Chores and Allowance

The girls and their chores. Photo from December 2012.

Our household has been in disarray since the move last month. Martin and I have been cleaning, repairing, painting, and unpacking while simultaneously working full time, and managing the lives and wellbeing of four children — three of whom have been on school holiday for most of the month — all as I’ve been wrapping up my undergraduate program, too.

If it weren’t for our au pair, Wynter, to help us keep afloat, I am fairly certain Martin and I would have lost our minds a long time ago. A lot of things have slipped — chores, bedtimes, and family meetings — but as it stands now, we’ve reached a point where we can begin etching out a family routine once again, and that includes nailing down routine chores for the kids.

In the past, we used a single chore chart hung up in the kitchen or laundry room, in a place where it was seen on a regular basis near our family calendar. But considering the layout of our new house, there isn’t really an appropriate communal space for a chart of chores for multiple people. Plus, with the kids being older, and taking on additional responsibilities while also going in different directions with school and extracurriculars, I wanted to come up with a new way of managing household duties without creating an enormous chart that would soon become an overlooked piece of scenery and not a part of our daily lives.

So I literally put it all in their hands.

Last night, the girls and Jaz each got a new clipboard with our family’s 2018 chore/allowance checklist attached.  Then we held a family meeting to review the list, take stock of their life skills, and hash out rotating room assignments for the months ahead.

To my surprise, they really took to it. As the three of them ohhh’d and ahhh’d over the list and the organization, adding up potential earnings and savings, I couldn’t help, but think, “Good lord, you guys really are OUR children.” To see all three of them briefly appreciate good order and structure was very reassuring because, as most parents can probably relate, it’s not always obvious, is it?

So, here’s how I developed this system, and the reasons I think this system is gonna stick.

  • I streamlined a lot of information. In the past, I purchased ready-made chore charts, but was never really fond of the charts made for families. I found them too bright and too cluttered with graphics, stickers, and colors, and usually very little room to personlize. So, for a more mature, condensed chores/allowance list, I used Numbers (the Apple version of Excel) to make the template. I put a place to keep track of the days the chores are accomplished, a description of the chore itself (with the number of times we expect it completed during the week), and the amount of money earned when the task is accomplished. I also grouped the chores to specific rooms.
  • I got specific. I admit, Martin and I are guilty of giving instructions to our kids that are too vague and open for interpretation. And despite it being a standing chore for nearly all their lives, the instruction to “go clean your room” means nothing to my children. In fact, I think they assume it means, “Go somewhere else and do something out of my line of sight.”  And yet, it’s still something we tell them to do all the time. It’s only when we barge into their rooms of chaos do we get specific: “Why is there still laundry all over the floor? When’s the last time you took out the trash? Do you not see the dust bunnies reproducing all over your bookshelves?” The answer is, no. They don’t see those dust bunnies. Their brains aren’t yet wired to fully comprehend that laundry doesn’t move by itself. It’s science, and yet these confrontations never go well. They get defensive. We get annoyed. Nothing gets done, but resentment festers. And it becomes a pain in the ass to get anyone motivated to do anything. So, instead of listing the same ‘ol thing that never results in anything, I’ve written down exactly what we expect. After all, that’s a courtesy Martin and I provide grown adults who work for us when we define job responsibilities and assignments. So no more “take out the trash.” It’s now, “Empty trash can/replace trash bag” for every single room with a trash can.
  • I assigned a monetary value to each chore. Up until now, the kids did not get a regular, consistent allowance. If they needed extra money for things beyond what we’re socially-obligated to provide them, we always worked out a chores/payment plan. Martin and I were reluctant to consistently pay or reward the kids for things we expected them to do in the first place. Everyone has to chip in to maintain the house they live in! That’s how we were raised, dang it, and we turned out to be competent adults and good workers! However, it dawned on me that we — Martin and me — were hurting ourselves by stripping away the incentive to motivate the kids to approach chores with interest and energy. Most kids can’t fully appreciate the non-monetary value of having a clean bathtub and extra rolls of toilet paper, but they can certainly appreciate the opportunity to earn extra money for themselves. And I like that they’re learning that their time and services have value that benefits them, which is something I know I struggled with as an adult when I suddenly had to put a salary requirement on a resume after leaving the military. I also compromised with Martin: the expected chores only earn them 5-cents. All the 5-cent chores MUST be completed. The chores we *highly* encourage, or are more labor-intensive, get more money. As things are priced now, if a highly-motivated child does EVERYTHING on the chart, he or she will earn just less than 30 Euros a week. But I’ve structured it in such a way where that will rarely happen.
  • I structured it so it doesn’t get expensive or oppressive. Nobody likes to be micro-managed. While you and I (as parents) realize that this whole chores/allowance system is one big micro-management system, it can’t feel like it, or they are going to rebel. So, I decided to incorporate a rotating schedule of responsibilities so that the load doesn’t become overbearing. Every kid is responsible for his/her bedroom and personal care every week, full stop. In addition, each kid will be responsible for only one or two other rooms for one-week increments. This means, the kids won’t be making TOO much dough and drain our wallets. And they won’t feel like they’re responsible for ALL THE THINGS, which has been a complaint in the past. (I won’t name names, but it was the teenager.) THIS schedule will be displayed on the family calendar, which is much smaller than a chore chart and posted next to the fridge. For example:

Week 1
Miss C – Bedroom, Laundry, Living Room
Lola – Bedroom, Bathrooms, Family Room
Jaz – Bedroom, Kitchen (with help)

Week 2
Miss C – Bedroom, Kitchen, Family Room
Lola – Bedroom, Laundry, Living Room
Jaz – Bedroom, Bathrooms (with help)

  • I made it official. My kids like to feel official. And they like to be taken seriously. The clipboards I bought were less than a dollar, but they added a sense of seriousness to the whole thing. You know how it feels to get a new business card, right? (Once I put up the hooks, the clipboards will hang in their bedrooms when not in use.) After handing ’em over, the kids and I all sat together in our family room for about 15 minutes, and I walked through the list with them, answering their questions and providing clarification. I explained that every Sunday, we’re going to hold our family meetings again. And the kids are going to bring their clipboards and their weekly charts so we can pay out their earnings, praise their efforts, provide feedback, and set the schedule for the week ahead. This chart will keep us all accountable. Martin and I will also be able to see on paper what *hasn’t* been done around the house (because, let’s face it, these are still kids), and we’ll be able to follow up and ensure things are cleaned, replaced, and completed before the week begins again. We all benefit.
  • Last, but not least, I made it their own. Or at least, I made it FEEL like this is all their own. I told the kids they can decorate their clipboards if they want, however they see fit. I also explained to them that they are free to manage their time however they want, just as long as they meet the requirements expected of them as defined on the checklist. There’s only a few chores they must do daily (make bed, wash dirty dishes, etc.), but for the most part, most chores only need to be done once a week, and we’re letting them determine if that’s a Tuesday or Friday or Saturday, etc., just as long as things get done by the next Sunday meeting. The kids are also not obligated to do chores in other rooms if it’s not their week to do so. However, if siblings want to help each other, or be highly motivated and do everything on the list, we will give them the credit as long as we see the results. They themselves are determining their own income, while also learning to manage their time, so it feels less like we’re forcing them to be household slaves with no reward, and more like a win for all of us.So, here’s the two-page chart my kids were handed last night.

And because I think sharing is caring, click on this link for a template for you to make your own list for your own household. The chores on my list are meant for ages 6, 9, and 14. By all means, steal our verbiage, make ’em age-appropriate for your kid(s) and add your own chores or rooms!

ONE MORE THING: during our meeting to review this chores/allowance list, I also reviewed a second list with each person. It was a life-skills guide I found online. (You can find a bunch HERE.) I went child-by-child (and Wynter, too, just for fun) to run through the age-appropriate checklist of behaviors and skills each child should be displaying.

Every single child (and Wynter!) was eager to confirm that, yeah, they were capable of all the things mentioned in the lists.

Like expressing empathy for others.

Or following safety and street signs.

Keeping track of homework.

Following directions.

Preparing their own meals.

Collecting dirty clothes into baskets.

Making their own beds.

Etc.

If there were things they weren’t sure about (like first aid or how to do laundry), I made a note to schedule a future training session to get them up to speed. But for the most part, my kids not only knew the life skill, but had a story to demonstrate their knowledge and experience with it.

Once everyone was finished, I handed over those checklists with giant smiley-faces drawn on the top.

“Congratulations,” I told them. “Not only did you guys prove to me you are accomplishing all those life-skills, you just admitted that you are all capable of doing every chore we’ve given you on the list. SO NO COMPLAINTS.”

Kids: 0

Mom: 100 Billion Billion