Right now this minute my nine year old, fully unschooled daughter Juno is cleaning the walls. We are about to move out of our rental and knowing we need to keep it sparkly clean she is joining in. Plot twist – she is keeping a ledger of her work and charging herself out at ten cents per task. She is aiming to get nine bucks by the end of the day.
I never thought I’d be in this situation.
One of the most influential books on my parenting has been Continuum Concept by Jean Liedloff, it was something that spoke to my bones. Liedloff had written this book as a result of her time spent with the indigenous of Venezuela, the Ye’kuana people. She was trying to understand their contentment, to share that insight with modern families. And in the breastfeedy, cosleepy, slingweary clan I’d found on internet forums it had become something of a parenting Bible. I deeply appreciated how the Continuum Concept normalised keeping your babies close, prioritising responsiveness and connection.
But I felt immediately that it’s presence in the parenting section of the library wasn’t quite right. Jean’s idea of “continuum” itself is far reaching. It offers a wholly different paradigm – not just for those navigating baby years, but for all who feel out of tune with the track society is playing. For example, Leidloff’s description of the tribe showed how they saw work and play as a continuum, not separate from each other. All day the Ye’kuana people work at things they could easily have gotten quick fixes for, such as the thrice daily walk for water collection, but they have chosen not to because that would mean they miss out on the joyful, community experience of water collection.
This is such a stark contrast to the idea of work and play I was raised with! I had understood my life so far as being in strict and rigid boxes. This box is work and it is boring and hard. This box is learning and it too is boring and hard. In this box we have weekends and they are fun, unless by some misfortune they include work or learning.
I began to consider how I can model this continuum to my children, orientating my homemaking activities around joy by playing music or doing them with friends. I began trying to see all of our family life, work, leisure, rest, as being completely interwoven.
I anticipated that by modelling this so beautifully my children would naturally want to do chores, to. help out, cos it was fun, a communal joyous activity.
When they were tiny, it went like this. Right up until they were five. At which point they became very clear that they don’t want to. help at all!
At which point, I swung the other way into a traditional unschooling approach to chores – removing ALL pressure on children to contribute at all to the household chores. After all, they didn’t ASK to be born!
I rolled this way until a couple of years ago, when I began to shift from a hyper individualised unschooling (influenced our hyper individualised neo liberal society) to a more communal form of unschooling (influenced by our alignment with indigenous world views.)
At this point I began developing a highly nuanced attitude to chores. And the idea that perhaps we can find a “Family Wisdom” approach to chores and pocket money.
Family Wisdom is the culture you intentionally create inside your home, it is understanding of your privilege or lack of, how you are treated by wider society and your limits there fore, it is your medical needs, your mental health needs, it is interdependence, it is your personal leadership, your intuition, understanding what makes each one in your family you, it’s your deconditioned beliefs, your highest values, it’s your experience, your observations, the input from your children, the bravery you feel… it is ALL THE THINGS that create in your family the decisions you need to make.
Family Wisdom is about taking unschooling principles and applying them in your own sustainable way.
Our Family Wisdom, pocket money and chores
When the kids were little I guided them strongly on spending the little bit of pocket money they had, guiding them towards second hand stores. (Unfortunately our house filled quickly with copious amounts of crap. Eeek!)
I got more relaxed as time went on, I began to feel more trust in the idea that they will soon see the brand new junky toys as overly priced and breakable, so I moved into them having total freedom, WHILST still having conversations about it all. I had begun to feel that by prohibiting things I was giving them shiny new things a fabulous aura that was unnatural!
In the end, over the years they have settled on spending their money on two main things: LEGO and Schleich mini horse toys. Both plastic. Both environmentally compromised but with a key difference being that they last… forever, and maintain a value so the likelihood of them going to landfill is zero.
I still have to release, breathe it through, when they choose to drop a bunch of money on something I see as rubbish, and I can usually enjoy the delight they feel in the thing they bought.
As far as amounts go, around a year ago they decided they needed access to more money. I was ready for it though, up for it, keen to support their growing enthusiasm for Schelichs.
So we raised their standard weekly amount by a dollar and began finding jobs they could do around the home for proper money. (Ie cleaning the windows for $10, making clay for our earth build for $5 a bucket) This went quite well… as long as we had jobs! But finding big proper jobs was hard AND they wanted regular income.
So we had a family meeting about it and came up with a bunch of ideas.
The thing we settled on was keeping the Universal Basic Income (lol) of $2.50 a week whether or not they do anything. But then upping their weekly pocket money to $10 each, with a commitment of doing ten minutes of chores every night after dinner.
Part of the agreement is that –
We all do this
We do the job well
It’s just a straight up gonna happen, fact of an event – if I end up having to nag them to do it, that’s not gonna work, so they just don’t get that days $$ (this sounds harsh, but I explained to the girls that they want this. Not me. I try and parent in a way that means I don’t have to nag, so if I have to get on at them to do their chores it’s not gonna work for me!)
And, at times of their choosing – such as now for Juno – they can get an injection of cash by helping out with other chores that need doing. By the way, Juno just popped in and asked for a raise from 10 cents per task to 20 cents per task which seems fair, so I agreed.
Why is this Family Wisdom?
This is Family Wisdom because it imperfectly finds the middle ground between large unschooling principles (of not manipulating kids behaviour/ having extrinsicmotivation for tasks), my children’s desire for cash and my own philosophical lean towards the Continuum Concept of not having random divides between work and play.
It is also Family Wisdom because having a financial reward for contribution works much better for my daughter’s neurodivergence.
Neurodivergence, chores and pocket money
My understanding of rewards and punishments from Alfie Kohn (Unconditional Parenting has probably been, alongside Contonuum Concept one of THE formative books for me, I LOVE IT! and there’s a but coming…) has been tweaked slightly as a result of my understanding of ADHD. Here’s some ways my adhd interacts with doing chores:
*ADHD folks are less able to visualise the end result*
Alot of people with neurodivergent (will use ND from here on) brains find it really hard to visualise how something should look. Without a picture in their minds of the final, tidy room, it’s so hard to get there.
*Less executive function*
This is very simplified… but a crucial part of housekeeping is having an understanding of what needs to be done to get to that final picture. One thing after the other, beginning with this. Folks with ADHD (and other ND) find this bit hard… sometimes impossible. This is my particular struggle with house work. I don’t know where to begin, what the steps are that need to occur. I’ve probably only *just* managed to figure this out, and only then with the kitchen basically, wah, age 38.
*Less natural dopamine*
ADHD have overactive dopamine (happy chemicals) vacuums. It’s harder to feel pleasure from things that are pleasure-giving to others. This can lead to acting out, or massive undermotivation for things. This means I have to work so hard to feel good when doing house work. I play loud music, listen to podcasts, have a movie on. Every Tuesday we have to tidy our home for two hours before the Self Directed Learning Collective comes in. Today we had no power so I had to do it all in silence and I actually cried a tiny bit because I found it so hard, unpleasurable, unsatisfying, frustrating.
What Alfie Kohn says about unconditionality and trying to raise kids with an intact intrinsic motivation at play is SO TRUE. and also MY ADHD BRAIN NEEDS WAY MORE MOTIVATION. By chatting to my kids openly about my own journey, and being clear about the role the pocket money is playing is helping to bring self awareness about their brains so they can hack it.
Financial rewards for chores actually works super well for neurodivergent unschoolers – as long as it’s not done with the intention of manipulation by the parents.
How it’s going
We are over a year into this solution.
We have a menu of jobs – dishes, vacuuming, putting the lounge back together, folding and distributing laundry, cleaning bathroom and toilet and at the end of dinner we choose which we will do, put on three songs, set a time, put our heads in a scrum and raise our hands slowly while we yell “gooooooo CLEAN!” (we really do this lol)
They are getting REALLY good at these chores. (what a cool unexpected bonus, to learn how to do these simple homemaking things well.)
They LOVE how quickly they are able to save for what they want. And I don’t give any opinions on how they choose to spend it. They know my views on plastic and slave labour and I trust they have ALOT of modelling on all of this every day to have an informed view of their choices.
It genuinely is amazing how much this 4 person ten minutes a day input into homekeeping helps us. We are keeping on top of things that we’ve never been able to do.
I feel really great that the kids contribute to the home that we all live in, I believe this comes from my deeply held value that children actually deep down love to contribute if they can, and also that we are all in this together.
However, it’s imperfect in lots of ways too – I still wish for a purist experience of intrinsic motivation around helping out. Also, our girls still want more money which anti-capitalist me sort of wishes wasn’t a thing. And I still do have to nag them about me not nagging them on a regular basis. Please see number six on the list below!
How to figure out your own Family Wisdom on Pocket Money and Chores:
1- Get really articulate for yourself about what the influences are on what you think *should* happen. These are our beliefs and they are incredibly influential. Can you name them? What was chores and pocket money like in your home? What are you worried about? Once you notice your beliefs you can actually CHOOSE to make decisions according to your values rather than shadow beliefs you have inherited.
2- Pay attention to what your kids are asking for without judging it.
3- Be clear about what you can and can’t do – if you can’t afford to pay alot of pocket money this is a contributing fact to your Family Wisdom, not something to feel you are failing unschooling with.
4- Incorporate your values. After getting curious about your beliefs and choosing not to enact them, you are left with your values. You do not have to be a blank slate to unschool your kids. It is natural to have values that inform your unschooling. You are also raising your kids as critical thinkers, you are not judging their beliefs which means you aren’t indoctrinating them! Trust that in time they will be able to choose their own beliefs and values.
5- With all this info to hand you are able to hold a Family Meeting and get ALL the solutions on the table. Choose one together and try it.
6- Part of Family Wisdom is trying things! This is unschooling in action! Learning, trying, failing, trying again. So often our Wound of Perfectionism shows up in our unschooling. Stop trying to be a perfect unschooler. Lean into your Family Wisdom and you will uncover so much more trust and joy.