How should parents handle children’s allowances?
A woman called the other day and asked what I thought about allowances for younger children. She and her husband had two different perspectives, and she wanted to hear what I thought. Her husband felt that allowances were something to be earned in return for chores completed well. She, on the other hand, remembered her mother being very generous with her and her siblings when they were growing up. Allowances weren’t linked to specific tasks and chores, but were more in the form of gifts. She had fond memories of her mom’s generosity and love and wanted to pass along those same memories to her children.
As we spoke, it struck me that allowances fall into something of a hybrid category, and how we handle them will depend on the goals we are trying to achieve through them. Before I say more specifically on allowances, let me share a personal story that has a bearing on what I want to share.
Pope St. Gregory the Great once said, “For true doctrine tries both to teach by words and example. … When one practices first and preaches afterwards, one is really teaching with power.” This really struck home for me one day a few years back when my then 5-year-old had some friends over. After some outside playtime, they came in for hot chocolate. When my son asked for some, I reached for a cup. He asked if he could use one of my “disposable” coffee cups, so I got one of those. When I handed it to him, he asked for one of the plastic “travel tops” that I use when taking a cup of coffee in the car. I told him I didn’t understand why he needed one of those, and he said, “I want to be like you, Dad.”
You see, he had been watching me closely over the years, and he wanted to emulate me because I’m his father. Even in something as small as a coffee cup, he looks to my example. Of course, I’m an imperfect example. But I can point my son to that perfect example God the Father has given us, Jesus Christ.
Why do I mention Gregory the Great’s comment and the personal story? Because your children are going to learn a lot about your perspective on life through how you handle allowances.
I suggest a twofold approach. It seems natural that allowances be partly used to help children understand the value of hard work and a job well done. After all, St. Paul said, “If anyone will not work, let him not eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10).
With that said, the woman who asked for my advice was making an important point. Parental love should be a reflection of God’s love. And God’s love is a free gift to us. As the Catechism says, “Grace is favor, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God, adoptive sons, partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life” (1996).
So, when establishing your approach to allowances, include both reward for work and generosity that comes from the unconditional love you have for your children. In that way, your allowance system will also reflect a godly balance. God love you!
Phil Lenahan is president of Veritas Financial Ministries (VeritasFinancialMinistries.com)
and author of 7 Steps to Becoming Financially Free: A Catholic Small Group Study (OSV).