Neil Humphreys – My Daughter’s Happy to be a Domestic Helper… if Paid

We sat down together and worked out a roster. My five-year-old daughter would perform household chores from Monday to Friday. The weekends were her own. I’m a fair and reasonable father.

From making her bed to putting her clothes in the washing basket and her toys away, she had several boxes to tick to earn her keep; a rather generous $5 a week. Don’t tell Amnesty International.  She is getting the weekends off, remember.

Satisfied with our financial arrangement, she was eager to discuss the issue of prompt payment.

“Will I get paid on a Saturday or a Sunday?” She asked.

“Why does it matter?”

“Well, if you pay me on a Saturday, I’ve got all weekend to spend my money.”

I have no idea where she’s going to make $5 last an entire weekend … 1964 probably.

So far, the working relationship is proving to be a most productive and amicable one. The roster is being followed closely, she is pocketing the cash and I’ve avoided slipping on socks left in the hallway.

Our cosy apartment is now quite the re-enactment of Dickensian London. Like Mr Bumble in Oliver Twist, I toast my swollen stomach with a glass of port whilst shoving my willing daughter into the rubbish chute with a mop and bucket (and she knows better than to ask for more.)

No, I don’t really. A broom is much more effective in those confined spaces.

But our daughter honestly earns $5 a week for completing her household chores. And before she ends up as a poster girl for a tear-jerking charity appeal, she wants for nothing. Her social calendar is busier and more hedonistic than mine (mostly because I’m stuck behind a laptop paying for it.)

Monday nights are reserved for gymnastics; Tuesdays are devoted to Chinese speech and drama; Wednesdays are rare nights off; Thursdays are arts and craft; Fridays are swimming; Saturdays belong to ballet and Sundays are her day to “so something fun”. She owns more shoes than Imelda Marcos and more clothes than Paris Hilton. That’s all fine.  When she came into the world, I accepted and endorsed my parental obligations and financial responsibilities.

I work. She enjoys. I smile. I check my empty wallet. I don’t smile so much.

But seriously, my instinct will always be to lavish my girl with possibilities and choices; handing her as many strings to add to her cultural bow as possible. She wakes up one morning and declares an interest in playing the oboe? I’ll gladly look up the relevant music teacher and whip out the chequebook. She says she fancies a stint of snowboarding? I’ll look up the prices for flights and accommodation at a Japanese ski resort and quietly weep when no one’s looking.

On the other hand, if she throws her clothes on the living room floor and barks “pick that up for me, Daddy,” she gets the angry eyes and an early night.

That’s the tightrope I’m determined to walk and it’s proving to be one hell of a balancing act. I want to spoil my child, enrich her life with all kinds of lifestyle opportunities. But I do not want a spoilt child.

My childhood independence, resilience and industry – qualities that embody my work today and pay for those ballet lessons – were developed in an austere environment. From a young age, if I wanted something, I earned it. (When I was 11, I spent a month saving up for the Rocky IV soundtrack album only to return to the shop and discover that the price had been raised by a pound. I practically guillotined the shop assistant with the vinyl record.)

Obviously, there’s no intention of replicating my childhood austerity measures to unfairly penalise a little girl born into a comparatively comfortable household. But that doesn’t mean I’m picking her pink tutu up every time she dumps it on the rug and pirouettes out of the living room.

She can learn the value of a dollar. She can understand the value of being self-sufficient. She can recognise the importance of not always relying on others. She can pick up her own knickers off the bathroom floor.

And she will be rewarded – with a respectable $5 a week.

She’s certainly enjoying that unique feeling of spending money earned by one’s labour.

“Daddy, you know I really want to see the Eiffel Tower,” she said, as I handed over her weekly wages. “Well, can I use this money to pay for all of us to go to France?”

The whole “learning the value of a dollar” thing is still a work in progress.

About the Author: Neil Humphreys is one of Singapore’s best-selling authors. His works include Notes from an Even Smaller Island (2001), Scribbles from the Same Island (2003), and Final Notes from a Great Island (2006). Be My Baby (2008) chronicled his journey to parenthood and was his first international best-seller. His most recent Singapore book, Return to a Sexy Island (2012), was a No.1 best-seller and turned into a TV series. His illustrated book series – Abbie Rose and the Magic Suitcase – is proving popular with children all over the world and is currently being adapted into an animated TV series. Humphreys has written extensively for The Straits Times, TODAY, The New Paper, Esquire, Men’s Health, FourFourTwo and Young Parents. He currently lives in Bedok with his family and hopes his daughter will learn conversational Mandarin so she can teach her Dad.


Categories: Dad's Journey, Neil Humphreys

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