I woke up to the thumping sound of the newspaper hitting the driveway early one rainy morning. I leant up and peered through the flimsy, vertical blinds of my bedroom window to see a father and young son pulling a trolley of newspapers down the street. The papers were neatly stacked in a large Tupperware container, with a bungee cord attached to the plastic box. I thought to myself, now that’s one way to teach your young child to have a good work ethic.
An hour later my eldest daughter approached me as I was getting her sisters ready for school.
“Can I have my allowance early? I need it today.”
“What? It’s only Monday?” I responded confused. “You have to complete your chores all week, tick them off the chart and then you receive your money on Friday, like always.”
“But I want to buy a treat at the canteen today.”
“Well, that treat will taste even better on Friday, after you have finished your work,” I said.
That wasn’t the answer she was looking for, so she glared at me and retired to her room to sulk. When I dropped her off at school she was in a better mood until a mother of her friend rushed up to her daughter and said, “Honey, here’s $10. Buy yourself a treat at the canteen today. Bye”
As the mother went back to her car, my daughter’s glare returned, and I missed out on her usual cheerful goodbye.
As I left the school, I thought about the young boy doing his paper route and how his father was instilling a good work ethic at such a young age. It immediately made me think of my father whose first job was as a paperboy himself. It had sown the seeds of a life of hard work in him. He was always up at the crack of dawn and in the garage fixing a car, cutting the lawns or rebuilding a section of our house. He had picked tobacco in the hot sun, worked 12 hours in a steel factory. He even ran his own electric business after he retired. He has helped everyone I know with carpentry, mechanics, plumbing, woodwork and insulation. He has rebuilt houses, fences, pools and spent endless hours renovating houses. He did it thanklessly and without complaint.
My mother was also cut from the same cloth. When times were tough, she was the epitome of what it meant to be a hard worker. She had some very interesting jobs; one as a fraud investigator, a guard at a Juvenile Detention Centre, and as a Teaching Assistant for Special Needs children. Like my father, she experienced 12-hour shifts in a factory and always had a weekly day job and a separate job on the weekends with very few holidays. She taught me that I should always try my best at every job.
At my daughter's age, I helped around the house, cutting the lawns, cleaning my room and doing the dishes. I learned how to do my own laundry at a very young age and my chores were done every day after school. It was only as I got older that I began to receive an allowance, which I never received in advance. When I worked out the connection between hard work and money, that was it, I worked at least one job from that point on.
As I got older, I worked and saved my money. When I had enough, I purchased something that I had saved up for many months. A pair of Santana blue jeans with zippers at the ankles and suede diamond-shapes down the side of the leg. I know it sounds horrendous now, but that was the latest fashion at the time. My parents refused to spend $100 on a pair of pants, so I worked for them and bought them. I hand-washed them and cared for them. I appreciated the jeans more and had a real feeling of achievement attached to them. I thought about how many hours it took bagging groceries, pumping gas or flipping burgers to buy just one pair of jeans. After that, I started to think bigger.
I started a savings account and planned on travelling around Europe when I graduated. This goal started at age 14 when I had my first taste of travel. I waited on tables, bar-tended, babysat, worked as a cashier at a department store and tutored students. I did everything I could to save for my big adventure. When I finished university, I bought my ticket to England. Paying for it myself only made the trip feel even sweeter.
I decided it was time to tell my daughter about what it means to have a good work ethic and that money should be earned after the work had been completed, not before.
When I picked her up from school that afternoon, I was surprised to see that the glare had been replaced by a happy smile.
“Mum guess what?” she said excitedly, giving me a hug.
“I found $2 on the oval today at recess and the teacher said I could keep it, so I went to the canteen and bought a treat!”
So much for instilling a good work ethic!