose of reality check has come in the form of three children, raised with the same values under identical family circumstances, who respond absolutely uniquely based on their personalities. I am reminded daily that there is no one-size-fits-all system, chart or book for this parenting gig.
While there are many examples, the most current one for us is money management. There are different schools of thought on how to handle this issue and at what age, but we elected last year to start giving an allowance based on chores. Our trio is required to do certain things without compensation each day--just as a part of the community of family. Making their beds, packing their own snack, clearing their own place at the table and straightening their rooms are expected daily. In addition to these chores, they each have a 'money maker' each day.
When we started this system, I put 31 one dollar bills in a big clear jar for each child. If they completed their required and 'optional' job each day before 7pm with only one reminder, that day's dollar stayed put. Failure to complete the task meant I withdrew a dollar. (I read in Kay Wyma's book that this visual aid and feeling of loss had worked to motivate her children.)
The first couple of times I withdrew a dollar there was a great deal of crying and protest, but the point was clear that I meant business. Within a week we seemed to settle into a good rhythm. On 'payday' at the end of the month payouts ranged from $20-$29. We require each child to put 20% in a giving jar, 20% in a savings jar and the remaining 60% is spending money. (This means they are only actually receiving $10-$16 a month which is more than enough for their age!)
I have committed myself to not buy them impulse 'treats' any more (other than books, my downfall) and require that they spend their own money for these types of purchases. We are firmly 'anti debt,' so we do not allow borrowing and lending with each other or with us.
I learned rather quickly 7-8 year olds don't have much will power when it comes to saving money they can see. We went to the bank and opened real savings accounts, in order to help alleviate the temptation to use the savings, and as an exercise in teaching them how bank accounts work. It is a meaningful reward each month when their statements arrive and
they see their little balances growing. (The children decided to make these their 'car funds' for when they turn 16...at the rate we are going they might be able to afford to share a banged up farm truck, but every little bit helps.)
After a couple of months I determined that the dollar bills in the jar didn't work very well for our family. Two thirds of my trio always perceived they had 'plenty of money' in their jar. They weren't motivated by the negative removal. R, the one who really seemed to grasp the loss, actually took it a bit too hard. It felt like punishment and made him angry.
So, we amended our system again. As we approach 9 years old, the children are responsible for recording their chore in a check register each day. It doesn't count if it is not written down. This has (mercifully) gotten me out of the policing role.
I researched, pondered, planned and tweaked...and yet, I am raising three very different little people.
Our little Alex P. Keaton, R, is diligent and incredibly motivated by systems, charts, competition and cash. He sleeps on top of his covers many nights so that making his bed will be faster in the morning. In 7 months he has missed his chore less than a handful of times.
K, on the other hand, lives life by the moment. She is eager to please, but if the sun is shining she'd simply rather be outside--and the loss of money isn't strong enough motivation to convince her otherwise. My heart can't help but celebrate that about her personality, even though it thwarts my system!
P is our creative, cerebral kid. He is content whatever his circumstances and not only is he not motivated by money--it actually seems to stress him out. Valentine's Day he saw a card in the mailbox from my grandmother. With sheer panic he said, "Oh, no. Grandmama Dobbs always sends money. I hope it's not too much. I am just a kid. I don't need to be rich." (I am pleased to report that the $5 bill inside was met with an enthusiastic response: "This is the perfect amount of money for a kid!")
This system has not been remotely effective for him. Last month he was quite content with a payout of $6. He does his required chores because I ask him to--but my prompts for the extras are often met with a polite, but frustrating, "No, thank you."
Hence, the most recent amendment: Chores performed on the assigned day earn money, but anything not done must be made up on Saturday morning before anything fun can happen--with no reward. In other words, the work still must be done.
After two weeks we were feeling like perhaps we'd finally arrived at a system that works for the whole family--until last night when my reminder to P to do the dishes was met with this response:
"I think I am going to wait until Saturday. I don't care about money and I am usually looking for things to do on the weekends anyway."
And now I know why there are so many books written about parenting...