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Setting Up An Allowance

coin being dropped into a piggy bankTwo of our recent columnists (here and here) wrote recently about money and teaching your children how to handle it. They both inspired me to write about something we’re trying out in our household: An allowance. So far, it’s more of an experiment rather than a finished product, but it seems to be catching on.

When I was growing up, I didn’t really have an allowance. There was the occasional flirtation with an allowance as my Mom would put together a “job jar” filled with slips of paper. On each slip of paper was written a job (water the plants, pick up the toys in the TV room, etc.) and a monetary value. The deal was, my brother, sister, and I would pick out a slip of paper, do that job, then earn the money associated with it. My mother would keep a running tally, and by the end of the week, we’d get our earned allowance. We didn’t get a standard amount of money. It was usually tied to doing chores that we probably should have been doing anyway. The whole idea never really caught on. I didn’t have much of my own personal spending money until I was old enough to babysit.

As a fellow blogger here has admitted about herself, I can also be a pushover when it comes to my kids asking for things. When the kids have been good at the doctor’s office or when we’ve gone to the zoo or a family vacation trip, I usually allow them a small toy (or two, or three). We have another vacation trip coming up in a few months. Because I don’t want to deny them souvenirs, and because I don’t want to break the bank buying things, I have been trying to think of ways to solve both dilemmas.

Up until now, the hubby and I haven’t set up an allowance system for our kids. We thought that the upcoming trip was the perfect motivation.

Rather than a job jar, or a set weekly allowance, my son came up with the idea of a list of things he should do each day (homework, getting himself dressed and undressed and making sure his clothes make it to the laundry, etc) and a monetary value associated with each thing. He calculated out a per day total, then added up a per week total. He came home from his first day of second grade with his whole plan all laid out. It was perfect, except for one thing. It was far too much.

He’d put together his list with an end goal in mind of how much money he wanted to earn by the time of the trip. It was almost double what my husband felt was appropriate. I reached a middle ground by reducing his per-chore value and then adding in a couple additional ones. We ended up somewhere between what my husband was thinking was fair and what my son wanted.

So far, it’s going well. Not all of the chores are being done. My son is learning consequences and choices. If he chooses not to do one of the items, then he doesn’t earn that money. If he’s ok with that, then it is his choice. (Homework, however, isn’t one of those negotiable items.)

Writing this out, it sounds complicated, but this was a scheme thought up by the first born child of two engineers. I have a feeling that our type A personalities have played a bit of a role here. When my Mom stopped over to watch the kids for me the other day, her only comment was that she wanted to be one of my kids with an allowance like that.

In the end, I don’t think my son will do every item on the list every week, and he probably won’t earn all of the money he first thought he would, but I think that he will learn some pretty good lessons about personal responsibility and consequences. Plus, I am using it to help curb my habit of buying toys at unnecessary times. Rather than my purchasing things, he can earn his allowance to buy something.

Hopefully this idea will prove to be long lasting. I have found that so far it has been a good motivator in part because it was largely my son’s idea. Rather than talk him into a set weekly allowance, going along with his idea has given him a lot of ownership and enthusiasm.

I will report back as we are closer to our vacation with an update on how this experiment played out.

by Rocket Science Mom

Photo graciously provided by alancleaver_2000, through a Creative Commons license, some rights reserved

If You're Happy and You Know It, Hug Your Kids!

a mom with curly hair and glasses gives a tight hug to a childThe Mommy wars have gripped us for generations: My grandmother Margo remembers her own mum heading to ‘work’ in the early 1900s, just two mornings a week at a hostel for the elderly. “Come to think of it, I don’t even know if it was a paid job or volunteer” she muses, “But it made her happy.”

Margo has hit upon an important factor: There is a mass of conflicting evidence on whether having a mother in work outside the home is ‘Good’ for a child. Many studies are pretty inconclusive. Some lean towards having a working mother: daughters of women who work have been found to have higher academic achievement. Some lean away: Kids of employed mothers watch more TV and have a higher risk of obesity.

Search the net and you’ll find a hundred conflicting studies. One statistic is clear though. A mother’s unhappiness, whether at home or at work, does affect her kids’ happiness and development, much more than whether or not the mother is working.

Of course, for many moms it’s all academic. We must work, and that is that. Or we must stay at home, because there is no other childcare option. With the studies being vague and mums often not having many options, why do we frown upon the parenting choices of others? And why do we feel guilty?

If, as many studies have found, kids are happiest when their mother is satisfied with her lot, then maybe it’s time for us to decide what really makes us happy… instead of wondering what might be best for the children.

And THAT, my friends, might be a more difficult decision than we think!

by Nan Sheppard

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Photo graciously provided by bijoubaby, through a Creative Commons license, some rights reserved

Family Friendly Feng Shui

two frames hung on a wallI had One of Those Weeks, where my kids didn’t listen and they bickered and hated each other and wanted something nicer that what I had made for supper. Finally I lined them up and YELLED at them. They were impressed, since I don’t often yell. They (and half the neighbourhood) tiptoed around after that, I can tell you.

At the library the following day, I picked up a book on Feng Shui, which promised to bring harmony and bliss into the home with cunning placement of candles and things of specific colours, and moving the furniture so that the sofa doesn’t pour energy down the stairs. Or something. I borrowed the book, of course! There was something about the cover image… so uncluttered, so tidy! And living ‘temporarily’ in a rented flat, I needed some kind of inspiration. If it brought bliss and harmony to my children, that would be a bonus.

One Feng Shui change has certainly made a difference here, and here it is:

Look at your photos and paintings. Are they framed? Are they happy images? Have you been meaning to print out family portraits? I have had a great time this week, looking through our photos with Family Bliss in mind, and printing happy, loving pictures of us as a family. My two competitive older boys, hugging. My husband, cooking for us. My youngest son, with the Big Fish he caught! Me, surrounded by friends at my sister’s wedding! Little nieces and nephews, favourite places. Dozens of really great photos.

Frame these. There are pretty frames available everywhere. Feng Shui recommends natural frames like wood and metal, which are nicer than plastic anyway, aren’t they? You can buy a whole bunch of inexpensive frames, and add a few fancy ones. Display the gorgeous framed photos everywhere, and see what happens! My two older boys have been hugging, just like in their photo. My youngest has placed his Big Fish picture on his bedside table. Things have been pretty peaceful and happy around here. Amazing!

Of course, there is much more to Feng Shui than that. Directions, Elements, Colours and whatnot. You can borrow or buy books on Feng Shui by the dozen. I’d recommend one without TOO much information. You just want the basics, to begin with. Or, you can simply spend the next few evenings decluttering your house, to make room for some new family photos!

by Nan Sheppard

Photo graciously provided by Robert in Toronto, through a Creative Commons license, some rights reserved

Going, Going, Going….

a bicyclist heading down a mountainMy eldest son is leaving.

In a way, this started when he was one-and-a-half (sniff, I remember it like it was yesterday!) and I watched him toddle out of my orbit. “Ha, he’ll be back” I told myself, having read in a book that toddlers NEVER stray too far from the laps of their Mummies. Five minutes later, I was chasing after a disappearing dot. Naturally, when he noticed me coming after him, he ran faster. I could catch him, though! Later, happy that I would join him in his running-away game and exhausted by his brief independence, he slept on my lap.

Toddlers do that. They know, in their wisdom, that one day they will really leave us. So they give us a taste of the empty lap, and wean us gradually.

It is so gradual that I barely noticed it, but now I could not catch my son if I tried. I can only enjoy his company when I have it, and wonder what he’s up to the rest of the time. We’re both early birds, and potter about in the morning while the rest of the family is asleep. He makes breakfast sometimes, enough for everyone, leaving bacon and scrambled eggs in the pan for his brothers. He leaves for school with a wave, remembers his rugby kit, forgets his phone. I text him and hear a *beep* from his bedside table.

It strikes me that I am no longer raising my son: it is too late, now, for me to decide that I should read a certain ‘good’ book to him or teach him to catch a ball. He knows what he wants to read and do, and just quietly goes and does it. He will pop out and buy a chocolate bar, a game, a model, some balsa wood… What is there to stop him buying cigarettes? Alcohol? It would be easy, lots of kids do it.

He goes on his bike, and is allowed to stay out till evening. I have to avoid thinking of road accidents and weirdos. When he comes in, sweaty and starving, I pretend that I wasn’t worried and ask open-ended questions about school, the skate park, his buddies. Luckily, he loves to talk.

Adolescence is a scary time for parents. We remember what it was like, and can only let our kids go with the hope that everything we’ve said and done for the past thirteen years have been The Right Things. We can be grateful for our families, our friends, our neighbourhood, our teachers, who have helped to raise our kids. We can nag, a little, but the seeds of the adolescent personality were sowed years earlier. The baby I massaged now gives a great shoulder-rub. The small boy who learned poetry by heart because it was funny now has a stash of witty comebacks. The kid who was encouraged to keep strange pets (insects, spiders, caterpillars) now has a passion for science. The messy young chef who spilled raw eggs disastrously between the stove and counter-top now makes a wicked omelette.

I am so proud of him. When he does a kind deed, or excels in something, or just sits there… My heart swells with pride. This handsome, smart, likeable young man is MY son!

I nag: Wash your hair, pick up those socks! I ask, encourage and listen. I cook mountains of Teen Food for Growing Boys, and watch it disappear. I stop what I’m doing and take advantage of every opportunity to raise my sons, because soon they will be all grown up and they won’t need me in that way. They will THINK, for a time, that they don’t need me at all… but we all know how that will pan out. We’ve all got mothers, after all. And I still need mine!

by Nan Sheppard

Photo graciously provided by andy_c, through a Creative Commons license, some rights reserved

Two Heads Are Better

a closeup of a helicopter seen from the front at sunsetI am a part-time single parent: My husband has a job which takes him away for a month at a time, sometimes more.

This does, in fact, work for us. We are both fiercely independent, born in the Year of the Ox, and love getting back together again and exchanging tales of our adventures apart. We both enjoy writing, and our emails and letters are often beautiful. Sean loves his job and brings home recipes from around the world, and I potter around with my own projects, have solitary yoga evenings, and lean on my girlfriends. I manage okay with the boys, and with email and free video calls on Skype, sometimes I joke that we have more conversation apart than we do together!

Sean has been away for over two months this time, though, and it’s been hard. There are three boys in this house, two of whom are battling to become young men, and in the past few weeks there has been plenty of swagger and testosterone in the air as they try to be the Man of the House. I’ve been getting Lip and Sarcasm, and there has been no REAL man here to raise his eyebrow, model nice manly behaviour, and say those very important words, “Don’t You Speak to Your Mother Like That, Young Man!”

I have been yelling, in a totally misguided attempt to make myself heard, and I’ve been allowing more slacking off than I should, just to get some peace. We just had two weeks’ holiday… Things have deteriorated, of course. Between the parental screeching, late nights, the sound of video games, the hyped-up post-game jitters, and the new Nerf Guns, our house has not been the oasis of harmony I like it to be.

Sean is due home now, for a month, and we are all preparing in our different ways. The boys are looking sheepish, knowing that they have crossed the line a few times. I have been doing some personal deforestation: Hey, no-one’s even seen my legs since February!

There is often some resistance: at some point in the next few weeks, someone will say to me, “Why do I have to listen to HIM? HE is never here!” and I will say that Dad works far away to support us all, and even when he isn’t here, he IS, in our hearts and his heart. They don’t really mean what they say, of course, but it is tough for the boys to suddenly be almost outnumbered by parents presenting a united front, just when they thought they were getting the upper hand.

When the boys were little, it was harder. With toddlers and babies, you really need two parents at crucial moments like bedtime, bathtime, injury-time… all the time would be nice! When folks say “How did you manage, with three babies in four years?” and I have honestly to say, “I have no idea.” It is all a bit of a blur! I did have help, sometimes, in the form of the lovely and capable Delises, who cleaned my house and auntied the boys for me. My mum and dad lived nearby, and were available in times of crisis. Friends were wonderful, as we read all the books and encouraged one another to ignore them. And apart from Delises’ occasional cleaning, the house was just allowed to get pretty grotty, which I hated. Those days passed though, the boys became more capable, and I don’t have to watch them like a hawk the way I used to.

Without a full-time Dad in the house, most of the manly chores are relegated to boys. Taking out the garbage and the recycling, minor repairs, bike tune-ups and furniture building are all boy jobs here, along with vacuuming, toilet cleaning (because *I* do not miss!) and composting. The boys are really awesome helpers, most of the time. Of course, there are computer-time minutes to be had in exchange for chores!

So yes, we manage. But nothing can replace Dad coming home. I tend to be routine, predictable. Sean comes up with sudden mad plans. We both teach the boys guitar – I get their Spanish acoustic technique spotless and then Sean leads them in wild electric punk challenges. The boys tell their Dad stuff about their lives and I think “Huh, you never told ME that!” Sean encourages them to eat spicier, leap further, be stronger than I would. He shakes things up around here. Sean is the ultimate cool, rockstar, hotshot helicopter-pilot Dad and the boys idolise him.

And when we all get used to being a family again, we’ll kiss him goodbye. He’ll jet off to live his mad bachelor life, and I will miss warming my feet on his, and having a spare grownup around who cracks me up and gives an awesome massage. Things will get all ordinary around here again.

It works for us.

by Nan Sheppard

Photo graciously provided by the author, through a Creative Commons license, some rights reserved