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Two Brilliant Ideas: The Skype Playdate and I Hired My Kids

The ChickieNob’s best friend lives over the bridge in Virginia (“over the bridge” is DC shorthand for “traffic nightmare”).  We get together with her family around twice a month, and in the summer, the mother and I take our three kids on holiday to the beach a few times.  But in between all of that, it’s hard because they live about an hour away.

Yesterday, I suggested a Skype playdate.  Her mother and I turned on Skype in our respective houses, and the two girls virtually sat down together to create some paper dolls on both ends of the computer screen.  They chitchatted while they worked, much in the same way they would if they were both at my kitchen table, and they held up their work for inspection every few seconds.  I was cleaning the house and her mother was getting some work done, so we called out to each other as well through the screen.  It feel like they were there.  Except they weren’t there.  They were over the bridge.

They proceeded to play with their paper dolls for over two hours.  No commute.

The Wolvog was a little jealous, but I pointed out that his friends all live within quick driving distance and can therefore come over to our house to play.  If he makes a friend who lives over the bridge, he can do the same thing.  Because while it’s the next best thing, it sort of is still in the category of “best thing.”  The girls can now have a playdate as often as they like, and if we plan ahead, we can arrange to have the same art project, same board games, and same toys in both places.  Brilliant.


The twins will be eight this summer, and we still haven’t gotten around to the idea of an allowance.  We like the concept in theory, and we’ve talked a lot about it in the sense that we turn to each other and say, “crap, we should give the kids an allowance so they’ll learn how to manage money.”  And then we go back to watching House and don’t do anything about it.

There are a lot of different ways people approach giving an allowance.  Some people just give their children an allowance to serve as a means to learn about money.  They do nothing to earn the money; they just get a set amount at set intervals.  This is how my parents did it, and I think I have a good sense of money.  For instance, I’ve never lived outside my means and accrued credit card debt.  So this obviously works.  But for some reason, I wasn’t attracted to the idea of giving them money simply for being part of the family.  I mean, no one gives me money for being their freakin’ mother who makes them meals and carries a first aid kit in her purse at all times so she can slap Band-aids on scraped knees.  If anyone deserves to be paid, it is me, and if I am not earning money for being part of this family, then I’m not really interested in giving it to the twins simply for being cute.

Some people give their children an allowance for doing certain chores.  I didn’t love this approach because (1) I like to clean and don’t really want to give up my cleaning chores to someone else.  (2) I want them to clean up their room because they need to clean up their room, not because I’ve paid them.  (3) I could foresee one-of-my-children-who-shall-not-be-named making messes in order to get paid to clean them up.

Which left us watching House episodes and doing nothing about it.

Until I realized that there were plenty of tasks they were perfectly capable of completing for me; tasks I didn’t really have time to do or a strong enough inclination to do.  So I hired them to be my research assistants.  For instance, there are books I see in the school library that I remember loving as a kid but have no memory what they’re about.  I just hired my kids to read them and give me an executive summary of the book.  I’m totally curious about the life of Houdini but not enough to actually spend time going through websites and books.  I just assigned that task out to one of the kids.  Report back to me with 30 facts about Houdini including his most famous magic tricks and you can get paid.  I have random math calculations they can add and subtract for me (okay, I may have made up this assignment just to get them to do extra math practice).  Sometimes I have a shitload of one ingredient in the house, but if I go onto Food Network’s website and search for recipes, I will get sucked into the dark underbelly known as The Next Food Network Star blog.  But if I tell the ChickieNob, “go find three recipes that look appealing to you that use a lot of lemons,” she can narrow down the search to three quick choices, saving me twenty minutes of being sucked into the orbit of Alton Brown.

I have hired them to erase extraneous code for me, and to archive old gmail notes, and to write blog posts for when I don’t have time to post here, and to find five facts for me while I make dinner so I can sit down and jump immediately into writing a post.  There are always books I need read, things I need researched, and math busy work I need completed.  They get to practice all their school skills and get paid to do so.  And I get someone taking all those small tasks that I never get done, freeing up my time.  Plus they get all the benefits of an allowance and managing money since I told them that they need to buy their own toys now that they get a salary.  And it’s not costing me appreciably more than when I would go buy a new Lego set “just because.”

Do you see how this is genius?

I set up a work sign-up sheet in the kitchen so they could see what tasks need completion and sign up for what they want.  Some things will take days to complete and other assignments can be finished in a few minutes.  The more time spent on the project, the more money they’ll be paid.  And the work is never-ending, so if they don’t have time in their schedule, they can skip an assignment (and the pay) and pick up a different one down the road.  Plus, they get the hard life lesson that people will only pay you for the work they want done; not the work you want to do.

This is a long way of saying that if you see their byline on a post, it means that I was lazy or busy, and they were my willing research assistants who wanted to buy more American Girl doll things and Ninjagos.


1 Tigger { 06.13.12 at 11:51 am }

That’s a really good idea! My parents were of the “these are your chores – you do them, you get paid. You don’t do them, you don’t. You want money, work for it” school. I don’t know how well it worked, because life has a way of handing you things you have no idea what to do with or how to pay and no matter how much you work, there’s never enough funds to pay what needs to be paid. At least, in my world that seems to be the case.

We haven’t decided what to with Cole yet. That’s still a few years down the road. Maybe take a similar approach to “here are things that need to be done around the house. When you’ve done it, you let me know and we will mark it down together. At the end of the week, we will tally up what you’ve done and give you the money for it. The money is yours to do with as you want.” He has a piggy bank in his room already that his Memaw gave him at birth. 🙂

2 Sharon { 06.13.12 at 12:00 pm }

What a great idea! I’m going to have to remember this for when our kids are older. . . .

3 Brookes4boys { 06.13.12 at 12:05 pm }

Our boys get paid for their grades. We tried an allowance for chores, but then they would choose not to do the chore, yet that job still needed to be done, so I would have to nag, and I don’t feel like they should be paid for a job I have to remind them to do. So, since we tell them all the time that school is their job and they need to “Do their best”, we decided to reward that. They get a certain amount for As and Bs, nothing for a C, and if there are (God Forbid!) Ds or Fs then they are “fined” and they have to pay me. Our boys, luckily, do well in school naturally, and if they struggled, or had learning difficulties, we would not use this, as they should not be punished for something beyond their ability. I do have a son who has Aspergers, but with his IEP his work is modified to be within his ability so his work is within his ability to do well.
This has dramatically cut down on the whining for toys, since we can remind them to save their report card money, and if they need more for a certain toy they really want we will give them extra jobs such as cleaning out the car or cleaning baseboards, something that may need to be done but isn’t a chore already assigned to someone. They boys do have chores they have to do everyday, such as feeding a pet, making their bed, putting away clothes I have washed, but they don’t get paid for them since that is just doing their part as part of the family.

After much trial and error, this is the system that has worked best for us. I hope you have as much success with your new system!

4 Io { 06.13.12 at 12:27 pm }

Aw man, this is awesome – it’s like chores for smart bookish kids. I would have totally picked this over cleaning the bathroom. (Which was how we earned our allowance – we had a cleaning rotation.) We got extra money for things like ironing and mowing. Which we had to do because as my mother always said when we complained – “Why do you think I had kids?” At the time it made perfect sense that she would have chosen to have kids for the sole reason of making me scrub floors. “Poor poor me!” I would think, “Born to a life of indentured servitude.”
Also, I like the Skype playdate – my best friend and I would spend hours on the phone, not necessarily talking the whole time, just doing whatever and commenting when necessary, just like we would if we were actually hanging out.

5 a { 06.13.12 at 12:28 pm }

What a brilliant idea! I’ve been kicking around the idea of allowance in my head, but haven’t figured out how to implement it. Chores are chores and need to be done, and soon I will be assigning her something like dusting. She already enjoys cleaning sinks, so maybe that will be her thing. We’ll see, I guess. I just want her to have a duty that she can do thoroughly and well. But for allowance…well, she’s going to have to be able to read better. It will have to wait a bit, but it’s a great idea!

6 gwinne { 06.13.12 at 12:31 pm }

Whoa, that’s brilliant. I should consider doing something similar for LG…

7 loribeth { 06.13.12 at 12:42 pm }

Interesting idea… & I was waiting to the end to find out if they were going to get bylines or if you were going to have us guess what posts they had written or contributed to, lol. My sister & I got an allowance from the time we were about 6 — mostly just money that got handed to us. Originally, we got enough each week to fund the cost of a Saturday movie matinee ticket plus a bag of popcorn — which in those days (& I am wildly dating myself here) was about 50 cents (& we went to the movies by ourselves, walking to & from)(it WAS a small town…)(Disney, Elvis & Beach Party movies). In later years, if we wanted money above & beyond what we got weekly, we’d have to do chores for it. Or babysit.

I love the idea of a Skype playdate. I keep thinking how wonderful Skype or even just e-mail would have been when I was a kid & we moved away from our friends, & had to rely on writing letters or the very brief (very expensive) & very occasional long distance phone calls permitted by our parents.

My parents got set up on Skype before I did (erk!)(my dad LOVES a new toy…) & it was a great way to keep in touch with them while they were in Florida this winter, particularly since my long distance phone plan doesn’t cover U.S. minutes.

Parents’ Neighbours’ Daughter also Skypes with us once a week or so — she sets The Princess (8 months old) on the floor in front of her laptop, & it’s so funny to see her sitting there looking at the screen expectantly when the frame pops open. Being far away & only “home” two or three times a year, tops, I don’t feel like I am missing out on as much, thanks to Skype. (And I’m enjoying it while I can — pretty soon she will be mobile & won’t want to sit in front of a computer screen — although PND says she’ll just put her in a high chair, lol.)

8 Lisa { 06.13.12 at 1:15 pm }

Brilliant! What a great way for them to learn about their responsibilities as a family member and about money at the same time.

I did not get an allowance. My mother said she “allowed” me to live under her roof. Guess who has two thumbs, shit tons of student loan debt, and is still battling some old credit card debt!

9 Pie { 06.13.12 at 1:29 pm }

I cannot wait to read their posts! Not that I don’t love your posts too Mel, but what fun to read their work too! Great idea!

10 Jendeis { 06.13.12 at 1:45 pm }

Best idea ever. What are their rates? Can they sign R up for swim lessons at the JCC? I can never manage to get around to it. 🙂

Also, how are they almost eight? They are three and will always remain so in my head. 🙂

11 HereWeGoAJen { 06.13.12 at 2:28 pm }

I love this idea. When I was growing up, my sister and I got a allowance weekly so that we could choose what to spend our money on. And I had chores to do too that were just things that had to be done regardless. I still haven’t decided what to do in our house.

12 oliviacw { 06.13.12 at 2:41 pm }

I like these ideas! My daughter is too young yet for an allowance, but I will keep these in mind. When I was a child, I got an allowance just for being, but there were also some set ways I could earn more – mowing the yard, and also helping my dad with specific tasks in his business (he ran a part-time business from home as well as his regular job). These sorts of tasks you have come up with fit well into that model.

13 Mud Hut Mama { 06.13.12 at 4:05 pm }

I think hiring your kids is a great idea. My dad was a teacher and he used to pay us to grade the multiple choice portion of his tests. I remember taking it so seriously, checking and double checking to make sure I hadn’t made a mistake. I picture your kids taking their work just as seriously.

My girls love to see their grandparents and cousins on skype. We just need a better internet connection so it doesn’t cut out so much. A skype playdate would be really fun for them as they get older. I especially like your idea of having a similar craft to do or game to play while they chat with each other.

14 magpie { 06.13.12 at 4:25 pm }

you are a genius.

15 Queenie { 06.13.12 at 4:31 pm }

Pure genius!

16 Baby Smiling In Back Seat { 06.13.12 at 5:03 pm }


I mostly just received whatever I wanted, but sometimes I also got money, sort of randomly. One semester my mother got the idea to pay me for grades from a friend, but based on the friend’s pay structure I made hundreds of dollars, so we stopped that. My mother was monumentally horrible with money, and in fact when I was your twins’ age I begged to be allowed to take over the finances, so her teaching me about money didn’t make sense on many fronts. When I was in 8th grade my dad let me do the taxes. How come it was fun then and so horrible now?

17 Cristy { 06.13.12 at 7:04 pm }

I LOVE the Skype playdate! What a genius way of handling the interrum between actual playdates.

Regarding giving kids an allowance, there was research done on this by Lewis Mandell at SUNY Buffalo looking at 3 groups: one group didn’t get an allowance, one group received an allowance following the completion of chores, the finally group received an allowance regardless of chores. TIME actually ran an article on it: http://moneyland.time.com/2012/02/15/why-giving-your-kids-an-allowance-might-not-be-teaching-them-anything/

At any rate, I think hiring your kids is a great idea! I had chores as a child and, even though I didn’t really get an allowance, I took pride in the work I did around the house.

18 Justine { 06.13.12 at 8:47 pm }

I never got an allowance as a kid, because my parents were MEAN. (Just kidding. But at the time, I thought they were.) I was expected to do chores because that was my role, not because I earned extra. And I agree that the “research assistant” job is really brilliant. My husband once offered my son a penny for every stick he picked up in the yard after a storm. My son didn’t take him up on it, though; he said “that’s boring work, dad.” Ha!

I have mixed feelings about the Skype playdate, because I have mixed feelings about substitutes for personal interaction. But it’s better than nothing, and way more convenient than a Beltway drive (I know THOSE well, unfortunately). I wonder what ChickieNob will say, if she’s asked, she misses about the “in person” playdates … I suspect that she’d be able to articulate that nuanced difference surprisingly well.

19 Lori Lavender Luz { 06.13.12 at 10:29 pm }

As my British friends used to say, “BRILL!”

I’ll be paying special attention to bylines.

And I’m stealing your ideas.

20 Mali { 06.14.12 at 3:55 am }

Yes, you are a genius. I wish I could hire your kids to sort out my email files, organise my recipes, tidy my office, etc etc etc. And I can’t wait to read one of their blogposts.

And you LIKE to clean? Really?

21 Stinky { 06.14.12 at 7:19 am }

was going to say “genius!!” but I see several commenters (and your good self) have beaten me to it. Still, I am expressing that sentiment.

I got pocket money when I was about 8 – 30 pence a week, which would go up every birthday by maybe 25 pence. Money for being, but I have ok munnyskillz now, I think. Extras for one-off chores like washing the car . . . I love your ideas though and would like this post to reappear in 8 years for me (if the immaculate conception ever happens)

22 Tiara { 06.14.12 at 8:05 am }

I just love, love, love your allowance solution!!!! It truly is genius & a similar work program will be in my household once Elena is old enough!! Really, genius!

23 lisa { 06.14.12 at 11:39 am }

Brilliant! Love it! and I think I can even use it for my four year olds. I was giving them allowance for doing things that you should be doing just as part of the fmaily, like bringing your plate to the sink after eating, but we’ve since moved to earning “good choice beans” for task like that. I like the idea of hiring them to do things I don’t like to do. I hate to dust, they however love too. I can certainly pay them to dust my house for me. Just like I would hire a cleaning service. And I am by no means looking for perfection, so it’s their job now. 🙂

24 Corey Feldman { 06.14.12 at 11:44 am }

I typically refer to it as crossing the river. Sadly I do it 5 times a week, at least. From Potomac to past Springfield and back again. I wonder what I could do with those 10 hours a week of my life.

25 Emily @ablanket2keep { 06.14.12 at 7:31 pm }

I really like the allowance idea! This will have to be a conversation I have with my Hubby some day when we finally have kids. I never got an allowance and my Hubby got one just because. It will be an interesting conversation. I love the skype play date too!

26 Alexicographer { 06.14.12 at 11:36 pm }

Hey, if you are paying them to work, you can also give them the same amount of money (as you pay them in a year) as a gift, and use it to open Roth IRAs in their names, thereby setting them on a path to being good savers with well-funded retirement accounts (ironically, perhaps, neglecting your own retirement savings because, hey, who can afford all this stuff? Who?). But seriously, you can, and (assuming they aren’t earning vast sums and that you can nonetheless find a financial institution willing to provide a low-balance Roth — our credit union has just a $25 minimum investment) well, time is on their side.

27 Barb { 06.15.12 at 10:25 pm }

Way to find what works for you! Oh! Andbi just thought of another one I LOVED as a kid: The Journey of Natty Gan (don’t know if I spelled it right)

28 clare { 06.17.12 at 4:51 am }

Wow, that is super clever! both ideas! As the young kids would say in New Zealand “mint as” (just that.. not mint as something, just mint as). In particular I was thinking that in the country / on the farm, there are also similar tasks for kids… thing that might be nice to have done, but the adults will let slide for now. Removing rust from tools very rarely used, weeding grass from between concrete cracks, collection small pieces of whatever normally would be not worth the both of collecting. But I never realized how many of those jobs excite in suburban/city/electronic life. Very cool.

29 Bea { 06.29.12 at 11:38 am }

So 1. When pb’s best friend moved internationally earlier this year I broke the news to him apprehensively. His first response was: well does a have Skype? We will have to get around to trying it.

Apparently (I read recently) kids who get regular allowances have, on average, worse money management skills than kids who don’t get allowances. A regular and automatic trickle of money apparently erodes the appreciation of its value. This especially if money is given without guidance on saving or spending. The paper suggests irregular amounts (birthdays etc) or at least long stretches between payments (eg monthly not weekly) work better. In addition, use forced savings or dollar-matching incentives for saving, and actively help children set financial goals. And model, discuss household finances, etc.

I think the hiring works well with that advice because they don’t exactly know when the next job is coming or what it will pay. Also, may lead to entrepreneurial outcomes. As long as they don’t get too clever and unionise or something.

30 Bea { 06.29.12 at 11:43 am }

Oh you know, it was a dissection of the times article and cited/related papers by an economist friend. Just noticed someone linked above.

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