Raising Enterprising Kids

I used to live in an apartment on Roswell Rd in Sandy Springs that featured one of those huge dumpsters when you first enter the complex. You know the ones I’m referring to: sometimes they’re “tastefully” hidden behind a wooden fence…sometimes not so much. There’s nothing like coming home from a hard day’s working and witnessing a 3 ton bin vomit its contents because some genius thought it would be a good idea to stuff his soiled mattress right at the bin’s opening.

If you haven’t gotten the idea, I used to hate taking out the trash. Fortunately, I lived with 2 other roommates, so we rotated the duty weekly. I suffered this task every third week until there came a knock on my door one Saturday afternoon. An unsmiling boy with brown hair and a red t-shirt was standing on our step.

“Hi,” he said.

“Hey,” I replied.

What did this kid want?

“I’ll take your trash out every week for a dollar,” he said, pointing to his wagon which was sitting at the bottom of the stairs. I nearly dropped my glass. Bless this child!

“Yes. Yes!” I said with the enthusiasm of a woman who’d just been asked to be married. This boy was my knight in shining armor, and his little red wagon was the token of his sincere affection. “When can you start?”

“Today,” he said. He didn’t elaborate.

Ahhh. A man of few words; a man of action! Good lad.

I scampered off to the kitchen, tied up my bag, and handed it to him. Then I rooted around my wallet and fished out a dollar’s worth of change. He took it, unsmiling, and set off towards the dumpster.

“What’s your name?” I called after him.

“Neil,” he replied…. and then he was gone; until the next week when he showed up to collect our trash. Unfortunately, it was not my week to take care of trash duty, and that particular roommate did not want to part with his dollar. Undaunted, Neil returned again until we established a pattern.

He took out my trash for the next two or three months when our lease expired. I never saw him again, and never told him how much I appreciated his service. I’ve always regretted that.

That was about 11 years ago, and Neil must be 18 or 19 by now. I don’t know why he suddenly appeared in my consciousness this morning. Perhaps it’s because I’m staring at this laptop I slaved for hours to procure funds for; a laptop which was once received with so much glee that has been precariously sitting on the edge of the dining room table for hours. Do I move it, or do I let it fall to its doom in order to teach its new owner a lesson? After very little thought, I decided to move it.

Image from Mattel

Image from Mattel

I sometimes wonder if my children would more careful with their belongings if they had to shoulder some of the financial responsibility. Something tells me “yes”. I took the girls to the Girl Scout STEM Expo this weekend where they were selling all kinds of GS paraphernalia, including a limited edition (polarizing) Girl Scout Barbie. No lie, Aya melted into a heap of blubbering, messy tears, so conflicted over whether she should break her $20 bill for a $12.99 doll that I finally told her to forget the entire thing and stop the crying. She had NO concept that the money she had in her wallet that day wouldn’t be the only money she would ever make now or in the future. She had $26 in her purse, the spoils and returns of lost teeth and birthday gifts. Would she have a different attitude towards purchasing that doll if I had given her more opportunities to make more money?

The prevailing school of thought is that it is imperative to give children chores in order to assist in their complete development, but the jury is still out on whether children should be paid for chores done around the house or if they should be expected to do so. I suppose every family needs to make that determination within the confines of their means.

So back to Neil. I don’t know if his parents sent him off that afternoon to go make his own money, or if he decided to do it on his own. No matter what the impetus was, the result was an 8/9 year old boy knocking on doors, trying and succeeding to drum up his own business. And even if it wasn’t a multi-million dollar organization, he was consistent and efficient in his delivery of his service. (Never mind it was never with a smile. We’re talking other people’s trash here!) If he kept/is keeping up the same attitude toward his other endeavors, I hope to see him on a Forbes list one day.

I think it’s important that we give children an opportunity to earn a living using their wits and talents. I recently hired a 13 year old to edit one of my short stories, instructing her to use “the full scope of her editing knowledge learned thus far”. Now, I don’t know what the “full scope” of that knowledge is, but the girl is sharp as a tack and has been on the honor roll since she was in kindergarten. I know I can trust my work in her hands…not because she’s experienced, but because she’s smart.

Yup. I definitely see a wagon in two little Grants’ very near futures.

Do you put your kids to work? What are your thoughts on paying children for chores? Have you recently encouraged a child in some enterprise? I’m sure we’d all like to know!

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5 thoughts on “Raising Enterprising Kids

  1. grantmx

    Yes, indeed I want my children to work. Every time I go to Chick-fl-a and see a young gal/guy at the window I think, “that person one day will respect the service industry and not treat other service industry people like crap.” If anything, we will do society a great service by forcing our children to get a menial dirty $6.50/hr job at age 15.

    Paying kids for a chore around the house? Heck no. Earn you keep you milk-drinkin’, food-eatin’, toys on the floor-leavin’, bathroom-smellin’, changing clothes 3 times-wearin’ kid!

  2. Daydah

    Honestly this has been on my mind a lot lately, especially with the mass failure in results in Nigeria that we witnessed recently. I believe entrepreneurship also gives children a sense of self-control and responsibility, and the child-in-business will always create time to study so he could go higher, if only to reach more clients [hehehe]. It certainly helped me in the university, when I needed a source of income and a strong distraction from the ‘escorts service’ I saw other hostel girls engaged in. And I can tell you my grades were much better the semester I started my business.
    I look at my son and smile because I know he’s definitely going to be an entrepreneur from as early as possible.

    1. Malaka Post author

      This is fantastic! I’m sure he will inherit and execute your creative streak. Children have the most vivid imaginations and are better at problem solving than many adults. They are more focused on the means to and end, rather than the end itself.

      I read that somewhere…

  3. lajodi

    Nice write-up again Malaka. Yes, and it makes one REALLY think about how we raising our kids…What I wouldn’t give to know where Neil is right now and how successful he is!

  4. Joy Mdivo (@Joymdivo)

    I told my kids they had to work for their money. The clever (cheeky) monkeys went and took out their books, did all their sums and english and colouring and came back. “look mummy, we’ve done all our work, now give us some money.” I have put the idea of work for money on the back burner until we can engage in meaningful child labour!!

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