Redefining Success: How Living in a Town of Entitled Families Fuels My Desire to Give My Kids a Better Work Ethic

Teaching kids life and work skills isn’t easy in this age of the enabling parent. I’m reading one new and excellent book, “Cleaning House:  A Mom’s Twelve-Month Experiment to Rid Her Home of Youth Entitlement,” because I refuse to raise helpless and entitled kids. 

During a summer downpour, it turned into a perfect storm in our house–a leaky roof in two spots (oh, no!), fruit flies in my son’s room, fruit flies in the basement–oh, there was more going on all at the same time. Thankfully the kids took care of the fruit fly problem, but it made me think: we have fruit flies because my kids are leaving fruit pits and other garbage to fester rather than tie up the bag and take it out. (Thank goodness for Aimee’s fruit fly trap!) All this led me to realize I’m enabling them to not do a whole lot more–confusing my love for them with “I’ll do it for you, honey.”  And at the same time, I came across the new book by Kay Wills Wyma called “Cleaning House: A Mom’s Twelve-Month Experiment to Rid Her Home of Youth Entitlement.”

Cleaning House book cover
This is an inspiring book that every frugal parent must read!

Reading the book made me remember how some of my kids’ friends struggled to open and close the manual door to my minivan. These kids simply didn’t know how to work the door. I’m not kidding!  Today’s cars are automatic so all the doors open and close like magic! (My car is not electric, but we own it, and too bad we don’t have that convenience!). It’s pretty funny to watch this happen, but sad at the same time. We are talking about middle school kids here, not toddlers. These kids merely expect doors to magically open for them. It’s just the tip of the iceberg in this country of kids who have no idea how to do simple, mundane things. But they sure know their way around a piece of technology!

So, we are also about to embark on our own Experiment, much like Kay’s (read her blog here), the author of “Cleaning House.” We only have two kids (she has five!), and my two failed at getting a weekly allowance that was tied to some lame chores. My husband and I slacked off in trying to set higher standards, and they started to slack off on their chores so they both got “fired,” and we felt like miserable parents.

To be fair, my kids are amazing when it comes to the bigger stuff. When we lost power because of a tropical storm last year, they were troopers as we all teamed up to handle the serious and arduous task of bailing water out from the basement. Not a whine from either of them. They know how to wrangle a heavy boat at the dock better than I do! They (sort of) like to mow the lawn. My daughter can catch our impossible cat to get him to the vet better than I can, she took spectacular care of a hamster for two years and she volunteers at the local Audubon Society where she has to handle dead, frozen rats for owl food! And my son loves to carry the heavy stuff for me, and he’s amazingly calm in a crisis (like the time I twisted my ankle, almost passed out from the pain, and we were the only two home at the time–I’d feel safe with him in any emergency). But it’s the everyday stuff they need to learn and be consistent about handling and they need to learn these tasks to take them into adulthood. Like washing dishes, loading and emptying the dishwasher, doing their laundry instead of yelling for us to do it, getting their own breakfast (they do that much of the time, thank goodness), cleaning up cat vomit instead of yelling for us to do it, etc. And, they do put their laundry away, and, they make a mean bowl of nachos!

hamster cage
Much to my daughter’s credit, she took great care of keeping her hamster’s cage clean. I will admit I was doing the work the first couple of months she had the hamster, but soon I realized how wrong that was! She learned how to do everything herself. I was genuinely proud of her for taking on 100% of the responsibility once I stopped trying to take over her chore.

So, we told them that if they didn’t learn to do the most basic things at home, they would be clueless as adults, and they wouldn’t know how to solve problems at work, at home, and they’d have a hard time launching their life as an adult. Like kids can really think that far ahead….? But come on, you HAVE to learn to do your own laundry once you’re a pre-teen! I did!  (And, we taught them how to do laundry this weekend and the printed directions are taped to the washer!) We told them that many kids their age never clean anything cause they have others to do it for them and that they would grow into adults who expect to have cleaning women–or spouses–do their work. Yuck, right?! They heard us. They listened, and we’ll see how this works out.

Our new plan, thanks to “Cleaning House,” is this: tack a piece of paper to their bedroom door with the day’s chores they are expected to do (I’m not into charts, neither are the kids….been there, done that…). Then, we’ll do what the author did: give each kid a jar at the beginning of the month filled with money. The money: a dollar a day for the month. Don’t do the chores to our liking or they don’t do them, well, we pluck out $1 from the jar for that day. At the end of the month, they are required to deposit half of it in their savings accounts and do what they want to with the other half.

Why give them money outright, you ask? Kay discusses a stock market psychology she heard about called “behavioral economics.” One of the core tenets of behavioral economics is that people  don’t like loss–on an emotional level, loss feels three times larger than gaining the same amount. People are more motivated if they fear loss. Hmmmm, that makes some sense to me, and certainly seems to make sense when it comes to teens. So, we’ll see how it all pans out. Our dry run starts tomorrow, and come September first, we’ll have our trial month.

By the way, read Aimee’s post on crazed parents and kids she witnessed while at the mall for a special event.

So….hopefully next summer, our fruit fly situation will be confined to the countertop compost…

~Marilyn, TFF

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