Kids, Work and Money: Finding that Balance

“I’ve also heard that it takes 3 generations which is concerning for me since I would say that my parents are first generation rich (though technically my grandparents are also wealthy, but they built their wealth later in life around the same time as my parents), which means that it’s me who might spoil the kids. That’s why teaching kids about money is such an important priority to me, and teaching my kids about work too,”, wrote Hannah from Unplanned Finance in my recent post about the tough job of changing one’s financial tree.

That comment got me thinking about our journey to teach our kids the importance of working for money (instead of simply expecting it to be handed to them) and how we try to balance that with having them do work around the house or chores for others simply out of a giving heart.

We often have chances to make choices in how to find that balance with our kids. Sometimes they get overwhelmed with the work involved with farm life. Sometimes (although rarely) they ask for money for things they’d like to buy.

For the most part, they understand that if they want money they have to earn it. They sell unwanted toys to their siblings, or ask me if there’s any extra work (aside from the regular chores) that they can do for pay.

My Parenting Weakness

It’s the “overwhelmed with work” part that really grabs at my heartstrings. Honestly, they don’t do that much work around here. At least in comparison to the amount of free time they have. But they are expected to keep their rooms neat, make their beds daily, and we rotate certain chores such as animal care chores, emptying the dishwasher, etc.

Yesterday our son was feeling overwhelmed with all that was on his to-do list. I had washed and dried all of the bedding yesterday, so he had to make his bed from the bottom up. It’s his week to empty the dishwasher. He had the barn cats to feed and care for, which includes cleaning all of the litter boxes, sweeping the barn, feeding the cats and putting fresh water in their bowls.

With tears in his eyes he explained that he was feeling overwhelmed and asked me what he could do to lighten the work load. My kids don’t whine very often, so when they’re tearing up like that I know it’s authentic, and it grabs at me. I’m often tempted in those situations to reduce chore loads or take some of their stuff on myself. But since I’d done my own large work load yesterday (10 loads of laundry among other things) it didn’t feel right to take on his work. Plus, I really want the kids to have the life experience of working through those days when there’s lots to do. I want them to have the experience of perseverance. I want them to have the satisfaction of saying “I didn’t think I could do it, I didn’t want to do it, but I did it.”

In the end, I made the difficult choice of not bailing Sam out of his workload (although I did provide empathy and a warm hug), and he was excited when he came up with the idea of paying a sister $1.30 to put his bed back together and she took the deal. I’m still debating whether or not to give him a dollar just to bless him. I probably will as I feel the Lord leading me that way.

I have to add in here that prayer has been a powerful tool for me as I work to decide when to help the kids, when to give them cash “just because” and when to let them find a way out on their own. But there’s another problem I encounter as I work to find this balance.

Do it Out of the Kindness of Your Heart

I also want the kids to learn that it’s important to do things just because it’s the right thing to do, or because it’ll bless someone. Sometimes they get this “It’s not my job, it’s so-and-so’s job” attitude about stuff. Again, this is rare, but this is one of the problems with paying kids for chores. Therefore we have a separate list of chores that they do simply because it’s a part of being a member of the family. We work as a team to keep the house clean, to cook the meals, etc.

And we try to encourage them to bless other family members when they are led. We do this by example, but try not to do it constantly as to help them avoid getting the idea that mom and dad are their servants (do anyone else’s kids seem to get that idea at times?).

We promote the team concept lots, and the kids will verify that, especially when it comes to dinner meal choices I’ll answer with “I’m not a short-order cook. This is what we’re having. It’s your choice whether or not you eat it.”

More than anything, I want our kids to avoid entering adulthood with an entitlement mentality. I want them to understand that it’s a big, awesome country we live in, one where they have the blessing of choosing their path, and that freedom is a blessing. They are free to not work, to work at Walmart, to go to college and get a degree; whatever they want. I want them to ponder what goals they have in life and work out a plan to achieve those goals.

Letting kids earn their own money instead of giving it to them, letting them do their own work instead of doing it for them; these things build huge confidence when parents are standing by as their cheerleader and guiding them in how to get things done.

When they’re done with parents who have an “you’re on your own, pal” attitude, kids often feel resentment and abandonment.

It’s a tough balance to find, but the more we can lovingly coach and encourage our kids to be self-made, the more we can give them the tools they’ll need to make it in life. There is something about achieving a goal with your own two hands and hard work that makes it all the more satisfying.

I sincerely hope we do that with our kids. It’s tough finding the balance, but we’ll keep working on it. 🙂

19 comments on “Kids, Work and Money: Finding that Balance

  1. Very well said. Thanks for the post. It’s always a bit overwhelming to try to teach kids about money since it’s pretty much all on you, but we try to teach by example.

  2. It’s tough finding that balance of wanting to help and getting them to do things on their own. While the kids don’t have set chores yet, stress on yet, they do like helping out, so I offer them little jobs to do and ways to help out where they can earn coins. They haven’t quite gotten the concept of paper vs coins and still like coins, so I’m happy to oblige. 🙂
    I know it’s usually something I’ll have to redo like vacuuming, or helping wash the car, but they like helping and it’s fun working with them.
    Like you, we hope to pass along the ideas that they are free to do what they want, and that in itself is a privilege. Nothing is owed to them just because they exist, and while i will help them at times, I try to impress that they’re not entitled to anything. That’s difficult, because it’s a tight rope to walk between being supportive and coming off like an @$$ at times. 🙂

  3. It is certainly a balance that I’m not always good at. I do know that my three children will have a knowledge base that is much broader than I had at their age. We are doing our best to teach that as much as possible about money. Getting them thinking about careers, and not just working for someone else. Understanding that the can create their own path if they choose. I do know it will be interesting to see where the go from here and hopefully we’ve created an environment where they can come back and ask for help at anytime.

  4. Thanks for providing your thoughts on this. It’s a really important balance to strike in between supporting your kids and teaching them through “tough love” or not bailing them out. The biggest encouragement to me is that all the wise parents that I know have said to let your kids fail while their young and its safe.

    1. Yes, that’s great advice, Hannah. The more they can learn to “fall” and get up again in your own home, the less they will have to learn when they’re out on their own. Much easier when you’re right there to guide and encourage them.

  5. “to help them avoid getting the idea that mom and dad are their servants (do anyone else’s kids seem to get that idea at times?).” My hand is raised over here. As someone who avoids conflict, I have not done a great job at laying down the law for chores around the house. Ugh! There are great benefits to be derived for kids who have been trained to be able and competent at basic skills. There’s still time . . . You[‘re right about that balance. Where I fall on one side of it, my husband falls on the other. So many balances to strike!

    1. At least you’ve got each other to balance things out. 🙂 My first roommate as an adult called me at work one morning asking how to boil water to make boxed mac and cheese. That image keeps me working the kids hard here..

  6. Very well said, Laurie! Striking the balance with kids is so difficult sometimes. I’m a softie and probably let things go more often than I should, but I do have times when I stick to my guns to try to have them stick it out and persevere. My in-laws give my kids more money than I ever saw at their age and I make them save at least half, but I’m still not sure it’s good for them to have that much handed to them. I try to buffer and provide a good example so hopefully we won’t see any detrimental effects!

    1. I think it’s terrific that you make them save half, Amanda! I need to be better at that. Since we really aren’t spending much money on extras right now, I tend to let them spend money they get with reckless abandon.

  7. I think it’s great that you are teaching your children the value of work & to be thankful for what blessings we all take for granted.

    I have some nieces & nephews that are two & three years old. Their parents & us try to teach them to say please as much as possible. My lesson learned from being with these toddlers: We are all inherently selfish & easily think we have it worse than our peers.

  8. I didn’t know a thing about laundry or cooking or cleaning a bathroom, etc., when I moved out. I had a beautiful lavendar cashmere sweater with a bajillion pearl buttons become doll sized when I did laundry for the very first time at the age of 23. My mom didn’t believe children should do chores. She grew up doing them and just wanted us to concentrate on school and fun. Right or wrong, I guess we all just bring our own personal biases into child rearing. I made sure my son learned how to do everything, but I admit that I never had him do chores. It should be interesting to see how he handles this situation with his own children someday.

    1. “Right or wrong, I guess we all just bring our own personal biases into child rearing.” SO true, Kay! I’m constantly analyzing my decisions as a parent, asking myself if what I’m doing has validity or if I’m making a decision based on a perceived shortcoming I felt I had as a child. For instance, we were pretty poor growing up, so it’s hard for me at times to say “no” to financial expenditures, but the reason it is hard isn’t because it will really damage the children, but because I am remembering the pain of growing up dirt poor. I really have to constantly work at evaluating my decisions as I parent so that I don’t do things based on my own hashed up feelings from childhood. It’s really tough, isn’t it?

  9. It’s so hard to not give in and help them out. I give you a lot of credit for making him figure out a way to still get all of his chores done, but give him a big hug – sounds pretty balanced to me! We have to push them now, or they’ll never be self-sufficient as adults.

    1. Oh, he is SO good. All of my kids have great hearts and try so hard, and I think it’s because we work hard to find a balance with them. When I gave him back the dollar that he had paid his sister for making his bed he was SO happy. It was awesome. 🙂

  10. This is such a struggle for me, Laurie. My daughter is 6, and I’m constantly trying to find the right balance of regular responsibilities, extra chores, payment, etc. Like you, I want to instill a sense of contributing to a team, self-reliance, and responsibility. I’m still working on it…

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