It was a hot summer night and the beach was burning. There was fog crawling over the sand. I was happy. My view was centered on the stage in the middle of it all and my seats, somewhat far back, were perfect for seeing the entire concert.
Outings like these are a welcome addition to my life. There’s nothing more exciting than getting to have a night out without the kids, watching Blue October from the cheap seats with Lauren next to me, and downing drinks that cost three times the price of the ticket. Just as I was enjoying it all, though, my phone vibrated.
I looked down and saw the chilling message.
Yeah. I get these messages once in a while. It makes my heart skip a beat. I get what it sounds like, but it’s not what you think. I don’t bet on the ponies or the puppies or roosters or anything. My knees aren’t in danger of being broken. The money owed isn’t for anything nefarious. I don’t have a gambling problem.
I have a teenage daughter problem.
My 14-year-old embarked on a journey of chores last year. I wrote about it and explained how, for most of her life, work around the house was voluntary and centered on her own needs. Clean your room. Fold your clothes. That sort of stuff. It benefited her and the dolling out of cash was more of a favor than a payment.
That’s different now. Today, she has two major tasks to earn a full allowance. In a house full of robot vacuums, the only place that doesn’t get cleaned regularly are the stairs. So she dustbusts them twice during her time here – once within 24 hours of arriving and again on the last day before returning to her mom’s house.
Her second task is to fully clean the bathroom that she and her brother use. She does an amazing job and, for that, I owe her $10. All I need to do is transfer it into her kid’s specific bank account that I can control from my app.
Of course, I’m old and I forget. So, constantly, I get these rather pointed texts. They are reminders that my kid is financially crushing it. The biggest reminder, though, is the bank account itself. She’s like a captain of industry. One glance is enough to make you wish you were the stair vacuumer.
I don’t get mad when she needles me to fork over the money owed, even when she has an overflowing cash flow. Sure, it can be frustrating to transfer money from the pauper to the princess, but it’s something that I need to do. Almost as important as the chores themselves, getting what’s owed to her is an even greater lesson.
When she grows up, I want my daughter to be able to say, “Hey, you said you’d pay me this. Now pay me this.” Some people don’t have that type of personality and – truth be told – I can sometimes be one of them. I weigh the aggravation and the time I would spend chasing it and sometimes go, “Eh, whatever.” It depends on the amount they owe me and it depends on my level of disdain for those I am collecting from.
What’s fair is fair. The meek don’t inherit the Earth. You learn that as you get older and you watch the blowhards get paid while the quiet ones go without. I remind her of that when she sends one of her “u pay me” messages but follows up with “sorry”. I tell her never to apologize for asking for what she’s owed. If she does it politely and stays firm, no one can fault her for it.
Of course, there are some weeks I don’t want to give her anything. It’s not like she uses this money for school clothes or toiletries. I’m still the dad and those expenses are still covered. So her bounty sits there and pays for a random Panera visit with her friends or an impromptu trip to Dunkin Donuts after school. The meat and potatoes of her financial needs are still met by the adults who introduced her to the world.
It doesn’t change the fact that she earned it though. It doesn’t change that I made the deal and entered into a verbal contract with her. I told her she would get money if she did the tasks. She does the tasks. She gets the money. That’s it.
Often, teaching our kids lessons can be tough on us in terms of time. Showing my son how to use a fork as opposed to letting him shovel food into his mouth two-fisted may agonizingly doubles his meal time. But I do it because it helps him and I love him. This lesson for my girl is the same. Although, this one hits me right in the wallet.
In those moments, I try to remember why I started it. I remember my worry over her growing up with no sense of a dollar’s worth. She would say things like, “It’s only $50” and I would silently panic. I imagined her as a spoiled adult woman demanding rewards. Even worse, I imagined her financial stream drying up after I’m gone, leaving her with no sense of how to earn money herself. It terrified me. I was doing my daughter a disservice. She needs to learn how to be an adult. It’s my job to teach her.
So once our lives shifted, I made that change in her allowance routine. Through that change, she’s becoming stronger than I ever hoped for. It may cost me a ten spot every week, but it’s the best ten dollars I ever spent.
It’s definitely better than the $10 can of water I got at the concert, at least.
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