More Than Money
Issue #40

Money and Relationships

Table of Contents

“Paying the Family: Who Should Get Paid for What?”

Personal Stories

As told to Pamela Gerloff

Should I pay my parents for childcare? Should I pay my children for doing household chores? How do my decisions about this affect our family relationships? These are questions I have yet to fully resolve, but they present themselves every day.

Food for Thought
How might paying family members influence family relationships? Professor Bernard Lietaer offers some thoughts:
"We used to live in extended families. In fact, we can still observe such extended families in southern Italy and South America, where a familia typically consists of 70 or 80 people. But, gradually, there has been a systematic worldwide trend toward replacing extended families with nuclear families. Why? Part of the answer, I believe, is that we now have money exchanges within the extended family. When Granddad moves in, we expect him to pay for his housing with his pension. When our children do household chores, we pay them for their work. Such monetized exchanges fail to create relationships of reciprocity. The parents have given their children the gift of life, the gift of education, and so many other things. If the children don't have the opportunity to give back to their parents [by contributing to the family system without expecting payment in return], they are unable to participate in an essential aspect of true community."
-Bernard Lietaer, "Creating a Giving Culture: An Interview with Bernard Lietaer," More Than Money, Issue 34 , 2003, pp. 29-30.

My parents often help my husband and me take care of our children. Since I believe people should get paid for a service they're providing and I can well afford to pay them, I've tried to do so- but they won't let me. They don't feel it's right to take payments from us. They feel it's just something you do for your family; it's part of your responsibility as grandparents.

Over time I have realized that there are other ways to compensate my parents besides giving them money. For instance, I bought them tickets to the U.S. Open. Or, if we go on vacation together, my husband and I will pick up some of their expenses. My husband helps them around the house quite a bit and I do their taxes and give them financial advice when they want my opinion. I think this arrangement has a positive effect on our relationship with them. They are extremely appreciative of the things we do for them, and we are similarly appreciative of all they do for us. At the end of the day, no monies are being exchanged directly. It's more an exchange of our family's values, and that's hard to put a price on.

This issue of paying family members for services has also presented a dilemma for me in terms of paying my children an allowance. Joline Godfrey 1 says that parents should not give children an allowance in exchange for chores; the reason for an allowance, she says, is to help kids learn how to manage money. This is a concept I struggle with. When I first started giving my kids a weekly allowance, it had no connection to their responsibilities around the house, such as keeping their rooms clean, putting games away, or taking out garbage. However, when they were not keeping up with those responsibilities and developed a sense of entitlement about getting paid, I stopped the allowances. I want my children to understand that they have responsibilities as members of our family and that those responsibilities need to be met without expecting payment.

Upon reflection, I find it interesting that I want to compensate my parents for their work for the family, yet I believe that children should learn to give to the family without expecting monetary reward. And even though my dad won't accept money from me when he does things for the family, he pays my children whenever they help him. In fact, he does that a lot. Just recently, my eldest son, who actually likes to shovel snow, cleared my parents' walkway. My father gave him a few bucks. I'm not sure if my son asked for the money or not, but he had such a sense of pride about earning that money!

Whether paying my parents or my children is ultimately good or bad, I can't really say. I still wish I could compensate my parents more-but right now, things seem to be working fine. As for the children's allowance, we've never revisited the issue and I haven't figured out the best way to do it. The question remains: What should we pay for and what should be given and received just because we're part of a family? And what messages are we giving our children by the choices we're making in these areas?

1 Joline Godfrey is the author of Raising Financially Fit Kids (Ten Speed Press, 2005). Her interview with More Than Money, "Raising Financially Fit Children: Tips from Joline Godfrey," appeared in Issue 39, 2005, Money and Children ," pp. 16-18.

Questions for Reflection and Conversation

1. Did you receive an allowance as a child? If so, were you expected to do anything in exchange for the allowance? What did you learn from the experience of either having or not having an allowance?

2. Do your children or other children you know receive an allowance? What do you imagine it might be teaching them? How do you think it is influencing the family's relationships?

3. Do you pay other family members for doing things for you or your family? How do you decide when to pay and when not to pay? How has that affected any of your family relationships?

The author works at a large professional services firm and has three children, ages nine, eight, and six.

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