Allowance for household chores? Hmmm….

Dear Mr. Dad: Our 12-year-old daughter says all her friends get paid for helping around the house, and she wants an allowance for doing chores too. This sounds crazy to my wife and me. Is it really a good idea?

A: I can see why you might scoff at the idea of paying your daughter for doing household chores. After all, when we were growing up, chores were a given, and our parents never would have paid us for doing simple things that contributed to the smooth running of the household. But that was also the era when we walked 12 miles to school every day, uphill both ways. In the snow. Barefoot. Without a cell phone.

Today, things are different. Allowances are – right or wrong – part of our culture. That said, there’s a big difference between mandatory chores your daughter should do just because she’s part of the family, and the extra ones you might consider paying her for.

Before you cringe at the thought of buying your daughter’s services, look at it this way: You’ll be teaching her some worthwhile lessons that will serve her well in the future: a sense of responsibility, strong work ethic, and the knowledge that you value and appreciate her efforts.

So how do you decide which chores are obligatory and which ones are extras? First, mandatory tasks should be age-appropriate. In your daughter’s case they could include setting and/or clearing the table after meals, loading and unloading the dishwasher, keeping her room tidy, taking out the trash and recycling, sorting laundry into lights and darks, helping care for family pets, doing some babysitting for a younger sibling, and helping plan a meal now and then. As she gets older, that list of responsibilities should grow as well. Your daughter should understand that everyone in the family chips in to the best of his or her abilities without expecting to be paid for every single task. That’s what families are all about.

Bigger jobs, tasks that take a lot more time than her daily to-do list, or projects that aren’t strictly related to the day-to-day running of the family could be paid. These might include doing yard work, organizing the garage, cleaning the attic, or installing insulation in the basement.

Of course, these are just examples. I suggest that you and your wife sit down with your daughter and discuss which chores should be freebies, which ones you’d be willing to pay for, and how much. It’s important that all of you participate in this negotiation process and that everyone’s point of view gets taken into account. There are going to be some non-negotiable topics—health and safety issues come to mind. But by being flexible and open-minded, you’ll be helping your daughter hone her critical thinking and bargaining skills.

How much you should pay depends on what her peers are getting. You wouldn’t want to either overpay or underpay her, right? Rather than ask your daughter, make a few calls to the parents of some of her friends and ask them what the going rates are. If there’s a wide range, you can’t go wrong with a mid-range figure. The kicker here is that if you notice that your daughter isn’t performing her paid tasks as well as she should, or if she’s slacking off in her mandatory duties, it’s back to the negotiating table. And that offers an opportunity to teach her one more valuable life lesson: Bargains are a two-way street. If you don’t hold up your end, you shouldn’t be surprised if you don’t get what you were expecting.