Practical Creativity for Everyday Life and Parenting

When our kids were growing up, we never used the word “allowance” in our house. I made that decision partly because the concept of an allowance sounded to me like entitlement, on the one hand, and loss of agency on the other. If you get an allowance simply for being someone’s offspring, that sends a message of entitlement. But the word “allowance” also means the parent is allowing the child to receive a sum of money, and could at any moment decide the child was not allowed that sum. When I was a kid, the first thing my mother did to punish me for small infractions was take away my allowance.

When my kids were little, they were expected to help around the house. When they were pre-teens, though, we offered them the opportunity to earn a “paycheck” in exchange for doing regular chores. The paycheck was determined based on age and the difficulty of chores, etc. There were rules attached to the paycheck, of course:

–       They had to complete all chores by Sunday night of each week or apply for an extension if, for example, they were gone to a tournament for the weekend. And their dad and I were free to inspect their work before paychecks were distributed.

–       They could collect their paychecks as early as Sunday night, if all their chores were done, or as late as Wednesday night. If they forgot to ask for their paycheck by Wednesday night, they forfeited the money. After all, I told them, when they grew up, it would be their job to make sure they were paid by their employers and paid in full. There were only a few times one of my kids forgot to ask for their paycheck, and they were quite sorry they did!

–       If my kids thought they deserved a raise in their paycheck, they had to come to us to negotiate. They could argue, for example, that their chores had gotten harder, or they had taken on new chores (like mowing the lawn), or their expenses had gone up with age. If they argued their case well, they got the raise.

–       If they needed extra money, they could also do “bonus chores.” Sometimes we offered those up, “Anyone want to wipe out the refrigerator or clean under the sink?” other times they came to us with a suggestion for a chore they could do for extra money. They each also had opportunities to help me with my business for payment, if they had time.

–       When they got old enough to drive, we made an agreement; we would pay for their gas and insurance but they had to agree to drive their younger siblings to school or activities or run errands for us without complaint. You might think the youngest got off easy. Not so. She didn’t have to run younger siblings around, but with the older two out of the house, she wound up running more errands for me than they had. We never abused our power. They could plead for a reprieve if they were having a crazy busy week at work or school. But we never waffled on the “no complaints” rule.

–       My kids were also required to donate at least $50 a year of their own money to charity. They could choose the charity, and they could give more if they wanted to. This was nonnegotiable.

My children are grown now, and they are each very different in how they spend and save money, but they all grew up knowing how to manage their money well, pay their bills on time, and appreciate their paychecks. And they all learned to be proud of the work they do.

So why am I telling you this in a blog about creativity? I guess it’s an argument in favor of practical creativity in our everyday lives. If there’s something about the status quo that doesn’t sit right with you, question it. Trust your instincts and your insights, and be willing to do things differently than the way you were raised, differently than your friends, differently than tradition or societal pressures dictate. You know your kids. You know your business. You know your art. Make it work for you.

Get creative. Someday, hopefully, your kids will thank you (to your face, anyway).

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