‘Riches, my boy, don’t consist in having things but in not having to do something you don’t want to do, and don’t you forget it. Riches is being able to thumb your nose.’ - Brat Farrar by Josephine Tey
I was at a business networking event recently when I found myself chatting with Jay, an Indian businessman who shared with me the following story:
Jay's son had discovered that his friend received 50c for doing the dishes. After telling his mother, she asked, ‘Do you want 50c too?’
‘Yes, okay!’ their son replied. This was easy!
‘All right,’ she replied. 'But after this, breakfast will cost you $2, lunch will cost you $2, and dinner will cost you $2. Do you still want to earn 50c for doing the dishes?’
He was now not so excited about it. She concluded by telling him, 'You can do things for love or money. Choose…’
Apparently their son never asked for money for household tasks again.
It’s an interesting story, and one that raises all sorts of complex and values-bound issues: Do we ask our children to contribute without return because they are part of the family and are benefiting from the family wealth without earning any of it? Or, since doing chores is the most they can contribute while young, is it therefore only fair to share some of that wealth with them in cash – an acknowledgement of their form of contribution?
My husband and I struggled with this issue for many years when our children were little, sometimes creating elaborate reward and payment arrangements, sometimes not giving pocket money at all. Our bottom line was that our children always save 10% of whatever they earned or received, and they did become pretty good savers. But we oscillated back and forth as we considered different aspects of this ‘love or money' issue.
There are many traps for the unwary when raising children, especially in the realm of money, and one of them was described to me recently. It brought back lots of memories of times I had said or done ‘the wrong thing’ and we had all suffered as a consequence.
A young boy challenged his parents at basketball with the following: ‘Will you give me $200 if I get this ball in the hoop?’
No doubt he was joking (albeit hopefully) but his parents said yes. Why they said yes, I don’t know, since he was already a basketball player and had a reasonable chance of scoring.
He aimed… and the ball went though the hoop… and he claimed his $200. And that was when it grew sticky.
Uncomfortable about losing $200 so easily, his father said, ‘Double or nothing!’ and their son shot again… and missed.
Now what might be the natural outcomes of this situation?
-> A son who no longer believes there is any point trying since there is no reward for effort…
-> A son who no longer trusts his parents…
-> A son who no longer respects his parents' word…
Respect is an interesting issue. We want our kids to respect us but we can’t demand that respect; we must command it. Or at least, we can demand it, we can jump up and down and get hot under the collar, but it won’t be a respect worth having. The respect that we command is the one to go after, and the chief way of achieving that sort of respect is by living honourably.
Living honourably can be difficult, especially when we are dealing with cranky kids and one hundred things at once and we’re not on our game, but it's wise to create an internal alarm that goes off whenever we are not living honourably. Dad being flippant about that $200 wasn’t a great start; not keeping his word was a fairly disastrous development.
I know because I’ve met the son. I’ve witnessed his lack of respect for elders, his lack of effort in applying himself to anything, and his lack of interest in life. He is capable of many wonderful things and his parents are undoubtedly well-meaning. Ultimately, this experience will be one of the challenges on his path, an opportunity to question and reflect and create his own set of values and honourable behaviours… or not.
'Riches, dear reader, don’t consist in having a flawless life but in finding the gift in every experience we are presented with. Make sure you remember it! Riches is being appreciative of everything.' - Liliane Grace
I'd love to read your thoughts about kids and money and the issue of respect when parenting.