Sunday, January 13, 2019

When You Were A Kid, Did You Mow Lawns, or do Chores For Money?

Did you mow lawns?  Trim hedges?  Babysit?  In my day, only girls would babysit and I doubt a family would have hired a boy to babysit.  Those days may be over now.  Author Lenore Skenazy at Reason magazine posts a story about a Washington Mom who posted an ad to help her 9 year old daughter do chores to make a little money.  In turn, she was reported to the police and questioned. The mom in question wrote Ms. Skenazy to tell the story.  Lenore Skenazy is founder of the book and blog Free-Range Kids, and president of the nonprofit Let Grow
A mother in Woodinville, Washington, posted an advertisement on behalf of her 9-year-old daughter, Sarah, who was willing to do housework—laundry, dishes, etc.—for neighborhood moms who needed help. Six hours later, the cops showed up to make sure Sarah wasn't being abused or worked to death.

That's according to Christina Behar, Sarah's mom, who wrote me a letter about the incident.

"Apparently the ad generated multiple phone calls from paranoid neighbors thinking I was using my child as a slave," wrote Behar.
Woodinville appears to be part of King County and a suburb to Seattle.  Seattle is famously deep sapphire blue, of course,  and that leads me to assume whoever called the police is probably just overly cautious, but incapable of thinking that having a child work might teach them some useful lessons.  I'll let the mom tell the story:
My husband and I have three kids ages 9, 7 and 5.  We have always tried to raise them to be independent and let them play outside for hours in our family-friendly suburban neighborhood outside of Seattle, walk alone to the neighbors, and have taught them how to cook, clean, do laundry and other household chores that we deem age appropriate.  Inspired by your book [Free-Range Kids] I posted an ad on our neighborhood website advertising my daughter as a mother's helper.  Moms often ask me for her help and I figured I would take your advice and reach out to others in my neighborhood I may not know. This was the ad:

Mother's Helper

Hello! My almost 10-year old is available as a mother's helper.  She is the oldest of three and is quite capable. She can fold and put away laundry, sweep, set tables, clean dishes, take out the trash, make beds, vacuum, make light meals, and keep your kiddo busy. We are a homeschool family so she has a flexible schedule.  Please message me if you are interested in meeting with us.

Six hours later the Sheriff was knocking on our door.  He was embarrassed and apologetic but said he had to do a welfare to check to make sure I wasn't running a sweat shop! Apparently the ad generated multiple phone calls from paranoid neighbors thinking I was using my child as a slave.
The mom notes in another correspondence that the deputy did "leave me with a warning that I should never post anything about my child wanting payment for her services."  Does this violate labor laws now? 

There's probably nothing more American than overreaction.  The same mindset that says "if a little is good for you a lot must be better" with regard to any food, vitamin or exercise turns into "since we know there are such things as child slaves and human traffickers then everyone must be a human trafficker handling child slaves".   A common example is that fathers doing anything alone with their daughters, like traveling, instead get questioned to ensure they don't have a kidnapped child they're going to exploit.  Similarly, you probably recall the stories about a mother being charged with a felony for letting her child walk half a mile (that's half a block in many places around here) to the park.  Lenore Skenazy's site is full stories like this.

Working your first jobs that someone actually gives you some money for is big step in a child's life.  It was common where/when I grew up that we didn't get an allowance, we got a list of chores to do and if we did them well we got paid.  Even as little kids, we knew it was different when someone else paid us.  Today, lawn mowing is something that adults do with lawn tractors, edgers and blowers.  50 years ago, it was a way for kids to make some money after school or on the weekend.

Last words to Ms. Skenazy:
The knee-jerk distrust of all adults around all kids is a hallmark of our times. Where we could see verve, we see vulnerability. Where we could see neighbors helping neighbors we imagine the worst. Where we could see kids growing up with confidence and competence, we see a rising tide of anxiety.

Letting kids do some work for money isn't making them into slaves. It's making them into adults. That shouldn't be a crime.

Sarah - the nine year old who would like to make PB&J sandwiches for someone else - for hire.


  1. Wow......

    I got an "allowance" that was only given if I did the assigned chores. I also made money being the neighborhood "fix-it" kid.

  2. I grew up as a country kid so those jobs you mentioned were mostly for town kids. We would do neighbors chores if they took a vacation. Also filled in for hay, straw, and silage work. In the 50's nothing was wasted so we even pulled nails out of recycled lumber for contractors and farmers. Even picked up ear corn that broke off of corn stalks or left behind by corn pickers. Pulled weeds out of bean fields and detasseled corn. A kid could make some money if he had a bit of ambition.

  3. I once read a blog written by a 70 year old man. He posted a picture of himself at age 7, sent out into the woods with a gun to collect meat for the table. The picture showed a boy holding a gun and that evening's dinner, which still was wearing its fur.

    A major life activity of adult humans is trade, creating value for other humans. Welfare is a Skinner box that prevents this maturing process, forming personalities which are stunted.

    Darwinism says every possible agenda will arise by chance, and so some percentage of humans will always want to put you on boxcars to the camps. Your job as a homo sapiens sapiens animal is to have enough survival instinct and moral theory to reject and resist the 'keep humans infantile' movement. Sheriff's deputy should have been referred to defendant's lawyer who represents him, and the door not opened. "Good day, officer, my representative Spooner Esq., is on the speakerphone, please speak to him. Smile for youtube. [click]"

    The vampire myths say a vampire must be invited in before it can hurt you. There is political truth to this.

    Rumor has it the potential productive opportunities of children in the Nordic countries has been so banned that adults are mostly not having children.

  4. Well, lets see. Chores for allowance. Mow lawn extra. That was 8 yrs old.
    Moved to different town, had paper route with ~80 customers. Mowed half the lawns on the block. Took care of neighbors critters when they were away. Cleaned gutters, etc. Moved to the Country. Hauled hay, fixed fences, took care of neighbors livestock. Mowed lawns, Sprayed cherry orchard, picked cherries, pulled Tansey. Herded cattle, built and mended fence. Then I turned 18 and transitioned to being independant. Sarc on.

  5. I dug root cellars for neighbors, docked and sheared sheep, herded cows, hauled hay, mowed my lawn and those of widows (for free) and at one point had a paper route... now I realize that I was a slave. Illegal aliens have taken a lot of the jobs that kids used to have and as you point out, parents are persecuted for doing what ours encouraged us to do.

    It leads to a generation of "pajama boys".

  6. I never got an allowance when I was a kid. Your allowance was bed and board. When I was really little I fed the neighbors old hunting dog and got paid $.10/week. Wish that I still had all those old silver dimes today. A few of them were Mercs. When I got a little older I spent a couple years setting pins at a Moose Lodge. The first year the rate was 9 1/2 cents per line(frame). The next year we got a raise to $.10. The big money was every other Friday when the traveling league would come in. A lot of the guys from the away teams would come in early to practice on our lanes. They'd roll quarters and halves down the alley to us to set for them. The best though, was the food on those nights. About half way through the evening someone in the league would run upstairs and grab a bunch of fish sandwiches and Cokes for us. I think I liked that better than the cash. I started making the big bucks when I was 15 years old working after school and weekends in a gas station. I was held to a bit under 40 hrs/week so they didn't have to pay minimum wage, which was $1.30/hr then. I think I got $1.00/hr. The next year our old manager, Scotty was in a really bad car accident and couldn't work anymore. They put me on full time after that and called me assistant manager. Big raise to minimum wage of $1.45 that year and $1.60 the next. Most of my money went into the bank to save up for a car. My dad said that if I wanted one that I had to buy it myself and pay for my own gas, repairs, insurance. That's the way pretty much everyone was brought up back in those days. It was almost unheard of that a kid would get a new car for a graduation present like today. That was only for rich kids who were very few and far between...........

  7. I started walking beans when I was about 11 for 1.35 an hour. I also baled hay and cleaned out hog houses by hand, no skid loaders back then. The highest praise you could get from an adult was that you were a good hand or good help.

  8. Grew and sold green beans for 5 cents per pound less than the grocery store. (In addition to putting up enough to feed us and the neighbors, of course.) Mowed yards for $3 per acre.

  9. Shoveled out horse stalls at a nearby boarder for .75 a stall and all the riding time we wanted. 1973

  10. Babysat, milked dairy goats during the fair season and when the owner went on vacation, and mucked out the goat barn after it not bring done all winter.

    Got an allowance weekly, a dime of which was expected to go into the church plate on Sunday. From the age of 5 on was responsible for dusting the baseboards in the house, and sweeping down the cellar steps, and had to clean my bedroom every weekend, which had to pass inspection, before I could go and do anything else. (Mom was a drill sergeant in another life.) By the time I was 10 I was cooking breakfast on Saturday and Sunday and making $5.00/week. Which I saved to supplement my clothing allowance (bras and socks are considered clothes(!) as are winter boots and coats) But Santa could bring $$ towards a coat or boots. I learned how to manage money and to appreciate the value and benefit of hard work. I also learned to sew (if I paid for the materials, made it, and wore it at least once, Dad would reimburse the costs), cook basic foods, and how to clean house. Didn't hurt me any at all.