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'Allowance Is Not Motivating My Kids'

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Dear Catherine:

We're trying to negotiate chores in our house and so far a weekly allowance was very motivating for our eight-year-old, but she's starting to lose interest. It was like it was a new fun thing instead of a family responsibility, but now she's over it. Sometimes she even tells me to "keep the money" when she doesn't feel like making her bed. How can I motivate my daughter to pitch in around the house?

—Mom to Lazybones

Dear Mom to LB,

My face didn't know what to do as I was reading your question because I was caught between a shudder (how I know your pain) and a chortle ("keep the money!") A shortle? Whatever—it wasn't pretty.

Like yours, by the time my kids were old enough to understand how money really works, they had a grossly distorted view of its value. How can I blame them, though, really? My two girls were born into a household that keeps a big, lidless coin jar in the kitchen. It's teeming with dimes, quarters, and even a healthy amount of silver dollars. When they were really little and had no concept of commerce, they'd ask for some to play with. "Sure," said the clueless mom. I never kept track of the coins I doled out. The jar remained where it was, and in seemingly no time (cue Fiddler on the Roof: sunrise, sunset—sniff) my kids grew big enough to reach the coins at will.

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Of course, as soon as they heard about this marvelous thing called "allowance," the girls wanted in on that sweet action. "No prob," chirped the still clueless mom. "But you are going to have to earn it. If you set the table every day, I'll give you each $1 at the end of the week."

Problem was: Momma didn't raise no fools. Why would they work for it when it was right there in the kitchen for the taking? If only I could blame the coin jar ...

Now, cut to me in the middle of my research to see if there were certain aspects of French parenting I could import to improve things on my own home-front. I repeatedly felt like a boob when I encountered the common French attitude toward children and money: that is, kids learn to respect it and never drivel about it publicly. Of course, I'm sure there are French kids out there that can give Veruca Salt a run for her considerable cash, but they are tres outnumbered.

Of the French parents I interviewed, none of them gave their kids money at the end of each week for simply existing. They all had to earn it. However, often these earnings came not from every day chores like making their bed or setting the table—those were non-negotiable, unpaid responsibilities as members of the family. L'argent was earned for going above and beyond.

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These days, my girls are responsible for keeping their room clean. That's about it, but it seems to be enough for a 6- and 8-year-old. If it's not tidied before dinner, they must go back in and straighten. It's not the money that's motivating them—it's me, THE CHIEF! If they want to earn some scratch, they can do a la carte household chores. A set table will score a quarter; a sink of dishes is $.50, and folded laundry is about a nickel apiece (although I don't really encourage this one because they can't fold for crap yet). I wonder what's fair for cleaning the baseboards? My hunch is that you need to reset your daughter's money-o-meter and lay down some decisive rules.

As for me and my house, we've been Frenchified: Au revoir coin jar, bonjour new rules.

Cha-ching!

—Catherine

Have a French (or any nationality) parenting question for Catherine? Email her at mommecs@bermanbraun.com.

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