Life Lessons from Cutting Grass

by | Individual Development, Resources

grassIn a conversation with a friend this past weekend, we got on the topic of children and their initial experiences with employment.  After sharing my approach to helping our kids understand the world of work his comment was something like, ‘Man, you were a tough Dad!’  Now I don’t think I was that bad, but I’ll let you be the judge.

When each of our three oldest children was old enough to safely operate the lawnmower, I ‘hired’ them to cut our grass. I paid $15 for them to cut and trim. If you were efficient, you could do so in about an hour and a half. So $10 per hour, and I supplied the mower and gas. Not a bad wage for a 14 year old!

But it was the unconventional details that caused my friend to think I was ‘tough’ on my kids. First, I created a contract with each one. The language of the contract clearly outlined my expectations. For example, it was their responsibility to monitor the height of the grass and decide when to cut. If they failed to do so, I had the right to step in and do it myself – and charge them at my higher rate of pay! And if they failed consistently to abide by the contract, I had the right to ‘terminate’ that contract – to in essence fire them.

Oh yea, and I did not pay them in cash. Instead, they each earned deferred compensation. They were responsible for documenting the times they cut, and we kept a running total as to what I owed them. Payment came at age 16 in one lump sum, and still it was not in cash, but instead applied to towards the added cost of car insurance as they became a driver. So, say adding a teenager to our insurance cost an additional $1,000 – if they had earned at least that much in deferred compensation by their 16th birthday, I paid for the first year of their insurance and they could drive. If they had not earned that much, then they were not allowed to drive until they had made up the difference. And if they had earned more than they needed, I gave them the difference in cash.

Then I gave the grass cutting job to the next child and told the 16 year old that in the next year they needed to find a job outside the home and earn and save at least enough money to pay for the car insurance when it again came due a year later.   Now, does all of that sound too ‘tough’? But wait, before you chastise me and call DCFS, here are the lessons I wanted to try to teach them.

First, you pay for your own car insurance because you control the cost, not me. Kids get breaks for having good grades and being safe drivers. If they get poor grades, get tickets, or have an accident, the cost goes up – the natural consequence for their behavior. So, having them pay that cost ties responsibility for the behavior to living with the consequence. (Brilliant, don’t you think!)

Second, I wanted them to understand that working for someone else is a ‘contract’, even if the terms and conditions are not in writing. As the employee, you need to clearly understand what is expected of you and what outcomes you need to produce through your work. You are agreeing with your employer that if you do certain things you will get a specific compensation. And by making that agreement you are giving your word. Integrity is important.

Third, not all rewards in life are immediate. We now live in a world where people sometimes expect instant gratification. We get impatient if the computer takes too long to load a webpage. Feel like we need to answer that text even if we are driving. Feel annoyed if there are a couple of cars already in the drive through lane. But my children learned that sometimes you need to put in effort today even though you know that the payback may be years down the road. That builds discipline.

And finally, I wanted them to get work experience outside the home. Early in life. I wanted them to take on that responsibility, maybe make some mistakes, and earn some money of their own. To learn how to manage their finances. Be independent.

Now I admit that I was unconventional. And I can see where some would shake their heads at my approach. But today, each of those three kids is a good, caring person – a responsible adult with a strong work ethic. I am extremely proud of the individuals they have become. Now if those grandkids would just get old enough to start cutting my grass!

Vertical Performance, Inc.

15 N. 1st Street, Suite 202
Belleville, IL 62220
618.234.8110
In The Peer 151 Co-working & Incubator Space

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Vertical Performance, Inc.

15 N. 1st Street, Suite 202
Belleville, IL 62220
618.234.8110
In The Peer 151 Co-working & Incubator Space

I want to learn more about how Vertical Performance can help my business or organization...

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