My two older boys get a weekly allowance of $2 for my six year old and $3 for my 10 year old. The duties they are required to perform to earn this allowance are as follows: fold and put away their own laundry daily as I wash it, pick up the loft, their bedroom and the toy room before the cleaning people come once every two weeks and not act like total buttheads (this is the ‘Butthead Clause’ that I’m allowed to invoke whenever they do something particularly heinous I need to punish them for). I don’t think it’s particularly much to ask for.
Here’s how it’s supposed to work: When they are being whiney about picking up or getting the laundry put away correctly, I say, ‘Listen, Dudes, if you don’t get moving on this you’re not going to get your allowance this week, OK?’ At that point, sufficiently motivated to be productive members of our family, they snap to and commence the process of shoveling the layer of junk that has collected on their floor under the beds and into the closet like good little men. It’s a tried and true parenting method, right?
Here’s how it actually worked yesterday:
Bennett (my 10 year old): Gray is NOT helping clean.
Me: Ben, stop being such a tattletale. We don’t rat out family, remember? Gray, if you don’t get your bootie up there and help clean you’re not going to get your allowance this week.
Gray (my six year old): (Thinks about it for a second, calmly stares me straight in the eye and then shakes his head) It’s not worth it.
Me: What? You don’t want your allowance this week?
Gray: (Not whiney, not angry or frustrated, just resolute) No. I’d rather not clean.
Me: (Getting angry, showing weakness, failing to maintain control of the situation) Fine, if you don’t get up there and clean right now, no allowance for a MONTH.
Gray: (Clearly reluctant to upset me, but confident in his decision) Still not worth it.
That was the moment I knew I was screwed. I was no longer in charge. If I had been a platoon leader, I’d be defrocked (wait, that’s priests, huh? Uh, debadged? Un-in-chargified? Mental note: learn more military terms). Gray had done the math and realized it would take him 4,832 hours of picking up his room and putting away laundry before he could buy himself anything cool. The four bouncy balls he would get from the toy machines in the grocery store like he did with his allowance the week before were just not motivation enough to make him want to do his chores.
On one hand, I almost wanted to be proud of him. He had analyzed the situation, determined the pros and cons, and decided the penalty was more desirable than completing the agreed upon contract. These are logic skills I often have to walk my clients through, holding their hand and repeating, ‘You’re not a bad person,’ when they are considering a short sale. As a business woman raising what I hope to be intelligent, analytical sons, this is almost a victory.
Also, how can I blame him for coming to this conclusion? I pay a cleaning service to come to my house and vacuum, wipe down surfaces and scrub bathrooms every two weeks because I would rather give up eating for an entire day once every two weeks than perform these tasks myself (not that I do. I’m just saying I’d prefer it to cleaning bathrooms). Can I really be so much of a hypocrite as to not allow him the same choice?
But on the other hand; I really needed him to complete these chores. I needed to have them done and he needs to learn to do them so that he can eventually be a productive member of society who doesn’t live in filth (until he’s old and wealthy enough to pay someone else to do it if he chooses). I also needed him to respect my authority enough to JUST. DO. IT. (And not in a motivational, Nike sort of way. In an I’m your mother and I’m going to kick your butt if you don’t kind of way.)
Eventually I went upstairs and calmly explained to him that while I respect his right to choose, in this particular case, as a member of this family he needed to complete these tasks to enjoy the benefits of living with us in our house; the allowance is just gravy that I retain the right to revoke. I’m pretty sure I got this line from my parents back when I was a kid.
That probably righted the balance of power, don’t you think? I’m still in charge? (She says, knowing full well this is a pipe dream.)