I never thought about it, but I was running my house like a commune. The kids had chores to do, of course, but the incentive was the greater good, my approbation, and an allowance that, in their minds, had no relationship to the tasks demanded. The kids did not find these incentives inspiring, and the days and works tended to be a blur of my pushing, and pushing, and their pushing back. I was frustrated, they were resentful, and the house chaotic.
Aside from the practical stalemate of a sort of general household chaos, the “incentives” of “the greater good” and punishment did not work very well at controlling behavioral problems either. The kids fought like cats and dogs, whined more than one would have thought possible, and thought that interrupting me was an Olympic sport.
Believe it or not, they are nice kids, but life has been a day to day struggle to achieve things that, in the perfectly run “communist” household of my youth, worked well. As to my youth, my sister reminded me that it probably worked well because my mother, who is a lovely woman, nevertheless carried a a very big stick. Also, my sister and I were exceptionally biddable children (probably because of that same stick).
I decided this summer to switch to capitalism, aided by the fact that the kids have very strong commercial desires — he wants a Rip Stick and she (I blush to admit this) Abercrombie clothes. Here’s the method I devised:
I have a lot of big tasks in the house that have been bedeviling me, mostly in the form of closets that badly need organizing. There are also the usual things of dirty kitchens, clean (but full) dishwashers, and stacks of clean, unfolded laundry. I told the kids that, on a daily basis, I will assign them a task with a good salary. Not a piddling 50 cents or $1 per task, but $5 to $20 per child, depending on the task’s magnitude.
There are conditions, however. First, they must listen well as I explain the task. Second, while doing the task, they cannot fight with each other or come whining to me. If they don’t understand something, they may interrupt me only if it brings the task to a dead halt. Otherwise, they have to set aside things that confuse them and wait until they’ve reached a functional wall. If they commit any of the bad employee sins — not listening, fighting, whining, or excessive interrupting — I dock their pay, to the point where they may find themselves doing the task for no money at all.
My husband, to my surprise, thought this was a wonderful idea. He offered a further incentive. If the kids could get through the whole summer without having their pay docked, he’ll double whatever they earn from me.
We put the system in effect yesterday and it was the first day ever that the kids cleaned their rooms, tidied the house, and organized a closet without fighting, whining or interrupting me every second. The whole thing flowed. They leaped from project to project with enthusiasm and good will. At the end of the day, they eagerly counted their earnings, projected ahead to the time at which they’d be able to make their purchases, and expressed surprise at (a) how fun it had been to work well and (b) how nice it was not to fight.
I couldn’t resist, of course, and gave them a little lesson in the differences between communism and capitalism. They completely understood how, with money as the hub, we were all able to achieve our goals: they moved further towards their Rip Stick and Abercrombie clothes, and I got a tidy house, an organized closet, and two well-behaved kids.
I’ll try to keep you posted on this capitalist experiment.