"Mom, how does the Tooth Fairy fly through the air?"
"How do YOU think?"
"I think moms do it."
"But how can a Mom be a Tooth Fairy?"
"Good moms are lots of things, Princess."

Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Cash Cow

Allowances are one of the surprisingly controversial topics of parenthood. Our kiddos start having chores the minute they can move, so they are not paid per chore. When Buddy turned five he received a wallet and three dollars a week. It worked great. He would save his money until he had about $15, then go blow it on a not-very-satisfying toy. It wasn't long at all before a few subtle comments helped him realize he wasn't really enjoying the stuff he bought. Since age six, he's been able to save for six months or so and buy something he really, really loves. When Peanut turned five, the same process worked well for her. She got the "value of saving" thing almost right away.

"Subtle," however, is not something that goes over well with Princess. When she turned five, Buddy was the only one we had experimented with, so I didn't think much about it. She'd carry her wallet everywhere, just like Buddy, and blow every cent at every opportunity. If she had five cents, she'd find something that cost five cents. Don't ask me how, but she did. And I could have lived with that, but of course it escalated. Everything does. She'd walk into a store with an item in mind, and I could literally see her get overwhelmed by all the choices. She'd get manic, and end up with something she'd dump in the toy box as soon as she got home and never touch again. Sometimes she wouldn't even know what it was she had bought. It wasn't long before she was paying the other children a dollar or so to make her bed or clear her place at the table. It was painfully obvious money had no value to her.

So I stopped her allowance. I explained why. She did not seem especially perturbed.

Several months later I reinstated it. But I cut it down to two dollars. We went through a store ad together and selected something she would actually like that cost less than $15. I made a chart with a picture of the item so she could easily see how much money she needed. She was not allowed to change her mind or spend money on anything else. We marched into the store, bought the item and nothing else, and marched out. It's been working pretty well for over a year.

It's been working so well, in fact, that I loosened the restrictions. I let her change her mind. She was saving for a soccer ball (you've probably noticed it's winter, but this information did not seem to concern Princess; neither does the fact that she does not play soccer, nor that we have sixty-three million soccer balls already), and she asked if she could change it to a great game that is very appropriate and a wiser way to spend her money, and I let her. And what happens when we loosen boundaries? Princess pushes them to see if they'll fall over completely.

Yesterday Princess came down with her empty gumball machine and asked if she could buy gumballs. I told her we were not going to stores that day. This morning she asked if we could go buy gumballs after a birthday party this afternoon. I said, "there's no store that sells gumballs near the party."

"I'm talking about after the party."

"There won't be a store near the the party afterward, either."

"No. After."

"Are you telling me a store is going to magically rise up near the party while we're there?"

"No. Can we go after the party?"

"We are not going to a store before OR after the party, because there is not one nearby."

(Getting distressed) "But I have money!"

"Yes. You have money to buy gumballs. And you may buy them the next time we go to a store. But I am not driving to a store for gumballs when I don't need anything else. It would cost me $5 in gas to drive there."

"I'll pay for the gas."

"That would not be a wise use for your money, and I will not say yes to a not-wise choice."

"But you said I could buy gumballs!"

"I did. And you may. I am not saying no to gumballs; I am saying no to taking you to a store today." (Mouth opens. Mom smiles, kisses cheek, and walks away).

She'll push some more. Then she'll get used to it. We'll move on to the next thing.

1 comment:

  1. UGH, the vacillation nightmare. We live that here. It is one of the most persistent and obnoxious problems we have on an hourly basis. I'm going to have to try to come up with a good name for it. Although, Vacillation Nightmare is not bad, just not catchy like the Wango Tango. Hmmm.