- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 25, 2006

Q:Having read your book “A Family of Value,” I must take exception to your recom-

mendation that children not be paid for chores. It seems to me that you contradict yourself on this point. On the one hand, you say children should be reared so that they learn “how the real world works.” In the real world, however, people are paid for doing jobs. According to your own standard, therefore, children should be paid for chores.

A: Your question reflects great intelligence and an analytical nature, and I relish playing “Stump the Expert” with people like yourself. You have stated your case well; now I’ll state mine.

As I see it, the problem with paying children for household chores is that chores should not be regarded as jobs. Rather, they constitute a servicerendered to the family.

When I say a child’s upbringing should teach him how the real world works, I am referring primarily to principles, not privileges enjoyed and/or responsibilities borne by adults. For example, adults can, and should, exercise their right to vote. The family, however, is not a democracy. Children don’t elect their parents, much less their state and national representatives. Furthermore, denying children the vote does not seem to have been detrimental to either children or the republic.

Nonetheless, it is of vital importance to all concerned that children become more than simply acquainted with democracy’s foundational principles. The viability of our democracy, as Alexis de Tocqueville noted in “Democracy in America,” depends upon the ready willingness of the citizenry to lay down self-interest and render public service.

This willingness to serve does not arise spontaneously, upon demand. It is learned. If preparing children for citizenship is important, and Grandma was right that good citizenship begins at home, then it follows that children should learn the service ethic within their families.

I submit that the only way a child can serve his or her family is by doing chores. I also contend that doing a chore is not service if the doing is compensated in any way, shape or form. A child should perform chores because he is a member of the family, period. Similarly, an adult should perform community service because he is a member of the community, period.

The idea that children should be compensated for doing chores is inconsistent with a more insular reality as well: To wit, parents are not compensated for cooking meals or vacuuming floors or tending to the yard. Under the circumstances, paying children for doing chores implies that children have privileged status within the family, that they are free of obligation.

Unfortunately, all too many of today’s parents fail to assign their children to a regular routine of chores. They act as if the only person with obligations in the parent-child relationship is the parent. Through omission, they inadvertently teach their children that something can be had for nothing.

Most employers and managers to whom I speak bemoan the seeming absence of what I term “obligatory reciprocity” on the part of today’s young adults, many of whom seem to think they are owed more than they owe. One manager recently reported to me that many young college graduates expect the same privileges they see accorded to employees with 20-plus years of dedicated tenure. Confusing employment with entitlement, it seems to me, is the likely outcome of a childhood devoid of tangible responsibility to the family.

Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions on his Web site (www.rosemond.com).

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