Dilemmas: Do the washing up again? It'll cost you, Mum

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Should children be expected to help around the home out of courtesy, because they're members of the household, or should they be paid? Catherine wrote because she was upset that her husband was paying their seven-year-old son to do chores such as cleaning the car and helping in the garden; she felt it would encourage the child to expect payment for tasks that should be a normal part of family life.

Like Catherine's husband, when my son was small I paid him pocket money and then more for special chores. (There were some moments, when he was very small, when I would happily have paid for him not to have done certain tasks. Cleaning the car was one; but I still had to fork out and beam with delight - and drive to the car-wash when he wasn't looking.)

But as for the normal chores that you might expect to be performed by any long-term polite guest, such as clearing the table, helping with the washing up, popping out for a pint of milk, keeping his room tidy - those were all things he was expected to do anyway. It seemed possible to have the best of both worlds, a child who contributed voluntarily who was also paid on special occasions.

But why pay at all? John Parker of Wimbledon said that 'it was to give my son, Peter, some sense of responsibility, initiating him early on into the world of work. If he was saving up for something, I'd invent things when I knew he needed the money to top up his pocket money, rather than giving the money direct. His mum might ask him to stick our family snaps into a photo album or he'd have to clear the snow away from the path, or he'd have to wash up all week instead of only twice. These paid chores gave him a sense of pride.'

And how did he behave with his daughter? Differently, he admitted, sheepishly. Because while he paid his son, his daughter 'was much more willing to help without being paid. She loved helping her mum in the kitchen, and she also loved my company. I remember her longing to help me to dig up a tree when she was about six. I gave her a little spade and she dug and she dug and she was a real help. But no, I wouldn't have paid her for that help. I might have rewarded her with a treat, though.'

Catherine's anxiety seemed to be whether paying her son would alter his character in some way. But being paid as a child didn't seem to make much difference to Elizabeth Smith of Bognor. 'I was incredibly mercenary when I was small, particularly as, because my mother was working, she felt so guilty that she always gave me far too much money for things that I should have done automatically.

'But it hasn't made me mercenary now, and I feel quite contrite about the past. I certainly don't believe in wages for housework, and with my children I believe in encouraging them to help, and praising them for it, so they feel part of the family.'

Not being paid - or even praised - however, had a bad effect on Nicholas Gough of Malmesbury, Wiltshire. 'My own experience consisted of receiving no pocket money, nor money for the chores I performed, most of these being tasks I didn't really want to do. This made me bitter because not only was there no monetary reward, but any praise was focused on the task rather than myself. It meant I grew up feeling doubly devalued. It took an awful long time to find activities I liked to do and even longer fully to appreciate the value of money in society.'

Chantal White, of Gloucester, had very firm views. 'I know people who pay their children for everything - 10p to empty the dishwasher, 5p to empty the wastepaper baskets and so on. But we've never been like that with our two girls. I think it's a terrible trap to get into. Children should simply tidy their rooms or wash up if you ask them to.

'But we do believe in instilling the work ethic into our children. So my daughter, aged 10, started baking and selling her cakes to the local delicatessen. She had to cost the ingredients, check for quality control, fill in invoices and so on. She used to keep the profit and pay me back for the ingredients, but now I reward her initiative by chipping in with the ingredients. I would be keen on my children earning money as young as possible, from walking people's dogs, babysitting, car-washing, whatever, but they would have to be jobs outside the family. I wouldn't be keen to equate sociable family behaviour with cash rewards.'

It's most likely that Catherine's husband is simply carrying on a family tradition. His dad probably paid him for chores; he pays his son. If Catherine feels this approach turned her husband into a mercenary old yuppie who wouldn't help a blind man across the road without financial incentive, then she should certainly take a firm stand. But it's not usually the actual details of what goes on in families that makes a difference to a child later on; it's the underlying feelings that are more important. And if the general atmosphere is one of generosity, care and love, the effect will be more powerful on Catherine's son than the odd quid earned here or there.

My advice to Catherine is to relax. Let her husband pay their son for his chores if he wants, but realise she doesn't have to do the same. A rota of general household tasks - the hoovering, washing up, shopping, dusting, sheet-changing and so on - would help to instil a sense of sharing into the entire household. A rota, nota bene, in which her husband as well as her son is included. That way her son would be set a good example and learn that good blokes, like dad, do some things out of a sense of fairness as well as other things for cash.

Dear Virginia

I am a skiing fanatic but my husband hates it. Since we married two years ago, I haven't so much as put a foot in a ski boot. But the snow this year is wonderful, so I was thrilled when some friends suggested I join them for a week next month in Austria. But my husband hates the idea; he says that if we don't spend our holidays together, it would be the beginning of the end of our marriage and he would never want to do anything without me. Even though we have done nothing but row about it, I am still desperately keen to go. What should I do?

Yours sincerely,

Christine

Please send your comments and suggestions to me care of the Features Department, the Independent, 40 City Road, London EC1Y 2DB; fax 071-956 1739, by Tuesday morning.

And if you have any dilemmas of your own that you would like to share with readers, let me know. I will report back next Thursday.

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