You Want It, You Earn It

I have to confess, this month’s “experiment” actually started in September, but I never finished writing the blog due to that busy back-to-school adjustment time. I also started to potty-train my 2 year old, which meant trading in my computer for a steam cleaner.

Last year, while I was researching the article about Entitlement & Affluence, I watched numerous shows depicting spoiled, life-handed-to-you-on-platter adolescents and cataloged their behavior. In almost all cases, those kids that were given what they want when they wanted it developed a profound sense of entitlement and decay of character. The few that were wealthy, yet had to earn (even on a small level) some of the items that they desired, displayed a greater level of maturity than their counterparts.

Despite my being raised in a home that had money, I was fortunate enough to have parents that stressed having a good work ethic and ‘earning your keep.’ We owned a restaurant, so since the age of moneyjar12 I started working. We were taught to divide what we earned into three areas: saving, giving and personal. By the time I was 17 I was paying for my own car insurance, phone bills, clothes and other miscellaneous items. So around the time my kids were in preschool, my husband and I started teaching them the same principles. I remember when Morgan was five years old and wanted a remote control car, but it cost $30. So we got a jar, put a picture of the car on one side, and one of those money-raising thermometers on the other side. As she earned some allowance, or received money from relatives for her birthday, she would put it in the jar and color the thermometer. It took four months, but she finally reached her goal. We still have that remote control car, as Morgan made sure to take care of it since it took her so long to earn it. Since that time, we have used the jar system to save up for other things we wanted.

But this isn’t anything earth-shattering. There are many books written on how to teach kids the value of earning things, and most of the families I hang out with are teaching their kids this principle. But I think there is a different level of earning things that I want to get at, and it has to do with the entitlement attitude that is still left over IN SPITE of doing the above things. 

I have a pre-teen daughter who is entering a whole new world of entitlement. Kids her age are starting to demand particular brands of clothing, cell phones, and are beginning to subscribe to the general sense that “I must keep up with the things my schoolmates have.” In addition, their selfish, internal focus dial seems to be turning up a few notches. When put together, these factors react and what spills over is an attitude of devaluing people. It reminds me of something I heard during my research from the show ‘NYC Prep,’ which follows the lives of six teenagers enrolled in prep schools on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. One teenager who was seriously absorbed into the world of fashion stated “I treat my clothing like my children.” And she did - from what I saw she had more of a high regard for her clothing than for her friends.

I do NOT want my kids to get to this point. I want them to look beyond themselves and develop compassion for others. So Joel and I came up with a different “you want it, you earn it” idea.

Morgan came to us last summer complaining that she doesn’t have her own room. Her reasoning was that all of her other friends have their own room, so why couldn’t she? She felt entitled to have her own bedroomroom. It didn’t matter that we weren’t in a position at the time to give her a bedroom to herself - we live with three children in a three bedroom house, so two have to share - she still wanted it. Truth be told, she likes her privacy and sharing a bedroom with her annoying 7-year-old sister bothers her. A LOT. So we offered her a way to earn her own room. However, it wasn’t going to be through traditional ways of earning something, like doing chores, babysitting or feeding the dog. Earning her room would be based on her level of serving and building compassion for her younger sister.

Morgan would love nothing more than to be rescued from having to sacrifice for her sister. The times when this is the hardest is when they have to be in their room together. But if Morgan can learn to act out of love and have empathy for her sister, she will not only set an example to her younger sisters, but she will build character that will help her greatly when her relationships in the future get hard. Kids are getting things years ahead of what was typical only 20 years ago, and I wonder if it is not just another distraction from helping develop the necessary character that contributes to maturity.

Maybe it was fortuitous that I started the earning experiment in September - but couldn’t finish this post until now - because these experiments are long-term. I adjusted for that below by having the updates be monthly and not weekly. Let’s see what happens over a course of a few months!

We had a heart to heart with Morgan on how she will earn her room. We saw in her reaction that she realized this was going to be harder than having to do outward things like chores. We put up a calendar for the summer of 2012, and based upon how good or bad she treats her sister, she could get her room sooner or later, respectively. We picked the summer of 2012 for two reasons. First, it is when her youngest sister, Emmy, could be old enough to share a room with Meagan. Second, having it be nine months away eradicates the “faking it” factor, as we know she can modify her behavior for a short period. However, I am pretty sure she can’t fake it for as long as nine months - therefore it will allow us to see if her heart truly loves her sister or if she is just “washing the outside of the cup.” We also started a family “you want it, you earn it” jar. It is for a one-day trip to Universal Studios during Spring Break, which would cost about $400 (we’ll already be in Florida). Everyone will need to contribute their hard-earned money to it if we are going to go!

As expected, Morgan is treating her sister like a queen. This is probably the longest we have ever seen our older two girls not fight. She really must want her own room! Time will tell, however, if it is just outwardly controlled behavior or if she is really trying to have a softer heart towards Meagan. As far contributions to our vacation jar, we have $115! This is mostly due to us dumping in our coin jar (coins we have found while cleaning the house over the last year) and because mom had a birthday and asked for money towards the jar in lieu of presents.

Morgan is still treating Meagan much better, but we did have one or two days when she was a complete jerk to her. At this point she has had more days moved up on her room calendar than being moved back, so the good news is that she is ahead of the game. Our Harry Potter jar (which we call it now since that is the main reason we want to go to Universal Studios) has $200 – almost half-way there!

This was the month where we saw clearly that Morgan’s “changed” behavior was in good part a superficial act. This was a good opportunity though to talk to Morgan about what it means to truly love her sister. We have been praying in the morning before school for God to help her with this, and going over examples in the bible of what sacrificial love looks like. As for our HP jar, we are up to $340 (thanks to Christmas money from relatives).

To save you reading time, and myself some graphic making, we will fast forward another five months and give you the synopsis of how all this turned out!

Morgan actually earned her room ahead of schedule by a few weeks. We were nervous that as soon as she received her own room, her attitude would revert back towards Meagan the way it was before the experiment started, but so far it has not. 

As for our $400 vacation fund, we actually saved up $500, which was an extra treat because we used it to dine at The Three Broomsticks (Butterbeer anyone?) at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Since none of my kids had ever been to an amusement park - even a small one - it was quite an experience for them. We made a full day of it, and no one complained how tired they were, or the long wait times to get on some rides!