Friday, February 25, 2005

chores again

I wrote about chores a couple of months ago here

I agree entirely with JSB (in comments below) that giving children an allowance in exchange for chores "is a way to get the kids to help out around the house". But I think there are much better ways of having a clean house than treating one's children as cheap labour.

If cleaning is important to a parent, they should do the cleaning. If the child sees it is something interesting/fun/energetic/worthwhile, then the child will be interested in joining in.

If the parent cannot persuade their family rationally of the need for a certain level of cleanliness, and of the need for a certain level of filial assistance to maintain that level, then they should either rethink their desired level of cleanliness or ask for help in solving what is - after all - the parent's problem. To link such assistance to an allowance is an abuse of power.It does not give the child a say in how their living space looks or how their time is spent - and why? - because the parents control the family finances.

'Nothing is more demoralizing than being forced to work for nothing' except possibly being forced to do something the value of which you do not appreciate in order to meet your side of a hopelessly lop-sided bargain that your parents have coerced you into.

Sharing rented accommodation as a student can provide better models for dividing household chores in autonomy respecting ways. The humble rota causes many a falling out. The best situation I've encountered is one where one person who really enjoyed laundry did all the laundry, another who enjoyed getting her rubber gloves on regularly cleaned the bathroom and kitchen surfaces, and a third who hated cleaning but loved cooking did most of the catering and had no idea where the washing powder was kept... everyone contributed according to their values and priorities.

I have known quite small children take on major chores (like looking after the poultry, involving getting up 20 minutes before everyone else to feed them before school) not because anyone forced them to, or paid them to, but because they WANTED to.

Monday, February 21, 2005


An allegory:

Husband has a job; wife works at home, being a homemaker and bringing up the children. Wife wants to buy a book.

Husband says "well, I have the money in my account, but you don't get your allowance until Thursday, and by the way, you have to wash my car and change three fuses before you can have it. And you can only buy the book if I think it is appropriate"

It all depends on one’s attitude to property and resources within the family. I do not think those doing the earning should dictate what happens to all the money; other members of the family contribute to family life in other ways but do not end up with $$$.

In favour of an allowance system: if family works out how much spending money is left after rent, bills, food etc., and works out what sorts of money-spending activities each is likely to want, then sharing out the money saves the child(ren) having to ask for permission or approval. It respects their autonomy, and means that they themselves can learn (with advice where asked for) about managing their finances, and about choosing the resources they want around them.If child blows a week’s allowance on something they immediately regret, then parent can help them minimise the frustration (selling item on Ebay? What is the shop’s returns policy? Does a friend want to do a swop?)

In favour of not having an allowance: as long as everyone has a sense of how much money is available, and everyone is prepared to put a rational case for their spending plans, and everyone’s desire for a share of the family resources is met, then handing the money around can be done in an ad hoc way. This requires everyone involved to be happy to justify their expenditure – it might be rather collectivist for some. “Mum can I have £30 for some DVDs?” “no, we have no spare money” “why not?” *blush* *stonewall* *hedge* *equivocate* “your hair cut looks lovely, mum; what did it cost?…”

At the moment, I would advocate an allowance for what used to be called “pin money”, so that every child, from when se expresses an interest in having money, can buy a magazine, some sweets, some Star Wars stickers, a small lego set, without having to ask anyone. Instant larger purchases have implications for the finances of the whole family, and therefore should be open to discussion.

I would never advocate forcing a child to perform tasks for a share of the family money, especially since it is not easy for children to earn money in the West. If what the family can spare is insufficient for the child’s needs, then helping them to make money legally should be a priority for the parent – paper round; computer programmer; making cakes for the Women’s Institute; whatever.But forcing someone to vacuum in order to be allowed a share of the family resources implies that only those actually earning $$$ should have a say in how they are spent.

Sunday, February 20, 2005


I just came across this site:

I haven't read much of what is on it yet, but it struck me as a FANTASTIC
way for a vicar to broaden the audiences for her sermons. Buh-bye hard pews. Buh-bye attention wandering for 30 seconds and losing the rest of the audience.

Woo hoo.

fussing #2

So fussing is making an unnecessary bother about something which really isn’t important: “Have you got enough layers on, dear?” “Oh, don’t FUSS mother”

It concerns me that the US parlance for a crying baby is that se is “fussy” or “fussing”. If a child is hungry, uncomfortable, tired, frightened, thirsty, cold, bored, or any of the other challenges which a baby does not have the physical resources to overcome alone, what is se supposed to do to avoid having hir emotions branded with the same brush-off as a suburban lady with too many antimacassars? Wait patiently for someone to notice se needs help?

Is it silly to concern oneself with definitions, or do the words we use to talk about children reveal what we really think of them?

Saturday, February 19, 2005

fussy children

This is an idiom which just doesn't travel across the Atlantic. It always makes me uneasy when I hear children described as fussy.

In the UK, if someone is fussy it means

a) that they are constantly rearranging the doilies on their perfectly clean nested occasional tables


b) that they will only eat steamed vegetables, rice not pasta, and drink wine only from the Loire Valley

I know it doesn't mean the same in the US, but I wonder whether it carries the same perjorative connotations? If so, then my unease is justified... more on why later, maybe

Sunday, February 06, 2005

The Lady and the Unicorn

This book follows Tracy Chevalier’s usual structure of taking the creation of an art work as her imaginative starting point. I love the unicorn tapestries, and every few pages I found myself turning to the reproductions at the ends of the books to look at a detail or just enjoy the sequence. Chevalier has a gift for making a scene come alive through evoking a sense: the feeling of a garden under one’s fingers; the smell of cloves for curing toothache.

Of course, the unicorn stories are all about the seduction and capturing of a wild beast, and the thread of seduction, forbidden or welcomed, runs through the book. There was too much detail for my taste – some passages were squelchier than necessary. And lust was made to be too much of a (blinding) motivating force… but this all connected with the seduction and taming of the characters in the book, so I understand why Chevalier did it.

I prefer books where the characters are motivated by saving their honour or their country or staying alive or solving some practical problem – characters who are concerned with acting in a morally right way, and wrestle with achieving that. Good children's books do this because obviously sex is not a motivating force, and sex is actually pretty boring as a plot device (what does it achieve, beyond titillation?)