The Family Weekly: Paying Kids to Do Chores Is a Very American Thing

Plus: finding a way through an unspeakable loss, families’ weird holiday traditions, and a question about parents who don’t share their wealth fairly

A child mops the floor
Brandy Jackson / Getty

This Week in Family

Two writers took the time to remember loved ones who died this December. The Atlantic staff writer Franklin Foer wrote a tribute to his grandmother, Ethel, who as a teenager trekked 2,600 miles to flee Nazi persecution with nothing but a pair of scissors and a winter coat. He remembers her as a woman who loved life fiercely: “Survival, in the end, feels like an insufficient word to explain her existence. To survive is to keep on breathing … To be a survivor is to emphasize toughness. Her essence was sweetness.”

The Atlantic contributing writer Deborah Copaken wrote in memory of her close friend’s 23-year-old daughter, Maddy, who died suddenly in a car accident on December 14. She recounts her memories of seeing Maddy grow up, go to college, and fall in love, and the inconceivability of her passing. “We can’t go on. We must go on,” she writes. “We can’t process the death of a child. We must speak of it anyway.”


The practice of paying children an allowance has been around for about a century, often providing an incentive for children to complete household chores. But as the Atlantic staff writer Joe Pinsker notes, it can send kids counterproductive messages about their responsibility to their family, especially for middle- and upper-class children.

We asked Atlantic readers to write in with their family’s unusual winter holiday traditions, and commissioned illustrations of our favorite stories based on their family photos. Here’s a sample from our picks.

People feed cows hay
Dan Bransfield

“We follow an old-world, European tradition of giving our cows hay on Christmas Eve. The origin of the tradition is that because cows protected and kept Baby Jesus warm when he was born in a stable, we need to honor them by feeding them the best hay that we have.”          — Steve Schwanebeck

A family stands by a Christmas tree
Dan Bransfield

“In my family, we have a tradition of camping out and having a slumber party under the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve every year ... We’re not sure how this started, but it’s possible that we wanted to be closer to the tree and the presents on Christmas morning and probably didn’t want the festivities to end. Now my siblings and I are adults, but we share this sleepover tradition with our nieces and nephews.” — Amanda Hopkins

Dear Therapist

Every Monday, the psychotherapist Lori Gottlieb answers readers’ questions about life’s trials and tribulations, big or small, in The Atlantic’s “Dear Therapist” column.

This week, a reader asks how to talk about finances with her boyfriend—specifically, how his wealthy parents share their money. She feels jealous of his twin brother’s wife, whose living expenses are partially paid for by his parents, but she isn’t sure if she should bring it up with her boyfriend.

Lori’s advice: Have a conversation about money with your boyfriend, and try to figure out what’s lying beneath the envy.

Money can signify so many things: love, acceptance, commitment, safety. It may be that getting financial support from your boyfriend would make you feel loved and valued by him ... Or perhaps having his parents’ support would make you feel more accepted by them as a future member of the family, or give you a stronger sense of commitment from your boyfriend.

Send Lori your questions at